Monday, June 19, 2006

Narcotics and the Afghan War

All of transcript of John Gunther Dean's oral history of his ambassadorship in India at the Jimmy Carter library is worth reading. (Thank you, Bharat-Rakshak!)

Here is an excerpt.

In order to understand U.S. relations with South Asia in the 1980s, one must also have some understanding of Indian-Pakistani relations during that period, and the crucial role of Pakistan in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. Little was written in the United States during the 1980s about the links between arms for those fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the boom in the drug culture in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Perhaps the overriding U.S. policy consideration toward all of South Asia in those days was "to trap and kill the Russian bear in Afghanistan, and Pakistan was a staunch ally in its strategy."

For obvious reasons, I prefer to quote from public documents in discussing the connection between drugs and arms for Afghanistan rather than referring to classified official cables; moreover, they say about the same thing. This subject was much discussed at the time within the American Embassy in New Delhi. As I stated in earlier chapters, different agencies and departments of the U.S. Government could have conflicting positions. This was also the case in Embassy New Delhi;
specifically, it applied to the relationship of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Generally speaking, to protect its "assets" abroad, the CIA had ensured in those days that the DEA's concerns outside the United States were subordinated to its own. We are talking about the 1980s. No DEA country attaché overseas was allowed to initiate an investigation into a suspected drug trafficker or attempt to recruit an informant without clearance from the local CIA station chief. DEA country attaches were required to employ the standard State Department cipher and all their transmissions were made available to the CIA Station Chief. The CIA also had access to all DEA investigative reports, and informants' and targets' identities when DEA activities outside the United States were Involved.

The boom in the poppy growing and heroin refineries in Pakistan and Afghanistan coincided with the beginning of the Afghan War in early 1990. Madame Benazir Bhutto, then Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that "today Pakistan society is dominated by the culture of heroin and the kalatchnikof rifle" . With drugs came arms. But who had heard in the United States, in 1985 when I arrived in New Delhi, about the role of General Zia-ul-Haq's adopted son and drug smuggling? Yet,
in December 1983, a young Pakistani was arrested at Oslo airport with 3.5 kilos of heroin. It eventually led back to the President of Pakistan's involvement in drug smuggling.

Even as the U.S. Government was congratulating in 1984 General Zia-ul-Haq for helping control narcotics traffic, the Police of Pakistan, under Norwegian pressure, arrested Hamid Hasnain, the "adopted son" of General Zia, who turned out to be a kingpin in the drug running mafia. In Hasnain's possession were found cheque books and bank statements of Zia-ul-Haq and his family. I am relating these facts here not to undermine General Zia's reputation but to demonstrate the linkage of drug dealing with arms to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and how we interacted with these criminals to achieve our own ends, i.e., the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and the toppling of the communist regime led by Najib Boulla in Kabul.

On the Norwegian bust of the Pakistani drug smuggling ring, I rely on the detailed newspaper article which appeared in the TIMES OF INDIA. Please note that the author is an American journalist, formerly the South Asia correspondent of the FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW and later working on special assignment with the New York publication THE NATION.

By reproducing Mr. Lifschultz' lengthy article, I am trying to give the American public a glimpse of what we knew at the American Embassy in New Delhi, India, in 1988 about the covert struggle and the relationship between Pakistan - United States - Afghanistan, subject which remained taboo for the American mass media for many years: drugs, arms, and Afghanistan.

So, be obliging and go take the glimpse! Understand some of the roots of the current mess!