Wednesday, February 06, 2008

World Bank/DFID: eradication risks increasing Afghan instability

A new report, jointly produced by the World Bank and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) stresses that a poppy eradication strategy in Afghanistan risks increasing support for anti-government forces. Published yesterday the report argues that;

"Eradication (destruction of poppy while it is growing in the fields) is a blunt instrument that must be used cautiously and judiciously, and aerial spraying – which is currently being advocated in some quarters – would be counterproductive as it would further alienate the rural population, increase the gap between Afghans and their government, likely stimulate popular support for anti-government interests, and further worsen insecurity….
If adequate means of livelihood are not available, eradication will undermine the goals of state building and development."

This emphasis on boosting economic development as a long term strategy to reduce the damaging dependence on opium production is in contrast to US proposals to carry out widespread aerial spraying of poppies. William Byrd, a World Bank economist and one of the report’s authors told a press conference: "International experience suggests [spraying is] not sustainable, either politically or economically."

The Afghan Government and the UK, which runs the international counter-narcotics strategy in the country, have long argued against using aerial eradication, a policy that the US has championed in South America (for coca production) despite its striking failure to reduce overall production.

The World Bank/DFID report highlights the need for a proper development strategy in order to convince farmers not to grow poppies and emphasises the close links between not only opium production and security, but also eradication policies and support for (or not) the NATO project in Afghanistan. The report also emphasises that attempts to rid Afghanistan of opium production is a long term approach that will take ‘one to two decades’ to achieve rather than a quick-fix solution. It is argued that the need is for long-term commitment rather than short-term expediency, with truly effective counter-narcotics efforts being a combination of economic development, the provision of services and infrastructure, and better governance and the rule of law. Reinforcing the development effort right away is essential, but to achieve results will take considerable time, massive and sustained financial commitment, and political vision and stamina.

However, the development solutions presented by the World Bank / DFID report, whilst appealing relative to certain US sponsored military/eradication alternatives, and arguably offering localised solutions for certain communities in Afghanistan, cannot address the demand for illicit opiates, the production of which - even if the World bank / DFID proposals were successful - would simply displaced to other regions. Such is the reality of unregulated illicit markets which offer such spectacular potential profits.

This is of course one side of this issue with which the report fails to engage; the stark reality that Afghanistan's opium production is entirely the product of international drug prohibition. If legal opium production for medical use - which already accounts for 50% of world opium production - were expanded to supply legal opiates for non-medical use then the demand for Afghanistan's opium harvest woud dwindle and disappear. The one solution that would truly address the issue illicit Afghan production remains taboo.

At this point in the global political discourse substantially developing this option is clearly not practical, but there are some small signs of progress with legal heroin prescribing in a number of European countries, Canada and Australia, (as well as more surprising policy initiatives such as opium prescribing in Iran). These policies do however, whilst only a drop in the ocean at present, demonstrate that legally regulated production and supply of opiates can potentially reduce demand for illicit supplies and the problems such demand creates in producer countries. The key point is that there already exists working models for the legal production, supply and use of opium and heroin in a non-medical context (or rather quasi-medical - at this point we are only talking about maintenance/ substitute prescribing) .

The development solutions presented by the World Bank / DFID report, whilst appealing relative to certain US sponsored military/eradication alternatives, and arguably offering localised solutions for certain communities in Afghanistan cannot address the demand for illicit opiates, the production of which - even if the World bank / DFID proposals were successful - would simply displaced to other regions.

see also:

Medical use of Afghanistan's opium wont solve the problem Transform writing in the Guardian


Anonymous said...

Working with the enemy. Wait... Who's the enemy?

Coming up sometime in 2007 is the trial of a "major Taliban drug lord." 

I put that in quotes because that's probably the only way most media will describe Haji Bashir Noorzai, part of whose story appears in today's New York Times, written by James Risen.  Risen is one of the Times' best reporters.  He's written some great stuff on Guantanamo .  Most notably he and colleague Eric Lichtblau broke the story on domestic surveillance last year that enraged the White House.

It's a little hard to tell whether today's piece on Noorzai is will lead to other related reporting on how the US government and the Bush administration have used people and thrown them away, but I wouldn't be surprised. 

What has Noorzai's connection been with our government agencies? Risen begins:

In April 2005, federal law enforcement officials summoned reporters to a Manhattan news conference to announce the capture of an Afghan drug lord and Taliban ally. While boasting that he was a big catch — the Asian counterpart of the Colombian cocaine legend Pablo Escobar — the officials left out some puzzling details, including why the Afghan, Haji Bashir Noorzai, had risked arrest by coming to New York. Now, with Mr. Noorzai’s case likely to come to trial this year, a fuller story about the American government’s dealings with him is emerging.

Who is this guy? Where did he come from?

Mr. Noorzai, a wealthy tribal leader in his mid-40s who lived with three wives and 13 children in Quetta, Pakistan, and also owns homes in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates, is from the same region that helped produce the Taliban. A native of Kandahar Province, he was a mujahedeen commander fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 1990, according to his lawyer, he agreed to help track down Stinger missiles provided to the Afghan resistance by the C.I.A.; agency officials were worried about their possible use by terrorists. So early on he had done some work for the CIA. 

The DEA also knew him. D.E.A. officials say that at the same time, Mr. Noorzai was a major figure in the Afghan drug trade, controlling poppy fields that supplied a significant share of the world’s heroin. He was also an early financial backer of the Taliban. Agency officials say he provided demolition materials, weapons and manpower in exchange for protection for his opium crops, heroin labs, smuggling routes and followers.
That brings us up to 9/11. Noorzai was still living in Pakistan at that time but later that year he met with US officials in Afghanistan. There they did a kind of bait-and-switch deal with him before employing him, or so it would seem from what his American lawyer, Ivan Fisher, has been telling the New York Times.

In November 2001, he met with men he described as American military officials at Spinboldak, near the Afghan-Pakistani border, Mr. Fisher said. Small teams of United States Special Forces and intelligence officers were in Afghanistan at the time, seeking the support of tribal leaders.
Mr. Noorzai was taken to Kandahar, where he was detained and questioned for six days by the Americans about Taliban officials and operations, his lawyer said. He agreed to work with them and was freed, and in late January 2002 he handed over 15 truckloads of weapons, including about 400 antiaircraft missiles, that had been hidden by the Taliban in his tribe’s territory, Mr. Fisher said. Mr. Noorzai also offered to act as an intermediary between Taliban leaders and the Americans, his lawyer said. Mr. Noorzai said he helped persuade the Taliban’s former foreign minister, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil — the son of the mullah in Mr. Noorzai’s hometown — to meet with the Americans.

In February 2002, the Taliban official surrendered after what press accounts described as extensive negotiations and was sent to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He was freed in 2005. Mr. Noorzai also persuaded a local tribal figure, Haji Birqet, to return to Afghanistan from Pakistan, the lawyer said. But he said the Americans, falsely warned that Mr. Birqet and Mr. Noorzai were plotting to attack United States forces, killed Mr. Birqet and wounded several family members in a raid on his compound. Saying that his credibility had been hurt by the imprisonment of Mr. Mutawakil and that he was angered by the attack on Mr. Birqet, Mr. Noorzai broke off contact with the Americans and fled to his home in Pakistan, according to Mr. Fisher.

So Noorzai at this point could be forgiven for being a little bit leary of US officialdom.  Here was a guy, not at all uncommon in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who was a thriving drug dealer (considered by many to be a legitimate business) who has a relationship with a government that condones the drug business when they have other uses for him, but could crack down hard on him at any time, once he's no longer useful to them.

In May 2002, one of his tribal commanders was killed in an American raid along a drug-smuggling route that the Americans suspected was used to help the Taliban, and Mr. Noorzai may have feared for his own safety.

Into the picture comes one Bobby Charles, "former top counternarcotics official at the State Department" who admits that "finding terrorists has always trumped chasing drug traffickers."  Until, of course, chasing a drug trafficker gets you a kiss from the White House, or so it appears.

Mr. Charles pushed for the Bush administration to recognize suspected drug lords like Mr. Noorzai as a long-term security issue. “If we do not now take a hard second look at counternarcotics,” he said, “we will not get a third look.”

One of the many anomalies of the Bush administration's action in Afghanistan and the Middle East has been Bush's promise to end-Afghanistan-drug-production-as-we-know-it.  An arch conspiracy theorist said, back in 2001, that we should treat that promise very skeptically.  The drug trade, he said (and many other non-conspiracists have agreed) has been very, very valuable over the years to assorted government agencies and indeed attempts have been made over the years to tie the Bush family to drug profiteering through banks and other institutions.  I tend to be a believer. 

In any event, the conspiracy theorist turned out to be right:  Afghanistan's drug production has gotten very healthy indeed.  "Going after drug lords," however, remains politically very valuable.  Jailing and trying someone like Haji Bashir Noorzai can have its bennies for hard-pressed politicians or appointees working in relevant government agencies. In any event, all that help in negotiating with the Taliban given by Noorzai to the DEA and CIA in Afghanistan isn't helping him much now.  The agencies have officially forgotten him.  And so betrayed him.

The government officials could not confirm whether Mr. Noorzai had in fact played a role in those negotiations... Nearly two years later, in January 2004, Mr. Charles, the State Department official, proposed placing him on President Bush’s list of foreign narcotics kingpins, for the most wanted drug lords around the world. At that time, Mr. Charles recalled in an interview, no Afghan heroin traffickers were on the list, which he thought was a glaring omission. He suggested three names, including Mr. Noorzai’s, but said his recommendation was met with an awkward silence during an interagency meeting. He said there was resistance to placing Afghans on the list because countering the drug trade there was not an administration priority.

Mr. Charles persisted, and in June 2004, Mr. Noorzai became the first Afghan on the list.

Two months later, a team of American contractors working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted Mr. Noorzai and arranged a series of meetings with him in Pakistan and Dubai, according to several government officials and Mr. Noorzai’s lawyer. They wanted to win his cooperation and learn about Al Qaeda’s financial network and perhaps the whereabouts of the former Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. The Americans met with Mr. Noorzai, but the talks fizzled because F.B.I. agents who were supposed to join them were unable to do so, one official said. In 2005, the contractors, by then working for the D.E.A., reconnected with Mr. Noorzai and once again met with him in Dubai.

This time, however, the objective had changed. Mr. Noorzai had secretly been indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on drug smuggling charges in January 2005. Now the contractors needed to persuade Mr. Noorzai to come to the United States.

And so they duped him, scooped him up when he came to New York, and stuck him in Guantanamo.

Mr. Fisher said the Americans were particularly interested in gaining Mr. Noorzai’s help in tracking the flow of money to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. They were seeking information about Mullah Omar and other Taliban figures. The Americans asked Mr. Noorzai to come to the United States to meet with their superiors, he added. Mr. Noorzai’s lawyer said his client agreed to make the trip only after receiving assurances that he would not be arrested. Mr. Fisher also says that he has obtained transcripts from tape recordings made by the government at the sessions.

Mr. Noorzai flew to New York in April 2005 and was taken to an Embassy Suites hotel, where he was questioned for 13 days before being arrested, his lawyer said.Mr. Noorzai has been charged with conspiring to import more than $50 million worth of heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan into the United States and other countries.

Justice Dept. Eyes U.S. Firm’s Payments to Foreign Officials
The Justice Department is probing the relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a small investigative firm that helped American officials make a headline-grabbing arrest of an Afghan warlord.
Under scrutiny are several payments that the firm, Rosetta Research and Consulting LLC, may have made to foreign government officials, including an Afghan diplomat in London, court documents suggest.
Little is publicly known about the now-defunct Rosetta, which was founded in 2003 by a former Treasury Department researcher, Michael Patrick Jost. The firm’s goal was to “develop highly sensitive information regarding the funding of terrorist activities worldwide and to make commercial use of this information,” according to a description of the firm offered in court papers.

“Rosetta sought and obtained millions of dollars of investments,” according to the court filing “and developed relationships with high levels of officials in the FBI” and Department of Defense. The firm played a central role in helping law enforcement officials develop contact with an Afghan warlord, Bashir Noorzai, whom the government is now prosecuting in New York for heroin distribution, Mr. Noorzai’s lawyer claims in court documents filed yesterday.
Details about Rosetta are emerging in Mr. Noorzai’s case because his attorney, Ivan Fisher, is alleging that Rosetta violated the law in its pursuit of Mr. Noorzai on behalf of the government.
In a twist to the case, Mr. Jost yesterday filed a sworn affidavit on behalf of Mr. Noorzai describing an investigation into Rosetta that was conducted by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General. The investigation centers on the FBI’s relationship to Rosetta. Despite a sale’s pitch by Rosetta delivered to senior FBI officials, the FBI never signed a contract for the firm’s services, according to Mr. Jost’s account, which was confirmed by a former federal official. “They came to the FBI proposing to rent us their extensive database about people in the Middle East,” the former official said.
Mr. Jost’s account raises questions about whether individual FBI employees improperly shared information with Rosetta and whether Rosetta bribed foreign officials with the knowledge of some FBI employees.
In 2006, Mr. Jost told the Justice Department investigators that an FBI employee “had been looking up information in FBI databases and forwarding it to Rosetta,” according to his testimony. The FBI employee, who is not identified in Mr. Jost’s account, was considering taking a job with Rosetta, according to Mr. Jost.
The investigators reviewed Rosetta’s financial records, Mr. Jost said, adding that he identified some payments as going to “an Afghan diplomat serving in London.” Other money, potentially millions of dollars, Mr. Jost said, “went to government officials in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” A spokeswoman for the inspector general, Cynthia Schnedar, declined to comment. During its short existence, Rosetta’s main enterprise was to develop a relationship with Mr. Noorzai, the Afghan’s lawyer, Ivan Fisher, claims in court papers he filed yesterday. Rosetta had obtained from a source in the Office of the Secretary of Defense a list of individuals whom “our government believed could provide strategic assistance in interfering with” terrorism, Mr. Fisher claims in court papers.
Mr. Noorzai, who was the head of a million-man-strong tribe in Southern Afghanistan was on that list, Mr. Fisher’s letter to the court claims. Mr. Noorzai may have been an attractive figure to American foreign policy officials because of his extensive track record with the Central Intelligence Agency over the years.
He had helped recover unused Stinger missiles dating back to the war with the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and returned them to American officials, according to news accounts.
Rosetta employees offered to deliver Mr. Noorzai to the FBI.
“They were proposing that they could bring him to us with a grant of immunity and he would tell us about bin Laden and where he hides out,” the former official said. “The FBI did not go for it. When private business comes to you like that, wanting to make money off of the flesh trade so to speak, it’s kind of unsavory.”
Rosetta, according to Mr. Fisher, did get access to Mr. Noorzai, by bribing foreign officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.
One recipient of the payment, an Afghani diplomat stationed in London, put Rosetta in touch with a former Pakistani intelligence official, who also received payment from Rosetta, to arrange for an introduction with Mr. Noorzai, according to Mr. Fisher’s court filing. Mr. Fisher’s account does not provide exact figures for the alleged payments. Nor does the account make clear exactly on the behalf of which government agency, if any, Rosetta was pursuing Mr. Noorzai.
Mr. Noorzai made several trips to Dubai to meet with Rosetta employees he believed were representatives of the American government, according to transcripts of those conversations that have been reviewed by The New York Sun. Mr. Noorzai knew these two contacts as “Mike” and “Brian.” Mr. Noorzai has said he had only seen Osama bin Laden once in passing.
Mr. Noorzai was under the impression that American officials would help install him in the new Afghanistan government, according to his court filings.
In April of 2005, under the pretense of working out such a deal, Mr. Noorzai flew to New York and spent two weeks in a hotel at the Embassy Suites in Lower Manhattan talking with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration. He was arrested and spent the last three years awaiting trial on drug charges.
Before Mr. Noorzai arrived, there was at least one meeting in Washington with DEA agents, a federal prosecutor, and Mr. Jost, according to Mr. Fisher. According to Mr. Fisher, a disagreement ensued over whether to arrest Mr. Noorzai when he arrived or not. Rosetta’s position was to provide safe passage to Mr. Noorzai, Mr. Fisher said. Only then did the law enforcement officials inform Mr. Jost that Mr. Noorzai had already been indicted on the heroin charges, according to Mr. Fisher’s account.
In court papers, Mr. Fisher argues that the safe passage Rosetta employees promised to Mr. Noorzai is binding on the federal government, and he urged a federal judge to release Mr. Noorzai.

Anonymous said...

See the previous comment.

As a result of all of the back and forth from Ivan Fisher, Johnson got removed as lead prosecutor from the Noorzai case.

Not only that but he got on the witness list!

Now Johnson is the lead prosecutor on the Spitzer prostitution case. Maybe not back and forth but in and out?