common ground

Afghanistan 2

Program 0215 April 9, 2002

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, however, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

AHMAD: [via a translator]: The US also wanted to stop drugs. It has badly failed because everyone has just gone back to cultivating poppies.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, Afghanistan’s renewed drug trade. Plus, rebuilding Afghanistan’s historic Buddha statues.

ROBERT KOSTKA: This stereo photo, it is possible to make a model of the Buddha statue.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. During the last years of their rule in Afghanistan, the Taliban wiped out opium poppy production. But since the start of the US-led war, Afghan farmers are again planting poppies. And heroin smuggling has increased dramatically.

MCHUGH: In the 1980s the United States allied with drug smuggling mujahadeen warlords to fight against the Soviet Union. As Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Afghanistan and Pakistan, those warlords are back in business.

[a crowd of people talking, a chicken cackling]

REESE EHRLICH: Obeidullah Shanawaz proudly shows off his farm on the outskirts of Kabul. He raises dairy cattle, wheat, and vegetables. He doesn’t grow opium poppies but he knows farmers in other parts of Afghanistan who do.

OBEIDULLAH SHANAWAZ: [via a translator] Farmers need to earn more money and this is one way to do it. The demand for heroin is very high in other countries. They want it. So people here [who] grow it get more income. When the mujahadeen came to power the US helped. Then the US forgot Afghanistan. Now the US feels the pain of forgetting our country.

[Someone chants a sad-sounding, dirge-like song, and someone else responds with a similar song.]

EHRLICH: These Afghans are singing a traditional tapa, a style of music with sad, extemporaneous lyrics. They are refugees living in Peshawar, Pakistan—and they’re heroin addicts. Some became addicted in Afghanistan; others picked up the habit of smoking heroin here in Pakistan.

[Someone chants a sad-sounding, dirge-like song, and someone else responds with a similar song.]

EHRLICH: As part of his job with a nongovernmental organization, Ahmad checks the price of heroin every week so his group can better predict trends among addicts. The economics of the heroin trade reveal a lot about the impact of the US war in Afghanistan. Ahmad explains that drug smugglers in Afghanistan after the US war began sought to liquidate their inventory and get cash. Heroin flooded into Peshawar and prices dropped from $800 to $600 per kilo.

[a crowd of people talking]

EHRLICH: We’re holding the interview outdoors, a short distance from Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas, where regular police don’t patrol and the drug trade flourishes.

AHMAD: [via a translator] It went up to 38,000 at once. Even to 40,000.

[sound of gunfire]

AHMAD: [via a translator] They are testing, just testing.

EHRLICH: What are they testing? Rifles?

AHMAD: [via a translator] Arms. Arms. Yes.

EHRLICH: My hosts say, “Don’t worry.” When foreigners come to the area, the local drug lords like to have target practice with their AK-47’s.

[sound of gunfire]

EHRLICH: What was that? What caliber was that?

ACHMED: [via a translator] I think, I think, this, this, I think this is AK-47.


ACHMED: [via a translator] In this area especially we, we are becoming so tired of these firings. Because especially if foreigners are coming, they are testing very soon.


EHRLICH: [talking to the crowd] Oh, I see. They literally saw me coming. All right.

[Ehrlich returns to narration] Just in case someone decides to point the AK-47 in the wrong direction we go inside.

[a crowd of people talking]

EHRLICH: Ahmad gives me a short history of the Taliban and drugs. When the Taliban leaders first came to power in 1996 they ordered the burning of poppy fields. A year later, in an effort to boost falling government revenues, they encouraged poppy planting and taxed heroin smuggling. Then, under international pressure in 2000, Taliban banned poppy growing once again. There was a dramatic 95 percent reduction in the crop. But the US bombing campaign changed all that. With the lack of any central government in Afghanistan farmers are planting poppy in large amounts and heroin smuggling has resumed big time—according to Achmed.

ACHMED: [via a translator] The US goal in Afghanistan was to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda. But the US also wanted to stop drugs. It has badly failed because everyone has just gone back to cultivating poppies.

EHRLICH: Opium poppies were grown in Afghanistan for centuries but it wasn’t processed into heroin. That all changed after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, and the Muslim fundamentalists mujahadeen started armed resistance with US backing. This man, who used to be a heroin smuggler, says the CIA instructed the mujahadeen how to make heroin; in part to hook Soviet soldiers on drugs. The CIA, in turn, worked with the Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence, or ISI.

UNIDENTIFIED AFGHAN DRUG SMUGGLER: CIA and the local intelligence, ISI, they helped train a few Afghans and told them how to make the heroin out of opium. You have land—they convinced them that you have land and this is how we fought them and this is how you finance your war. The Afghans didn’t know about it. If they had they would have done this much before. But somebody has to train somebody because you know, they, for them to do something, you know. They were not trained for this before.

EHRLICH: The former smuggler got this information from conversations with others in the drug trade rather than from first-hand experience. But others confirm the US role in initiating the heroin trade from Afghanistan. Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani brigadier general with many friends in the ISI.

SHAUKAT QADIR: I think this decision was taken somewhere in ‘83, ‘84. I think that they needed more money than they could provide to the Afghans for their war. And just like the US had done elsewhere—in Nicaragua, when they were backing the contras, and Colombia, and wherever else they felt the need—as a matter of policy they said, “Okay. Go right ahead.”

EHRLICH: General Qadir says the CIA justified drug dealing on the grounds that greater issues were at stake.

QADIR: That’s always been the, the, the idea behind it. If it’s, this is the greater interest of the US—we need to get the Soviets out; we need the contras to win—so, if this is what they need, this is their way of getting money. That’s the way to do it.

EHRLICH: Tariq Zafar, who heads a Pakistani drug rehab program says US support for drug smuggling had a devastating impact on Pakistan. The CIA provided arms; the mujahadeen smuggled out heroin. Every city along the smuggling route from Afghanistan to the port city of Karachi saw an explosion in drug addiction.

TARIQ ZAFAR: When heroin was being carried from Peshawar or from, from the far border to Karachi, where the weapons were coming in, the same trucks which would bring the weapons in would take the heroin out. And probably the same ships that brought the weapons in were taking the heroin out. So that’s why you had first, epidemics in the major cities, along the grand trunk road.

[sound of a saw]

EHRLICH: Dr. Sikandar Azim Khan works with the victims of that heroin epidemic. He directs the Dosed Drug Rehabilitation Center in Peshawar, which provides therapy and vocational training to addicts.

SIKANDAR AZIM KHAN: This is a table for computer. He makes himself.

EHRLICH: He’s making the table, the computer table by hand.

AZIM KHAN: By hand.

EHRLICH: With only hand tools.

AZIM KHAN: Without any machine. Yes. We’ve got a number of patients who are working with him. Learning the skills so when they go out they have some skills.

[Ehrlich and Dr. Khan walk through the clinic]

AZIM KHAN: It’s an open group going on. In which they share their feelings and…

EHRLICH: It’s a therapy group.

AZIM KHAN: …life experiences. Yeah. open—it’s a group.

EHRLICH: Dr. Khan says Pakistan suffered immensely, suffered from the US and Pakistani government policies of promoting the drug trade in the 1980s.

AZIM KHAN: Before 1979 that was when the one war started—Russia, against Russia, supported by the US and the Western nations—there were hardly any drug users in Pakistan. It was almost zero. Nobody even knew what heroin was. And after ‘79—look at it. Today, there, according to some estimates, there are 4.8 million drug users in Pakistan. And Pakistan is the highest heroin consumer country in the world—per capita. So it’s not just a route for smuggling. We are a victim ourselves.

EHRLICH: Dr. Khan and others worry that the instability and lack of central government in Afghanistan will return that country to its status as the number one heroin exporting country in the world. But it’s more than just chaos. Some political leaders are profiting handsomely from the drug trade. Either through direct control or by taxing the heroin smugglers. Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI, says high level officials in the new US-backed government in Afghanistan use drug money to bolster their power.

HAMID GUL: I’m afraid now, once again, the warlord-ism has returned. Those people who were involved in this trafficking, who made lots of money. Some of them I know. I won’t name them. But some of them become—I know they are drug traffickers. And now they are ministers. I have firsthand knowledge. They are ministers now in the new cabinet. So, obviously the business will restart and warlord-ism is supported by finances. And finances come through drug trafficking and weapon—gun running. So, this, this is going to register a great increase in my opinion. And that is the American choice.

[Someone chants a sad-sounding, dirge-like song.]

EHRLICH: Back in Peshawar, NGO worker Ahmad confirms that some members of the new Afghan government have been involved in the drug trade. He says General Abdul Rashid Dostom, now Deputy Defense Minister, has historic ties to the drug trade.

AHMAD: [via a translator] Those Northern Alliance leaders never eliminated heroin smuggling when they were in power. Dostom was there. He was not just taxing the production. He was helping direct it. Poppy is the only worthwhile source of foreign exchange for them.

EHRLICH: Ahmad says, however, that the new government of Hamid Karzai is facing a lot of international pressure not to resume massive opium and heroin production. But, he says, that’s temporary.

AHMAD: [via a translator] For the time being the Northern Alliance must make the UN happy. They won’t smuggle lots of heroin for now. Once things have calmed down a bit they’ll resort to their old ways.

EHRLICH: With the Afghan government split among fractious warlords, what could be done to stop or at least slow the heroin trade? One man has an intriguing suggestion.

[sound of a rooster crowing]

EHRLICH: Tariq Zafar heads a drug rehab group called “Nai Zindagi,” or “New Life,” located on the outskirts of Islamabad. Zafar shows how ex-drug addicts rebuild jeeps to learn a viable skill.

[sound of power tools]

ZAFAR: Until somebody came here from the Fox News and they said, “Oh, bloody hell. This looks like an Al Qaeda camp Number Two.”[laughs]

EHRLICH: Zafar says even if the Afghan government had a strong commitment to fighting drugs, armed force alone can’t stop the poppy production and heroin smuggling. He suggests that the US buy up the entire poppy crop and sell it for legitimate pharmaceutical uses. The danger here, of course, is that such a policy would encourage others to plant poppy and thus actually stimulate production. Zafar says there’s a way to limit that problem.

ZAFAR: We look at what Afghanistan is producing at the moment; we take satellite photographs of the acreages; we have an agreement that it will be limited to these number of acres or acreages; and we will purchase the crop and keep on purchasing it until, unless, we train the farmers or we build enough technology for them to shift into alternate cropping.

EHRLICH: Buying up the entire poppy crop isn’t a long-term solution, of course. Afghanistan needs lots of foreign aid to rebuild its shattered economy. Farmers need alternative sources of income. So it won’t be easy stopping the drug trade.

[a chicken cackles]

EHRLICH: Farmer Obedalah Shanawaz knows that poor farmers are very tempted to plant opium poppy. They can earn perhaps ten times their normal income planting a crop that’s easy to grow. But he also knows the consequences. I asked Shanawaz what he would say if another farmer asked if he should grow poppy.

OBEIDULLAH SHANAWAZ: [via a translator] No, no. Heroin is not good for humans. It’s a big problem all over the world, especially for the young generation. Now we have a new government in Afghanistan. I hope for our people that we won’t produce heroin again.

[Someone chants a sad-sounding, dirge-like song.]

EHRLICH: Ordinary people in Afghanistan know about the scourge of heroin. But some of their leaders can’t resist the money and power that comes from drug sales. Many people here say if the US doesn’t take action, Afghanistan is on the road to becoming a major world supplier of heroin once again. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich in Kabul.

[Someone chants a sad-sounding, dirge-like song.]

PORTER: Poppies aren’t all the Taliban eliminated in Afghanistan. During their rule the Taliban also destroyed some of the country’s heritage. Last year they tore down Afghanistan’s famous Buddha statues.

MCHUGH: But photos stored in a basement at an Austrian university may lead to the restoration of those statues. Common Ground’s Karen Engle reports from Austria.

KAREN ENGLE: As a specialist in mountain cartography, Professor Robert Kostka of the Graz University of Technology visited Afghanistan 30 years ago. When he took 3-D photographs of the largest of the two famous Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley.

ROBERT KOSTKA: In 1970 I took stereo photo from this Buddha statue; two images from the two different places. And with this stereo photo it is possible to make a model of this side. The wall, the cliff, of the rocks, and all of the Buddha statue.

ENGLE: It turns out that these photographs are the only professional high-definition photogrammetric measurements in existence of the Buddha. A company in Graz will now scan these photographs into a computer and construct a 3-D model of the Buddha, which everyone will be able to see at the Web site of a global heritage Internet society called The New Seven Wonders Society and the Afghanistan Museum in Switzerland are trying to raise the money to rebuild the Buddha based on the computer model. There were two Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley, but photographs only exist for the largest one. Even now, Professor Kostka remembers with awe his first encounters with the Buddha—the largest as high as a ten-story building.

KOSTKA: It was really a huge statue. It’s about 55 meters. And there’s also the possibility to climb up to the top of the head of the, this statue. There are many caves with holes inside the rock. One can go up to the, could go up to the head and have a wonderful view of the whole valley.

ENGLE: Bamiyan is situated on the Silk Route, linking Europe and Central Asia. Greeks who settled in the area following Alexander the Great were the first to create images of the Buddha. The Bamiyan statues were made by local artisans influenced by Hellenistic art. For 2,000 years the two giant Buddhas had survived earthquakes, the sweeping army of Ghengis Khan, Russian bombings, and 20 years of civil war, only to be blasted into dust last year. Professor Robert Kostka says the Afghani people would like to see the Buddhas re-erected.

KOSTKA: They are very interested. For it was destroyed by Taliban as Afghan people said, not Afghan people but, but some groups coming from, from elsewhere. From other places. So the Afghan people would be very interested in getting this rebuilt.

ENGLE: For Common Ground, this is Karen Engle in Graz, Austria.

MCHUGH: Building an alliance against terrorism in Southeast Asia, next on Common Ground.

YUAN KAN SINGH(?): I think many Singaporeans were shocked, very surprised that indeed we have a small group of Singaporeans trying to perpetuate this terrorism in Singapore.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MCHUGH: As President Bush threatens to expand the war on terrorism, analysts speculate on where and when the US military could be engaged next. President Bush says he won’t hesitate to act if he feels foreign governments are timid about terrorism.

PORTER: In Southeast Asia the US faces a conundrum: some governments are cooperating with the White House, but others aren’t. Common Ground’s Simon Marx begins his report in Singapore.

[sound of a rushing subway train]

SIMON MARX: Rush hour at the Ushung(?) subway station in Singapore. Trains come and go every few minutes with the crisp efficiency for which this city-state is known. Commuters eager to help Singapore bounce back from recession head to work. But the very fact that they’re still able to use their local station may be due to some skillful police work on the part of the Singaporean authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED TERRORIST: You will notice that some of the boxes that place on the motorcycles. These are the same type of boxes which we intend to use.

MARX: You’re listening to the soundtrack off a videotape found in Afghanistan. It shows the Ushung(?) subway station and those same scenes of commuters scurrying to work. The government of Singapore claims it was presented to leaders of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organization by members of a Southeast Asian militant group called Jamal Islamia(?). It is, says the government, effectively an offer to attack US interests in Singapore on Al Qaeda’s behalf. The plan: to plant explosives in a bicycle and park it at the station. The bomb would be detonated when busloads of US military personnel were passing by. A separate attack was also planned against US naval vessels heading into port here.

YUAN KAN SING(?): No country in the world can really be insulated from terrorism.

MARX: Yuan Kan Sing(?) is Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister.

YUAN KAN SINGH(?): I think many Singaporeans were shocked, very surprised that indeed we have a small group of Singaporeans trying to perpetuate this terrorism in Singapore. Fortunately the plan was not proceeded with.

MARX: And do you have a sense of why the Al Qaeda leaders did not authorize the plan to be carried out?

YUAN KAN SINGH(?): We don’t know. Perhaps they could have other priorities at the time.

MARX: Thirteen leaders of Jamal Islamia(?) are now in detention in Singapore in connection with the plot. The hunt is on for other members of the group who remain on the run. Singapore’s Muslim community has unreservedly condemned the plot to attack Americans here. In this Asian melting pot of diverse races and cultures there was enormous surprise when the plot was revealed, and it’s prompted a wide public debate about how Singapore can best strengthen its integrated society. Home Affairs Minister Juan Kan Singh(?) says it’s also led the government to exercise continued vigilance in case other plots are being hatched.

YUAN KAN SINGH(?): We don’t see the existence of any other group in Singapore for now.

MARX: The Singaporean government says it’s proud of foiling the apparent plot to attack US targets here. But elsewhere in Southeast Asia the US cannot count on similar support in identifying and eradicating Al Qaeda’s Asian proxies.

[the sound of the Moslem call to prayer]

MARX: Just 75 minutes by air from Singapore, in the sprawling Indonesian capital, Jakarta, the Muslim call to prayer echoes out across the city. In this, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, the United States faces a considerable challenge as it tries to win support for its war on terror. In Indonesia that war hasn’t been making many headlines.

[sound of rushing water]

MARX: This has. A wall of water tearing through the city. The worst flooding in a generation to inundate Jakarta left more than 150 people dead, communities destroyed, and the government under pressure literally to dig citizens out of the mud. But the monsoon isn’t the only storm cloud gathering over Indonesia, home to 200 million people across an archipelago of 13,000 remote islands. The United States argues that Indonesia is a base for a growing number of Al Qaeda cells and supporters. That’s a contention vigorously denied by government ministers and Muslim leaders like Dim Sam Sudan(?), who heads an umbrella organization of Indonesian Muslim groups that advises the country’s president.

DIM SAM SUDAN(?): We don’t have any information about that. The American and Indonesian government have to prove it with hard evidence.

MARX: US officials say there’s plenty of evidence available. Al Qaeda, they say, had obtained detailed plans of the US embassy in Jakarta, with a view to attacking it. They say Osama bin Laden’s organization operated at least one terrorist training camp on Indonesian soil.

KUZNATO NGORO(?): We condemn terrorism and we understand that a international terrorism is nonconventional threat to security and threat against humanity.

MARX: Kuznato Ngoro(?) is an analyst with Jakarta’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

KUZNATO NGORO(?): At the policy level then it would be very difficult to expect that between the US and the Indonesian government would have some common response.

MARX: Difficult because the Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri, is under intense pressure from the domestic Muslim constituency not to cooperate with President Bush. At the White House last September she spoke in only the most general terms about her reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

MEGAWATI SUKARNOPUTRI: [via a translator] After I heard and witnessed and saw what happened the tragic events in New York and Washington I immediately issued a statement which strongly condemned these attacks, which were very inhumane. And afterwards I sent a letter to President Bush expressing my condolences. So this is the position of my government on this issue. So it’s very clear.

MARX: But what is not very clear is whether the president intends to accept $18 million in US aid that she’s been offered to help combat terrorism; or whether she intends to take action against those Indonesians accused of supporting Osama bin Laden.

[someone speaks in a crowded setting]

MARX: Abu Baka Bashir(?) is an influential Muslim cleric in Indonesia. The 63-year-old was taken in for questioning by local police after saying that he rejoiced when he heard of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. After threatening to sue the governments of Indonesia and the USA. for slander, he was released without charge. Political analyst Kuznato Ngoro(?) says that’s no surprise.

KUZNATO NGORO(?): Oh, no, I don’t think so. I think there are very complicated issues, especially dealing with the people like Abu Baka Bashir(?).

MARX: And in a further indication that those complicated issues are limiting the Bush administration’s options here, Muslim leaders like Dim Sam Sudan(?) also reject any notion that the joint military exercises recently staged by the US in Thailand, or the ongoing US military presence in the Philippines, would ever be acceptable in Indonesia.

DIM SAM SUDAN(?): They’d have to be careful. This is the largest Muslim country. Cannot be taken for granted. Okay. Not only the radical, the fundamentalists, but the moderate will feel that this is kind of demeaning of the Muslims here in the country, in Indonesia.

MARX: So Indonesian analysts like Kuznato Ngoro(?), say there’s not much the US can do to prevent the country becoming a secure haven for Al Qaeda sympathizers. He says any attempt by Washington to impose a solution without Jakarta’s consent would be doomed.

KUZNATO NGORO(?): Do you think that would be possible? I don’t think so. I mean, from international relations point of view. That would likely create some problems. Especially because many people here in Indonesia still believe in noninterference in domestic affairs, for example. So I think the US, it would like to do so then need an approval from Indonesian government.

[sound of ethnic Indonesia movement]

MARX: Nine thousand miles and 13 time zones away from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, governments across Asia are facing their own dilemmas confronting the threat of terrorism. In places like Singapore the US can count on cooperation and support; but in other parts of this region the associates of Al Qaeda may still find places to hide and places to plan—far from the reach of US military might. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marx in Jakarta..

MCHUGH: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. Transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0215. That’s Program Number 02-15. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That’s 563-264-1500.

PORTER: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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