Author Urges Broad Anti-Opium Afghan Strategy
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
We've been talking about the drug trade in Afghanistan and its effect on the war there. Today, we're going to hear more from Gretchen Peters. She's the author of the book "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda." Peters argues that going after the poppy problem in Afghanistan has to be a fundamental part of the war effort. And that for a strategy to succeed, it has to be broad in scope.
Ms. GRETCHEN PETERS (Author, "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda"): It's sort of like the treatment you would give to an HIV patient. There has to be a number of different treatments that happen simultaneously, a cocktail of interventions. And some of that's going to be alternative livelihood programs and development in the village areas so people will have other options than growing poppy.
Poppy, for example, is a drought resistant crop. So Afghanistan is in its 10th year of drought and years of war have destroyed the irrigation systems. So farmers will often tell you they don't really have any other crops they can physically grow - and that's a problem.
Another issue is fighting corruption. Another issue is going to be having better regulation of trade. I mean, virtually no trade in the region is regulated. And so what happens is poppy and other drugs get smuggled out inside of legal commodities that are coming and going. And that's how money coming back is laundered. So, there's a lot of different things that have to get dealt with and a lot of them aren't very sexy.
NORRIS: So, why don't we hear President Obama talk about this at West Point?
Ms. PETERS: Well, you'd have to ask President Obama that. I do think the�
NORRIS: Well, did that surprise you that there was�
Ms. PETERS: It does surprise me because I think that increasingly, having studied the ground operations of the various factions of the Taliban, the Afghan insurgency, and the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups over a five-year period, wherever you go, they're earning money off of crime. It might not be drugs. In some places, they're earning more money from kidnapping or timber smuggling or human trafficking.
But they're protecting criminal activities just like any normal mafia organization here in the United States or somewhere else in the world. And I still think there is a lack of understanding of just how pervasive this criminal activity is within the insurgency on both sides of the border.
NORRIS: Are there fears that this could become much like the Vietnam War, where the supply of cheap smack wound up undermining, in some ways, the U.S. military effort? 'Cause they were concern that the Taliban or al-Qaida might try to spread around inexpensive heroin to either U.S. forces or to the Afghan army or the Afghan police force?
Ms. PETERS: They're certainly concerned among - some U.S. commanders have voiced the concern to me that American troops are getting their hands on drugs in Afghanistan; usually hashish more than heroin, but heroin is available. It certainly was a problem for the Soviet troops. When they were in Afghanistan, they had a tremendous problem - heroin problem in particular.
In addition, I think there's a larger issue and that is that there are growing indications that Muslim gangs around the world - specifically in the U.K., but in Europe as well and possibly also in Canada - are now getting involved in smuggling heroin that is coming from Afghanistan. And they've actually given interviews to the British press and they're referring to it as the chemical jihad, making addicts of infidels in the West.
Now, this is ironic because, actually, heroin use in the West has actually been declining, by and large, over the last two decades. I'm not suggesting it's not a problem. But the parts of the world where heroin addiction is really skyrocketing are countries right around Afghanistan: Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Central Asia.
But, yes, you're absolutely right. There are concerns that American troops will become flooded with cheap heroin.
NORRIS: How do you inoculate American troops against that?
Ms. PETERS: Well, it's going to be a very difficult situation particularly because this effort to send thousands and thousands of American troops into these very remote, very difficult villages in Afghanistan to live in, it's boring, it's hard, you want to find a way to escape from it all. I think it's going to be very challenging to keep drugs out of the equation.
NORRIS: Gretchen Peters, thanks so much for coming in to talk to us.
Ms. PETERS: Thank you.
NORRIS: Gretchen Peters is the author of the book "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda."
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