Monday, January 14, 2008

No plan to fight Taliban, al Qaeda

Under the radar screen of the tragic assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto lies a major cause for the resurgence of al Qaeda both in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. Afghanistan now supplies 92 percent of the world's heroin-producing opium, and 36 percent of illicit opiates exported from Afghanistan transit through Pakistan en route to Europe, Asia and the United States. These figures make Afghanistan and Pakistan the No. 1 exporting and transit nations in the world for the opium used for heroin.

Bad money circulates among bad people. With the exception of 2001, when the Taliban strictly enforced a moratorium on poppy cultivation with such harsh tactics as beheadings, opium poppy cultivation has been steadily increasing. The U.S. military, afraid to disrupt the economies of U.S.-friendly Afghanistan and Pakistan, has turned a blind eye rather than attempt to eradicate the drug trade. Opium production on our watch has increased 33 fold from 185 tons in 2001 under the Taliban to 6,100 tons in 2006.

Block drug trafficking

The resurgence of the Taliban is closely linked to the opium industry. They use Afghanistan's opium industry and Pakistan's transit corridor as a source of funds as well as an avenue to gain the allegiance of the local people, particularly those discontented with the U.S. and NATO-supported governments of Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., accurately reported on the Senate floor when he unanimously won an amendment in September 2006 expanding counternarcotics assistance to Afghanistan (later stripped in conference by Republican leaders and the administration), ``The Taliban generates roughly 70 percent of its income through the production and sale of opium."

Far from blocking drug trafficking by the Taliban and al Qaeda, Pakistan has actually negotiated a truce with rebels in the frontier areas of the northwest, who have ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda, to mutually cease hostilities. This, in effect, gives them carte blanche to strengthen and grow the illicit crops that fund them. It didn't even work as a peace deal. Since the signing of the Waziristan Accord on Sept. 5, 2006, attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have intensified. Cross-border raids have significantly increased, and NATO forces have repeatedly engaged in pursuit across the Pakistan frontier.

Bhutto, before she died, told CNN, ``The Taliban and al Qaeda have regrouped in Pakistan.''

Act on the facts

Pakistan's radical Islamic fighters, who were evicted from Afghanistan by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, have intensified a ruthless campaign that has consumed Pakistan's tribal areas and now affects its major cities. The insurgents have enhanced their ability to threaten not only Pakistan but Europe and the United States as well. Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism chief for former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton said, ``If I had thought that six years later al Qaeda would be stronger than it was then, I would not have believed on 9/11 that was possible. Bin Laden is alive and well.''

Pakistan is fast evolving into the same drug-funded chaos, financing al Qaeda, that neighbor Afghanistan has already become. By refusing to block the drugs, we are funding our worst enemies, who showed on 9/11 that they want us dead and will do anything to achieve that objective. It's time for us to act on, not hide from, the facts.

As the leader of the Afghan State Department desk in Charlie Wilson's War said of our Afghanistan policy more than 20 years ago, ''There is none.'' That is still true today, for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the very areas where bin Laden and al Qaeda are surviving and flourishing, and possibly are centered, more than six years after they attacked us on 9/11, isn't it time for a plan?

Robert Weiner was public affairs director for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Clinton administration. John Larmett, senior policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates, was foreign affairs legislative assistant to Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.