Source: The Times
August 11, 2009
By: Tom Coghlan
There have been no convictions inside Afghanistan against the kingpins
making hundreds of millions of dollars at the apex of the country’s
Western counter-narcotics officials point out that building such cases,
even in Western countries, usually takes years. In Afghanistan, where
the tentacles of an industry worth $3.4 billion have a corrupting
influence on almost every facet of government, it is infinitely harder.
Where convictions are achieved they don’t always stick. President Karzai
of Afghanistan recently pardoned five men sentenced to 16-18 years for
the movement of 120kg of heroin. One of those released was the nephew of
the campaign manager to Mr Karzai’s election campaign.
The Afghan drug mafia benefits from political protection as well as the
country’s lawlessness and its lack of infrastructure. The Taleban
network is just one of many that profit from taxing the production of
drugs; from controlling, protecting and facilitating the movement of
In Helmand province, where more than half the world’s heroin is
produced, parts of the Afghan police are often involved, along with
local militias — some of whom work alongside British forces.
Although there have been some recent successes in tackling police
corruption, the prize of becoming an Afghan Border Police commander on a
key drug trafficking route is still likely to cost potential candidates
hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to officials farther up the
The money is easily recouped, though, when counter-narcotics officials
say that a commander can make $400,000 by “going to sleep” while a large
drug smuggling convoy moves across his patch of the border.
Following the resulting drug-money trail becomes that much harder when
the hawala system of local money changers is widely used by the drug
mafia in preference to Western electronic banking.
The system is all based on trust — the only evidence of money movement
is likely to be a phone call between two hawala dealers in different
cities or countries who agree the transfer of a sum to be settled at a
The system is widely used across the Middle East, particularly by
migrant workers to transfer money home, entirely legitimately.
When counter-narcotics officials tried to arrest the three biggest
hawala dealers in the province of Nangarhar two years ago, it brought
the entire economy of the province to a halt and the three had to be
The drug mafia also frequently moves money in the form of luxury goods;
4×4 vehicles are very popular with drug smugglers in Helmand.
The current construction boom in Kabul, the capital, is evidence of the
laundering of the country’s drug billions into legitimate business, as
are parts of the economic bubble — that is now bursting — in Dubai and
the Gulf states.