Musharraf voices concerns that Afghanistan could become a narco-state.

As revealed by a recent Cablegate Wikileak, former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, has voiced concerns that Afghanistan could become a narco-state. In a meeting with Senator John McCain in April this year, Musharaff argued that Afghanistan should follow India’s example in handling the narcotics trade. The relevant paragraph in the Wikileak reads, in full, as follows:

“12. (C) In response to McCain’s question about whether Musharraf was worried Afghanistan would become a narco-state, Musharraf answered that he was, especially because if it did it would affect Pakistan. Musharraf thought Afghanistan could follow the example of other countries -- such as India -- where narcotics were purchased legally and channelled into the international pharmaceutical industry. It was a $ 500-600 million annual industry, Musharraf said, and the profits made from legal poppy sales could go toward poverty alleviation instead of to the Taliban”.

Musharraf’s concern is more pertinent than ever before. In June this year, Victor Ivanov, Russia’s drug control chief, told an international security conference in Berlin that “the time has come to qualify Afghan drug production as a threat to world peace and security”. Arguing that opium production is the key factor in giving rise to economic and political instability in Afghanistan, Ivanov recommended that eliminating poppy plantations and encouraging landowners to grow wheat rather than poppies were two ways in which to tackle the problem.

Musharraf instead suggests that Afghanistan should look to India, where the production of narcotics is controlled by the World Health Organization and where many drugs are approved by the American Food and Drug Administration. Big Indian pharmaceutical companies accrue large profits by exporting legally produced narcotics; these profits are then ploughed back into the country’s economy rather than being used to arm warlords. One good example of such a company is CIPLA (The Chemical, Industrial and Pharmaceutical Laboratories) ; established in 1935, CIPLA is now one of India’s largest narcotics manufactures. During the financial year ending March 31 2009 the company posted a profit of 27.5m rupees (about $600,000) from exports.

At the moment, profits from opium manufacturing in Afghanistan are instrumental in supporting the Taliban: NATO estimates that the insurgent group receives between 40 and 60 per cent of its income from drugs. In April 2008, an English national newspaper broke the story of how heroin was being traded for guns for the Taliban near the old Afghan-Soviet border. Smugglers revealed that a run-down bazaar deep in the Tajikistan desert exists solely as a meeting point for smugglers and Taliban go-betweens, where weapons are traded for heroin destined for the streets of America and Britain. A mere 1kg of heroin can purchase about 30 AK-47 rifles at the bazaar. Ivanov’s warning to the rest of the world of the dangers posed by a Taliban armed to the teeth on drug money should not be taken lightly.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are signatories of the Rome Consensus for a Humanitarian Drug Policy. Uniting 121 National Societies of Red Cross and Red Crescent from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, the Rome Consensus, according to its website, “aims at raising the profile of drug policy to the forefront of social concerns, highlighting formulation and implementation of drug control on public health concerns”. The Consensus seeks to collectively use the might of its signatories to reduce the suffering and poverty that results from international narcotic crime, and both Pakistan and Afghanistan - on paper - are committed to that vision. But the fears of Musharraf over the latter becoming a narco-state are bolstered by Ivanov’s reminder of the threat posed by a Taliban rich on drug money. Perhaps India is the answer.