Increased Heroin Production Could Finance More Terrorist Acts

With Afghanistan once again a major heroin producing country, drug-control officials are concerned that sales of the drug will finance the activities of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported May 10.

Afghanistan’s summer crop of opium poppies is expected to produce three-fourths of the world’s heroin. Drug traffickers are already making deals to smuggle Afghanistan-produced heroin to buyers in Moscow, Amsterdam, London, and New York.

“There’s absolutely no threat to the labs inside Afghanistan,” said Avaz Yuldashov of the Tajikistan Drug Control Agency. “Our intelligence shows there are 400 labs making heroin there, and 80 of them are situated right along our border. Some of them even work outside, in the open air.”

With U.S.-led efforts to reduce heroin production in the country a failure, Yuldashov said it is likely that money from the drug will fund al-Qaeda forces that are believed to be regrouping in the mountains of Central Asia.

“Drug trafficking from Afghanistan is the main source of support for international terrorism now,” Yuldashov said. “That’s quite clear.”

Karen Tandy, who heads the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), disagrees with the assessment. In recent congressional testimony, she said there are only “potential links” and “possible relationships” between Afghan traffickers and terrorists.

Tandy’s comments have drug agents in Central Asia puzzled. “The connection is absolutely obvious to us,” said Col. Alexander Kondratiyev, a senior Russian officer who has served with border guards in Tajikistan for nearly a decade. “Drugs, weapons, ammunition, terrorism, more drugs, more terrorism — it’s a closed circle.”

Regional diplomats, aid workers, and law-enforcement officials also voiced concerns that this “circle” would impact the U.S.-led fight against international terrorism. In particular, they said an expanding drug trade could destabilize Tajikistan, one of the five former Soviet republics that gained independence after the U.S.S.R. collapsed. Tajikistan is a poor, predominantly Muslim nation.

“We have a deep responsibility to keep these Central Asian republics from becoming failed states,” said a Western diplomat in Dushanbe who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Look what happened in Afghanistan. It was a failed state — and it became a nest for terrorists. We have to stop that same thing from happening here. For our own security, we can’t afford it.”