Is there a strong union in the Afghan heroin industry?

As the Americans consolidate freedom, they might set up a chain of high-street opium dens
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The Independent Online

Who can remember why we went to war with Afghanistan? It was a great success, so it can't have been to find Bin Laden as he's still about, or to destroy al-Qa'ida as they're apparently stronger than ever, to the extent that we have to rewrite our legal system to stop them. One reason may have been, as Laura Bush announced, their record of "severe repression against women", as opposed to our allies Saudi Arabia which is more or less under the control of a radical lesbian collective. For this is a country where women aren't allowed to drive. That's how much the men are under the women's thumbs, they have to chauffeur the women around by law.

Who can remember why we went to war with Afghanistan? It was a great success, so it can't have been to find Bin Laden as he's still about, or to destroy al-Qa'ida as they're apparently stronger than ever, to the extent that we have to rewrite our legal system to stop them. One reason may have been, as Laura Bush announced, their record of "severe repression against women", as opposed to our allies Saudi Arabia which is more or less under the control of a radical lesbian collective. For this is a country where women aren't allowed to drive. That's how much the men are under the women's thumbs, they have to chauffeur the women around by law.

There was another reason, you may recall, which was, as Jack Straw said at the time, the war was "the only chance of ridding Afghanistan of heroin". Or, as Tony Blair said: "The arms the Taliban are buying today are paid with the lives of young British people buying their drugs on British streets."

You might also remember the daily stories that began with statements like: "Afghan Taliban fanatics have turned their entire country into a giant poppy field. They plan to set light to it before dropping it on London, so they can take over while we're shooing away imaginary lizards."

But we must have misunderstood all this, because three years after the war was a success, a United Nations report has declared this week: "Britain hit by surge in Afghan heroin." It turns out that, under the Americans, the heroin trade is producing 4,200 tons of opium a year, only a syringe or two short of its highest ever output.

Maybe it will be revealed that our contribution to rebuilding the place was to secretly send them Alan Titchmarsh. Every week, he turns up with Charlie Dimmock to a poppy field and says: "Oo my goodness, this is a bit of a state. Now the first thing is to put in plenty of trellis for the plants to climb up, and that should do wonders for your opium crop." Two days later, production has doubled and there is just enough in the budget for a delightful water feature.

By now, the Americans are probably boasting that the huge profits show what can be achieved when you open a place up to the freedom of business markets. I expect there are business reporters on CNN, beaming announcements such as: "More good news on Wall Street today from the Poppy International Group, whose Afghan holdings outlet declared record pre-tax profits of $63.8m. That's one board whose shareholders won't be giving them a 'smack'. Huh huh, now over to Steve with the sport."

As the Americans consolidate freedom in the country, they might set up a chain of high-street opium dens, where you can pop in for a fix and the polite young staff will ask: "Spoon or vein, sir? And would you like skinny, medium or overdose?"

And they must be close to building Afghanistan's own version of Disneyland, much cheaper than the one in Florida. You buy your ticket, get a blast of opium and sit on a park bench, then every time someone walks past you're convinced it's either Donald Duck or Goofy.

So how has this happened? Is there a particularly strong trade union in the Afghan heroin industry? So that when the Americans went to close it down, their leaders announced: "This closure programme will destroy our communities. There's enough hallucinations in them fields to last 10 generations."

A possible answer lies with the other piece of news from Afghanistan this week. Apparently, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, hand-picked by Bush, has appointed his military chief of staff, one Rashid Dostum. Dostum is fairly well qualified, as he's always referred to as a warlord, having built his own army with which he's ruled chunks of the country. One of his policies was to set up a sex-slave camp, so he's clearly the right person to reverse that severe repression of women. He also brought in a direct approach to law and order, having criminals crushed to death by tanks, and boasted that he was once the winner of a throat-cutting competition. I suppose the one thing the Afghans should be thankful for is that it could have been worse - they might have ended up with David Blunkett.

In his past, Dostum has fought for the former Soviet Union, for Afghan tribes, and the Americans, like a warlord version of a footballer who gets transferred regularly. Perhaps, each time he signs up to fight for a government, after he's cut his first throat he runs over kissing his badge to make himself popular with the new fans. But the most interesting bit is how he financed his army in the first place - through heroin. For Rashid Dostum the drugs did work.

So - America is proudly fighting two crusades in this world, one against drugs and one against terror. And in their biggest success so far, they've now installed as military leader a man who's done more than almost anyone on the planet to create both.

Or maybe Bush is just paying him back, because a few years ago Dostum was Bush's supplier.

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