Afghanistan and Opium: The Big Payoff!

We have a choice of two general assumptions about Afghanistan.  We can assume that opium grows in Afghanistan because it has always grown there, and nobody can do anything about it, and that Hamid Karzai and President Bush would really like to do something about it, but they wouldn’t want to interfere with local customs, and that it’s a great mystery about what happens to the opium after it’s grown, and that the opium is just a side issue and shouldn’t distract us from the mission to establish democracy in that country.

Or, we could examine a few facts and come to quite different assumptions:

It is true that Afghanistan has grown opium certainly as long as recorded history. Opium grew throughout the Middle East. We have evidence of opium poppies worked into the design of headdresses for Greek goddesses long before there was a written record of Greek culture. The British began to control the exporting of the drug early in the nineteenth century. The Opium War in China in the middle of the nineteenth century was a result of the Chinese government trying to forbid the British importation of opium from Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The British won the war and the Chinese were forced to allow the British to sell opium. Early in the twentieth century Sicilians and Italians found the opium through contacts in Beirut and had it manufactured into heroin in laboratories in Marseilles. The heroin was then smuggled into Europe and the United States. The traditional route for smugglers was over the mountains from Afghanistan, through Pakistan, then through Iran, Iraq, Jordan and to Istanbul and Beirut. The Golden Route travelled the entire length of Iran through the northern mountainous region to Iraq.

When the U. S. wanted to open a second front in World War II, the Office of Secret Services (OSS-the early precursor to the CIA) came up with a plan. They made a deal with the Mafia. In exchange for releasing Lucky Luciano from prison the Mafia promised to use their Sicilian contacts to aid the Allied invasion.  This was the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship. The Mafia in America has since always been a ready and willing patriot in any CIA off the shelf adventure.

They were willing to try to assassinate Fidel Castro with an exploding cigar, and during the Contra war, when Ollie North brought cocaine and marijuana in from Colombia, the Mafia was ready to pay cash for it and distribute it, so that North could use the cash to buy guns from Iran to give to the Contras. Ollie North knew these contacts from when he was working with the Hmong and Meo tribes in Laos during the Vietnam War.

As part of the golden triangle, these tribes produced large amounts of opium that CIA planes would then transport to Marseille, continuing the colonial tradition begun by French forces in Vietnam. George H. W. Bush was a part of all this because he was Director of the CIA when the golden triangle was active during the Vietnam War. He was Vice President during the Contra War, and he was in charge of special operations in the basement of the White House to aid the Contras. And he was probably in charge of the operation to fund the Contras through the illegal importation of cocaine and marijuana from Colombia. So, the CIA and the Bush family have a long history of working with international drug dealers and the Mafia to import opium, heroin and other drugs into the U. S.

It is true that Hamid Karzai and George W. Bush are doing their best to preserve local customs in Afghanistan, if you mean by that control of the country by opium warlords.  Certainly for most of the last three thousand years opium warlords have ruled Afghanistan. But it is not true that opium has always grown in Afghanistan. In 2002 Secretary of State Colin Powell awarded the Taliban government $43 million for eliminating opium production in Afghanistan. A few months later the U. S. invaded that country with the military and logistic support of the Afghan opium warlords. The warlords became part of the government, re-established their territories and resumed production. Before the U. S. invasion opium production was at 0% of the world supply. After the invasion production was back up to over 90% of the world supply.

Is it possible that Hamid Karzai and Bush don’t know what’s going on?  That would be unbelievable. Ahmed Wali Karzai, Hamid’s younger brother, is one of the biggest drug and gun dealers in Afghanistan.  Bush and the CIA made the arrangement with the opium warlords to take over the country, and U. S. Marines stand guard over opium fields to make sure the crop is safe.

There is a $3 billion dollar opium crop each year in Afghanistan, and the U. S. media pretends like nothing is happening.

But that $3 billion opium crop is worthless if it can’t get to markets in Turkey and Lebanon. Since the Iranian Revolution in 1978, the Iranian government has cut off the smuggler’s route across Iran.  Iran has lost 3500 government officers trying to stop the smugglers. If they have lost that many, then it is probable that the smugglers have lost an equal or greater number.  In any case, that route is essentially shut down.  

Opium is harvested in Afghanistan, most of it in Helmand Province. It is then shipped to the state of Waziristan in Pakistan where it is turned into heroin.  From Pakistan it used to go through Iran, but, now, the easiest and most direct route would be by sea from Pakistan to a friendly port in Iraq. Of course, a smuggler’s boat would be easily detected on the open sea and particularly going through the Straits of Hormuz.  The Iranians would be watching this area very closely. The only way this route would work is if the U. S. were constantly engaging Iranian patrol boats and forcing them back within their seven-mile limit, but that would mean that the U. S. Navy would be protecting the shipments of heroin.

We know that Dick Cheney was personally directing military operations in Waziristan. It is very probable that he was involved in the naval operations in the Persian Gulf.  It would have been easy for the former Defense Secretary to tell naval officers in the fleet stationed in the Persian Gulf that a CIA special operations ship would be coming through the Straits and needed protection.  Once the ship made it to Iraq, it would be no problem for Halliburton employees or CIA people to unload the ship and truck the cargo through Iraq and onto traditional and safe smuggling routes. Cheney is the former CEO of Halliburton and still draws a “deferred” salary from them, and the Bush family owns a major share in the company.

These assumptions about the transporting of heroin really can’t be proven conclusively within the context of this article. But they could provide answers to important questions, like: Where does $3 billion worth of Afghanistan opium go? Why were we provoking Iran earlier this summer?  Are we really concerned with establishing democratic institutions in Afghanistan? And, does George W. Bush have enough money saved for his retirement?

Ed Felien is the editor and publisher of Southside Pride, a monthly newspaper locally owned and operated in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at

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