THE CIA AND HEROIN FINANCED THE MUJAHEDEEN
By Robert I. Friedman
The World Trade Center bombing is the legacy of the CIA's disastrous policy
of arming the mujahedeen in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Not only have Afghan
war veterans been implicated in the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history,
but mujahedeen warlords also have become the world's biggest heroin
producers, according to experts in the international drug trade.
The CIA's arms shipments and training program for the mujahedeen became one
of its most massive covert operations, costing at least $2 billion, far
surpassing U.S. support for the Nicaraguan contras. If anything, the battle
for Afghanistan motivated the CIA more than the war against the
Sandinistas. In Nicaragua, the CIA fought Soviet proxies. In Afghanistan,
the enemy was the Soviet army, which invaded Afghanistan in December 1979.
Support for Nicaraguan and Afghani "freedom fighters" became the
cornerstone of the so-called Reagan Doctrine-an attempt not just to contain
Communism but to roll it back. While the contras were mostly a collection
of former dictator Anastasio Somoza's street thugs, in Afghanistan the
rebels were Islamic extremists and narco-terrorists who hated America as
much as they despised the Godless Russians.
Billions of dollars of CIA money, matched by billions from Saudi Arabia (a
quid pro quo for receiving AWAC surveillance planes over the adamant
protests of the pro-Israel lobby), were passed through the Bank of Credit
and Commerce International to the Afghan rebels. The bank was also used to
channel funds to the contras. But no matter how much money the Afghan
rebels received it never seemed to be enough. In order to augment their
funds, rebel chieftains began to grow poppies, refine opium into heroin,
and sell the drug in the U.S. and Europe. In 1979, Pakistan and Afghanistan
exported virtually no heroin to the West. By 1981, the drug lords, many
high-ranking members of Pakistan's political and military establishment,
controlled 60 per cent of America's heroin market. "Trucks from the
Pakistan army's National Logistics Cell arriving with CIA arms from Karachi
often returned loaded with heroin-protected by ISI [Pakistan's internal
security service] papers from police search," wrote Alfred McCoy in The
Politics of Heroin (Lawrence Hill, 1991).
Of the seven rebel mujahedeen leaders who operated from base-camps in
Peshawar, by far the most dominant is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who received
more than $1 billion in covert U.S. aid. Hekmatyar was an obscure Islamic
fanatic before he was tapped by the CIA. Today, his forces are nine miles
from Kabul, where until recently he was engaged in bloody battles against
the Afghan army-indiscriminately raining tens of thousands of rockets andartillery shells on the nation's capital. A March 7 Pakistani-brokered
peace accord named Hekmatyar Afghan's prime minister-designate.
All through the 1980s, Hekmatyar received accolades from the U.S. press,
even though Asia Watch, among others, published gory reports about his
human rights abuses. Hekmatyar brutally murdered rivals, then had their
corpses ritually mutilated. "He really did dominate the Afghan refugee
camps and was known among the refugees as being willing to retaliate
against anyone who challenged his political authority," McCoy, a professor
of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin, told the Voice.
Only after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989 did The New York Times
criticize Hekmatyar's "sinister nature." The Times, however, never
bothered to tell its readers that Hekmatyar is also among the world's
biggest heroin dealers, a distinction he has enjoyed for nearly a decade.
A May 1990 front-page article in The Washington Post charged that U.S.
officials had ignored Afghani complaints of heroin trafficking by Hekmatyar
and Pakistani intelligence. Some experts now believe that Hekmatyar will
vastly increase Afghanistan's opium harvest when he becomes prime minister.
"There were preliminary reports about six months ago based on interviews
with UN personnel in the region that Afghanistan by itself could produce
3000 tons of opium," says McCoy. "Now that's nearly equivalent to the
world's supply no matter how you calculate it. It's one little country and
it's going to double the world's supply all by itself."
It's easier-and far more profitable-for the 4 to 5 million Afghans
returning home from the refugee camps in Pakistan to plant poppies than
rebuild their war-shattered economy, says McCoy. Afghanistan's agriculture
was destroyed by the war and it will take a lot of nurturing to revive the
groves of oranges, its principal cash crop before the war. Poppies need
little tending and they will guarantee peasants an almost immediate income.
"Opium is the ideal solution," says McCoy. "They can put it in and in six
months they've got a harvest." But while Hekmatyar has inundated the U.S.
and Europe with the potent powder, U.S. officials have remained silent.
Ruined citrus crops, a plague of heroin, and hundreds of thousands of
casualties didn't deter the CIA from its holy war against communism in
Afghanistan. "On the afternoon of February 15, 1989, the champagne began
flowing at CIA headquarters," wrote Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Tim
Weiner in Blank Check, a book about covert operations. "A rare exultation
filled the air. After fifteen years of failure and humiliation, the Agency
had won a famous victory. The last Soviet troops had left Afghanistan. The
Agency's biggest covert action since the height of the Vietnam war had
achieved its goal. The CIA had won its jihad."
The real winners, of course, are Hekmatyar and the tens of thousands of
Islamic holy warriors -- trained and financed by the CIA -- who are today
locked in a life and death struggle with America. According to this week's
New Yorker, it was Hekmatyar who "most likely" introduced Sheikh Omar Abdel
Rahman to the American and Pakistani intelligence officials who were
orchestrating the Afghan war when the sheikh visited Pakistan just prior to
moving to Brooklyn in May 1990. As the Voice previously reported, the CIA
almost certainly facilitated the sheikh's entry into the United States as a
reward for helping the mujahedeen-despite his presence on a State
Department terrorism watch list. Mahmud Abouhalima, an Afghan war vet andthe sheikh's driver, has been indicted for his alleged involvement in the
World Trade Center bombing. The wreckage and death caused by the blast is
a depressing coda to the end of the Cold War. And thanks to the CIA's
favorite freedom fighters, heroin addiction is again on the rise in