Under pressure from Washington, President Hamid Karzai has already called on the Afghan people to wage war against narcotics with the same determination and ferocity that they resisted the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Given the economic and social realities in Afghanistan, that is an unrealistic and potentially very dangerous objective.
Despite the comments of General Jones, there has long been skepticism in U.S. and NATO military circles about the wisdom of pursuing a vigorous war on drugs in Afghanistan. Commanders correctly believe that such an effort complicates their primary mission: eradicating al‐Qaeda and Taliban forces.
There is little doubt that al‐Qaeda and other anti‐government elements profit from the drug trade. What drug warriors refuse to acknowledge is that the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism is a direct result of making drugs illegal, thereby creating an enormous black‐market premium. Not surprisingly, terrorist groups in Afghanistan and other countries are quick to exploit such a vast source of potential funding. Absent a worldwide prohibitionist policy, the profit margins in drug trafficking would be a tiny fraction of their current levels, and terrorist groups would have to seek other sources of revenue.
In any case, the United States faces a dilemma if it conducts a vigorous drug‐eradication campaign in Afghanistan in an effort to dry up the funds flowing to al‐Qaeda and the Taliban. Those are not the only factions involved in drug trafficking. Evidence has emerged that officials in Karzai’s government, perhaps even the president’s brother, are also recipients of largesse from the narcotics trade. Even more important, many of Karzai’s political allies are warlords who control the drug commerce in their respective regions. They use the resulting revenues to pay the militias that keep them in power in their fiefdoms and give them national political clout. Some of these individuals backed the Taliban when that faction was in power, switching sides only when the United States launched its military offensive in Afghanistan in October 2001. Antidrug campaigns might cause them to change their allegiance yet again.
In addition to the need to placate cooperative warlords, the U.S.-led coalition relies on poppy growers as spies for information on movements of Taliban and al‐Qaeda units. Disrupting the opium crop alienates those vital sources of information.