Four agents from Russia's drug enforcement agency joined American troops last week in a raid on drug labs operating in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan. The joint US-Russian operation destroyed four labs – three producing heroin and one morphine – and seized an estimated 200 million doses of heroin according to the Russian government. The raid marks Russia's first military action in Afghanistan since the Soviet Red Army withdrew from the country in 1989. Cheap Afghani heroin has become a major public health problem in Russia. With easy access into Russia via former Soviet states like Tajikistan, heroin has been flooding Russian cities with disastrous results – an estimated 30,000 people died from heroin overdoses in Russia last year alone. Russia, meanwhile, has been critical of the US/NATO military operation in Afghanistan, saying that they are not doing enough to curtain poppy cultivation (the poppy flower provides opium, the source material for heroin/morphine) or to destroy Afghan labs that produce the drugs, since Afghan heroin is a major problem for Russia but not Europe or the United States.
Of course one person not happy with last week's raid was Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who called the Russian participation in the raid a “violation” of Afghanistan's national sovereignty and threatened that “Afghanistan will respond seriously to any repetition of such actions.” In making his statement, Karzai played up latent resentments in Afghanistan over the Soviet Union's decade-long occupation of their country. No word on whether or not Karzai was upset that the raid might have cut into his brother Ahmed Wali’s drug business (perhaps the “serious response” Karzai threatened would be Ahmed Wali's drug connections sending more cheap heroin into Russia...). There were subsequent media reports that Hamid Karzai approved the drug raids, which is the kind of flip-flop that will do nothing to calm fears that Karzai is too unstable to actually effectively govern his country.
That was one of the issues raised by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer in his recent deconstruction of American foreign policy towards Afghanistan. It is an article worth reading, but the highlights include a critique of the top US commander, Gen. Petraeus' assertion that the recent US “surge” in Afghanistan is working. Scheuer notes that Petraeus is making these claims just before the Congressional elections, and that Petraeus made similar claims about the success of the “surge” in Iraq just before the 2008 US elections; claims that today look overly optimistic at best, or outright dishonest at worst, given the deteriorating security situation in Iraq. Turning back to Afghanistan, Scheuer shoots a lot of holes in the conventional wisdom pushed by US policymakers that if the United States were to withdraw, Afghanistan would once again become a Taliban safe-haven (a point we've made here on a number of occasions as well). He goes on to say that while the early stages of US/NATO involvement allowed some of Afghanistan's ethnic minorities access to a political process that had formerly excluded them, the focus during the past few years on the southern and eastern parts of the country, dominated by Afghanistan's largest group, the Pashtuns, have largely reversed these gains, having the effect of restoring the Pashtuns to their historical role as the dominant force in Afghanistan, increasing the likelihood of yet another civil war in the country.
Finally, the BBC recently published another interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader who eventually put an end to the Red Army's Afghan mission. As he has said publicly before, Gorbachev stated that it would be “impossible” for the US/NATO coalition to win in Afghanistan and suggested that the United States withdraw their forces if they did not want to wind up with “another Vietnam.” The irony here is that the case for US backing of Islamic militants in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion in 1979 was presented as a way to suck the Soviet Union into their version of Vietnam. Gorbachev again repeated a claim to the BBC that when the Soviet Union decided to withdraw their military from Afghanistan, they struck a deal with the United States and Pakistan that they would also stop funding militants within Afghanistan and all would allow the country to develop as “a neutral, democratic country, that would have good relations with its neighbors and with both the US and the USSR.” Gorbachev contends that the US, via Pakistan, continued to support the anti-government militants in Afghanistan in violation of this agreement, which led to the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal and eventually to the rise of al-Qaeda.
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