Thursday, 8 November 2007

Oil, guns and drugs

I read the other day, with some interest, that drugs - illicit drugs - are the third most valuable commodity traded on the world markets, after oil and weapons. Slowly but surely, a picture starts to build, a forceful argument which persuades me, of how all three of this unholy trinity are wedded together.

It all started with viewing a website which I have long found fascinating. I have never tried heroin and have no urge to do so, but I am intrigued by it, as I am with many drugs, with our (seemingly ingrained) desire to alter the state we're in. I am drawn to the history and myths of drug-taking, of the speculation about manna and soma, of the British East India Company and the Golden Triangle. Charlie Parker, The Velvet Underground, The Stranglers, the La's and countless others.

There have been people in my life who have been touched by heroin. Some of them have died as a result, and so I know the reality. I know that the glamour is illusory, the euphoria short-lived and the misery endless.

The crux of the matter is in the duplicitousness of governments, perhaps most notably - in the historical sense - the British government, in their attitudes towards these drugs. Prohibition, rehabilitation, tsars, customs seizures... for what? Lies, lies and more lies.

Of course I can remember, though it seems like an eternity ago now, the stated reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan. Osama had gone there, we were told, and it was necessary to destroy Al Qaeda, and liberate the downtrodden women from beneath the oppressive boots of the Taliban warlords. Heady days, when the beatings and cassette smashings were somehow not held up to the light of Saudi standards on human rights as they are now. I'm not saying that I'm the man on the Clapham Omnibus, but it was all so different then. The Twin Towers thing was of course truly mind-blowing, and although I wasn't buying all of the Bushco rhetoric, things didn't slot together for me then as much as they do now. I genuinely thought that the Taliban were a very nasty bunch, though I stopped short of supporting the war.

With regard to the bearded anti-disco-ites, it is I think little short of incredible if one looks at the numbers on opium production. Figures taken from a UN survey of opium poppy production in Afghanistan undertaken in 2004, sum it up. In 2001, when the Taliban were in full control of the country, 200 tonnes of opium were produced. In 2002, after NATO and the Northern Alliance ousted the bearded ones, the figure was up to 3400 tonnes. In 2004, it was as high as 4200 tonnes, not far short of the record high (in 1999) of 4600 tonnes. The crop in 04 was of an inferior quality, says the report, so world prices did not plummet as much as they should have, but drop they did. In 2000, a ton of 'farm gate' opium (that conjures up images of bucolic straw munchers proudly leaning on their bales of drugs while chickens cluck around) would have cost $28. In 2001, the price was $301, and in 2004 it was down again to $92.

So far, so terrifying, I'm sure you'll agree. However, at the risk of being accused of wearing a tin foil hat, I think it is clear that there is even more sinister stuff going on. We're all aware of how Dubya and his cronies are long-time servants of the petroleum industry. But, there are also claims, needless to say strenuously denied by both parties, that Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, is a former consultant for the Union Oil Company of California. These claims appeared in such dubious sources of information as Le Monde and Reuters.

So there is one aspect of the oil link, the strategic requirement of securing a pipeline for oil (and gas) from Central Asia, in which Afghanistan is vitally important. This black gold feeds the monstrous war machine which is permanently rumbling around the middle east, and all its attendant coteries - Blackwater, Halliburton and the others, and those suckers carry a helluva guns around with them, some of which are certain to get 'lost' at some point.

The next steps are fairly easy to see, if you have eyes. Again, we all know that if you want to buy guns, or opium, or just about any damned thing you care to mention, a good place to go is the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some tons of dirty money are sloshing around there, you can bet, and, like the great ocean currents, maintain a steady stream of weapons in and drugs out.

There is further reason to believe that control of the global economy in this way is extended to the Balkans. Kosovo, Serbia & Montenegro and Albania are all said to have strong links to the Afghan opium trade, and have of course been to a greater or lesser extent, under the dubious protection of the NATO boys. The deadly dance goes on, and Westminster, Washington, Bonn, Paris and Brussels all continue their doublespeak of the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on War...

God help us all.

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