Al-Qaeda, Anthrax and Afghan Narcotics
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse Mar 26, 2010
Afghanistan produces between 70-90 % of world’s drugs including heroin, worth at least 65 billion dollars. While human beings consume most of these narcotics, some of them do find use in sedatives medicines, chemicals, and also in chemicals that are injurious to human beings.
This means the poppy and heroin produced in Afghanistan carry a double threat i.e. a) a source of income for insurgents led by Al Qaeda and, b) a source of chemicals like Anthrax which can take lives or inflict enduring damage on the human bodies.
The Belfast Telegraph, for instance, reported in late January 2010 that the medical authorities in Europe from summer of 2009 to January 2010 had discovered nearly 30 cases of anthrax affected drug addicts. Out of these, 15 people died because of the anthrax infection, Finding this discovery, the European drug officials immediately appealed to the drug addicts to stop using heroin and contact the local drug services for support but their appeal has not made any impact as of mid February 2010.
One of the victims who died of the anthrax infection was a 42-year-old German national. This led to an investigation; with a health ministry official in Berlin warning “it is now suspected that heroin with infectious anthrax spores is in circulation in Europe.” Reacting to the news, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which monitors health in the European Union, said on its website that further anthrax cases are possible. The ECDC said that considering the complex international distribution chain of heroin, “the exposure to a contaminated batch of heroin distributed in several EU Member States is possible.” Some news sources reported that the likeliest source of the contact was because of the heroin that carried the anthrax spores.
This danger has been looming around for nearly ten years now after many people argued that the first outbreak of Anthrax in the fall of 2001 in the US was the doing of the US based Al-Qaeda supporters and activists. The CIA actually got to know about Al Qaeda’s plans to “Anthrax” in June 2003, when after a series of senior level AQ leaders established a trend in that direction. The news of Qaeda’s intention to start chemical-biological (chembio) terrorism against the West was also substantiated when the Coalition intelligence agencies discovered solid evidence of transactions that involved purchase of sophisticated laboratory equipment. Later when Kabul slipped out of Taliban control, coalition forces discovered a 10-volume encyclopedia of Afghan Resistance that was the actual template of the planned terrorism against a variety of targets worldwide.
After the discovery of the anthrax infection, the Western intelligence services are now seriously analyzing the possibility of unknown number of CD ROMs that could have been made, and circulated with deadly formulas of chembio weapons that could be made from ingredients readily available in the common marketplace.
This alarming situation leads us to conclude that the Afghan drug scene and its trafficking via Iran, Tajikistan and Pakistan is one of the major socioeconomic destabilizing factors in the countries that are being used for the transit of these drugs.
At the same time, drug money is a major source of funding for the Taliban as well as Al-Qaed activities all over the world. Poppy and Heroin suits Al-Qaeda at all levels and can be employed as a silent strategic weapon by terrorists.
The need for a greater cooperation among the countries directly affected by the Afghan drug producers and traffickers could not be emphasized more. This is a challenge that all the stake-holders must take on together. Half-hearted measures, and selective action by British and US forces inside Afghanistan will always encourage the war-lords, who use drugs as a means to continue war and also export narcotics to neighboring countries and beyond, where mostly the youth falls victim to these contrabands.
A sincere international campaign, devoid of political expedience, is required to check the production, and stem the flow of drugs from inside Afghanistan. It can help in not only curtailing the sources of funding to Al Qaeda and its allies, but also break the chain of supply to Europe and the transit countries. The real threat is not a few thousand wayward, tunnel-visioned fighters inspired by Al Qaeda or Mullah Omar; the real danger comes from the lethal drugs that on the one hand feel insurgence and on the other can consume millions of youngsters all over the world.
The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.