Will the current crisis in Kyrgyzstan lead to greater instability, and perhaps an expansion of the current conflict in Central Asia? There are good reasons to be concerned. Deep forces, not adequately understood, are at work there; and these forces have repeatedly led to major warfare in the past.
The pattern of events unfolding in Kyrgyzstan is ominously reminiscent of how America became involved in Laos in the 1960s, and later in Afghanistan in the 1980s. American covert involvement in those countries soon led to civil wars producing numerous casualties and refugees. It will take strenuous leadership from both Obama in Washington and Medvedev in Moscow to prevent a third major conflict from breaking out in Kyrgyzstan.
I call the pattern I refer to “a Laotian syndrome” of coups, drugs, and terror, since it was first clearly illustrated by American interventions in Laos in the late 1950s and 1960s. The syndrome involves a number of independent but interactive elements whose interconnection in the past has not generally been recognized. What it reflects is not a single agenda, but a predictable symbiosis of divergent groups, responding to the powerful forces that the drug traffic creates. In this syndrome, something like the following pattern emerges.
„1) Covert U.S. activity results in the ousting of a moderate government, and its replacement by a more corrupt and unpopular one, unsupported by the culture of the country on which it is imposed.
2) A successor regime, to maintain its uncertain grip on power, intensifies its control over the local drug traffic.
3) This control involves collaboration with local drug mafias, leading to their expansion.
4) The flow of drugs from the country (or through, in the case of Kyrgyzstan) increases significantly.
5) Eventually, in the context of weakened legitimacy and strengthened illegitimacy, a successor government is ousted.
6) What ensues is a violent civil war.
7) The final outcome is a government not to America’s liking.“
The pattern does not repeat itself identically. In Laos, CIA intrigue and money in 1959 produced an unpopular pro-American regime under right-wing general Phoumi Nosavan, which lasted eighteen months.1 Similar CIA intrigues in Afghanistan two decades later completely backfired, and produced instead an equally unpopular anti-American regime under Nur Mohammed Taraki, which lasted sixteen months.2
But the root problem was the same: the CIA’s gratuitous destabilization of an inoffensive country encouraged local intrigues and paranoia, and soon produced an unstable and divisive government without a popular base. Eventually a resulting weakened government (the next in Laos, a little later in Afghanistan) favored both drug and terrorist activity in its territory, as predictably as a pine forest weakened by drought will invite an infestation of beetles.
The longer-term result was a country where civil politics had been replaced by civil war. In the case of Laos and Afghanistan U.S. covert activity, waged as part of the Cold War, produced Soviet military and intelligence responses. (It may, in the case of Afghanistan, have been designed to produce such responses.) Former Carter advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who authorized the CIA’s covert Afghan operations of 1978-79, later boasted to a French newspaper:
„The secret operation was an excellent idea. It drew the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.’”…
When asked whether Islamic fundamentalism represented a world menace, Brzezinski replied, “Nonsense!”3″
The last decade of Kyrgyz history suggests that U.S. and Russian covert operators have continued to tussle in the “great game” of dominating the Central Asian heartland. And once again, while the leaders of both countries to evolve common policies for Kyrgyzstan, there may be bureaucrats below them who harbor more belligerent intentions.
To the general public, it would seem obvious that none of these developments have been in the interests of either America or the world. Yet American agencies have still not learned from the obvious fiasco of their Laotian venture, which resulted in a huge increase in opium production, before this peaceful Buddhist nation ceased (thanks to American efforts) to be neutralist, and instead became nominally Communist.
America’s destabilization of remote Laos, a neutral and harmless nation, was in accordance with the ideological doctrine being peddled in a book by three policy hawks at the time: A Forward Strategy for America, by Robert Strausz-Hupé. William R. Kintner and Stefan T. Possony. The book rejected coexistence as a foreign policy, and argued for “a strategy of active pressures directed against the communist bloc,” wherever it was seen to be vulnerable.
The American sponsored “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan (March 2005) is a conspicuous product of the forward strategy doctrine. This is no accident: it came at a time when George W. Bush repeatedly spoke of a “forward strategy of freedom,” or a “forward strategy for freedom.”4 But by the 21st century the forward strategy in countries with drug economies had a track record, which its advocates in Washington might well have reviewed before advocating an intervention so close to both Russia and China.
In 1959 the CIA attempted to impose a right-wing government in Laos: after a decade and a half of expanding drug trafficking and a futile, bloody, drug-financed war, Laos became (at least nominally) a communist nation. Undeterred by the dismal outcome in Laos, in 1978-79 Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Gates, and the CIA mobilized right-wing elements again in Afghanistan, another nation contiguous to the then Soviet Union.5 The immediate result was the same as Laos: the replacement of a neutralist regime by a radical and polarizing one (in this case communist), followed by another radical increase in drug trafficking, and another decade of bloody and unsuccessful war.
What were the forward strategists hoping for in Kyrgyzstan? In April of this year the unpopular regimeinstalled by the 2005 Tulip Revolution was itself replaced. Although it is too early to predict the outcome of these dislocations, thousands of lives have been lost in the ethnic violence of June 2010, and drug traffickers are apparently profiting from the near anarchy to consolidate their hold on southern Kyrgyzstan. That is just what happened to Laos in 1959; it is what Jimmy Carter’s drug advisor David Musto warned would happen in Afghanistan in 1980.6 Did someone want it to happen again?
All in all, the coup-drug-terror syndrome in Kyrgyzstan well illustrates the Marxist dictum that history repeats itself, first as tragedy (Afghanistan in 1978-80), and the second time as farce.
The Coup-Drug-Terror Syndrome in Kyrgyzstan
After the break-up of the former Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan, under the leadership of Askar Akayev, was relatively the most moderate and open government among the six post-Soviet “stans” of Central Asia. Alone among the successor strong men, Akayev was not a long-time Communist Party apparatchik, but an intellectual who read Heine, a physicist, “a researcher in St Petersburg and an associate of legendary Russian physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov.”7
It is true that Akayev’s initial efforts to make Kyrgyzstan an open and pluralistic democracy did not last long: an on-going economic crisis made his regime increasingly unpopular.8 Meanwhile he soon came under pressure from neighboring Uzbekistan, Kazakstan, and China to crack down on the dissidents who were using Kyrgyzstan as a base for mobilizing against their home countries.9 Eventually the country’s economic problems led to popular protests and their brutal suppression.
But in international policy Akayev managed at first to maintain good relations with both the U.S. and Russia. In December 2001, following 9/11, he granted America a vital base at Manas, for support of its war effort in land-locked Afghanistan. Almost immediately, the Pentagon awarded the Akayev family payoffs on fuel supplies to Manas, via two Gibraltar-based companies (named Red Star and Mina) set up by a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.10 American dollars proceeded to accelerate government corruption, just as they had earlier in Laos and Afghanistan.
hen in October 2003 Akayev allowed Putin to reopen an old Soviet base in Kant, as what was described as “a deterrent to international terrorism” in nearby Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.11 This move was not well received.
„Though [Kant was] less than a quarter of the size of Manas, Akayev’s decision landed him on America’s “watch list” and increased aid flowed to the Kyrgyz opposition via American NGOs. In 2004 Washington in assisting the democratic process directed $12 million, an amount six times the ‘formal” rent for Manas, into Kyrgyzstan in the form of scholarships and donations, while the State Department even funded TV station equipment in the restive southern provincial town of Osh. George Soros through his various foundations also helped fund the opposition, while Freedom House operated a printing press in Bishkek.12“
The So-Called Tulip Revolution of 2005
For the reasons cited above, Akayevlost acceptance in Washington, just like the neutralist Prince Souvanna Phouma in Laos in the 1950s, or Mohammed Daud in Afghanistan in the 1970s. Akayev was overthrown in the so-called “Tulip Revolution” of March 2005, by far the bloodiest and least democratic of all the so-called “color revolutions” that had already changed governments in Serbia (2002), Georgia (2003), and the Ukraine (2004). Those regime changes had been essentially nonviolent. In the Tulip Revolution, however, the London Independent reported on March 26, 2005 that, “According to hospital officials, two people had been killed and 360 wounded in the violence, and 173 were still in hospital.”13
In truth the so-called Tulip Revolution was no revolution in the true sense at all, but a palace coup, replacing the northern Kyrgyz coterie behind Akayev with a new southern coterie behind his replacement, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.Craig Smith in the New York Times acknowledged as much even before the coup was over:
„A malaise is settling over this country as the uprising a week ago begins to look less like a democratically inspired revolution and more like a garden-variety coup, with a handful of seasoned politicians vying for the spoils of the ousted government.
”Let’s not pretend that what happened here was democratic,” said Edil Baisalov, one of the country’s best-known democracy advocates, speaking to clearly disheartened students beneath huge Soviet-era portraits of Lenin, Marx and Engels in the auditorium of what has been the American University since 1997.
Mr. Baisalov bemoaned what he said Kyrgyzstan lost out on when the presidential palace was stormed and President Askar Akayev fled: the kind of cathartic national experience that he witnessed in Ukraine as its Orange Revolution unfolded. That was a slow-building, well-organized event that took two months to reach a successful conclusion.
”What Ukraine went through was very important to their democratic development,” he said. ”We didn’t have that great emotional experience of civic education.”14
As a symptom that the deep politics of Kyrgyzstan were unchanged, the U.S. Manas supply contracts, which earlier benefited Akayev’s family, were promptly taken over by Bakiyev’s son Maksym.
Nevertheless Ariel Cohen claimed in the Washington Times that “the people of Kyrgyzstan have won their freedom;” and he attributed the changeover, with good reason, to President George W. Bush’s words spoken in his Inaugural Address and State of the Union speech.”15
President Bush himself gave an imprimatur to the changeover. Visiting Georgia in May 2005, he told Georgian President Saakashvili,
Georgia will become the main partner of the United States in spreading democracy and freedom in the post-Soviet space. This is our proposal. We will always be with you in protecting freedom and democracy….. You are making many important contributions to freedom’s cause, but your most important contribution is your example. Hopeful changes are taking places from Baghdad to Beirut and Bishkek [Kyrgyzstan].16
And indeed it was true that, as the right-wing Jamestown Foundation in Washington revealed, “three Georgian parliamentarians, once active engineers of Georgia’s Rose Revolution, had paid an unofficial visit to Kyrgyzstan to support the attempted ‘Tulip Revolution’ there.”17
But this was only one aspect of a U.S.-coordinated effort. According to Der Spiegel in April 2005,
As early as February, Roza Otunbayeva [one of Bakiyev’s co-conspirators in 2005] pledged allegiance to a small group of partners and sponsors of the Kyrgyz revolution, to ‘our American friends’ at Freedom House (who donated a printing press in Bishkek to the opposition), and to George Soros, a speculator who previously helped unseat Edward Shevardnadze’s government in Georgia. Trying to help the democratic process, the Americans poured some $12 million into Kyrgyzstan in the form of scholarships and donations.18
The Post-Tulip Bakiyev Government – and Drugs
There seems little doubt that although the Akayev government had been corrupt, corruption only increased under the new post-Tulip Bakiyev regime. In the words of Columbia University Professor Alexander Cooley, the Bakiyev family “ran the country like a criminal syndicate.”19
More specifically, the Bakiyev family, according to Peter Leonard of Associated Press, took complete control of the drug traffic transiting the country.
Authorities and analysts have little doubt that Bakiyev and his relatives are at the heart of the drug trade.
“The whole Bakiyev family is involved in drug trafficking,” said Alexander Knyazev, a respected independent political analyst in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.
“After Kurmanbek Bakiyev came to power, all drug lords were killed, and (his elder brother) Zhanybek Bakiyev consolidated most of the drug trafficking in his hands.”
Acting deputy prime minister and general prosecutor Azimbek Beknazarov also endorses the view that Bakiyev and his family have interests in the drug trade, although no specific criminal probes have yet been initiated into those allegations.20
In October 2009 Bakiyev abolished the Kyrgyz Drug Control Agency, leading the Jamestown Foundation to speculate that Bakiyev was “centralizing illegal control over the drug economy, [and was] disinterested in international initiatives to control narcotics.” It added that
Overall, roughly five identifiable criminal groups control drug transit through Kyrgyzstan. Although they are known to the security structures, these groups have ties to the government, or at times represent government and therefore are free to carry out their activities with impunity.21
In May 2010 former Kyrgyz Deputy Security Council Secretary Alik Orozov told a Bishkek newspaper that the Drug Control Agency had been closed by Janysh Bakiyev, who wished to take full control over drug trafficking. The charge was endorsed by the former deputy head of the former Drug Control Agency, Vitaliy Orozaliyev, who added that
problems started to emerge at the level of the US Department of State. All initiatives to extend the financing of the Drug Control Agency were axed exactly there. All previous US ambassadors were regular guests of the Drug Control Agency. However, with the arrival of [US ambassador to Kyrgyzstan] Tatiana Gfoeller [in 2008], all contacts were cut as if they were cut with a knife. She demonstrated full indifference to the agency, she fully distanced herself from this project and she did not accept our invitations. She even did not want to give accommodation to our US colleagues [in the DEA] – who wanted to set up something like a bureau of their own in Bishkek – in the territory of the US embassy. What caused such a sharp turn in US diplomacy to the problems of fighting drug-related crimes in Kyrgyzstan is only anyone’s guess.22
The Counter-Coup of April 2010
Bakiyev’s drug involvement does not appear to have aroused any protest in Washington. But in February of 2009 Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted 78-1 to close the U.S. air base at Manas, and in the same month Bakiyev announced in Moscow that he would close Manas and accept more than $2 billion in emergency assistance and investments from Russia. However,
the Kyrgyz government ended up double-crossing Moscow by accepting an initial $300 million payment before it renegotiated a higher rent with the United States for the renamed “Manas Transit Center.” As a result, relations between Moscow and Bishkek plummeted to an all-time low, while Bakiyev’s government gleefully cashed in the new checks provided by both Moscow mostly minority Uzbeks, say they were attacked by the Kyrgyz military and the police, and their accounts have been backed up by independent observers.23
But Bakiyev’s glee was short-lived. His political opponents, aware of and appalled by his mercenary manipulations, united in April 2010 in a successful, Russian-supported effort to overthrow him. According to the Christian Science Monitor
Many believe the coup in Kyrgyzstan was staged by the Russians, who were quietly unhappy with the previous leader. The Kremlin considered Mr. Bakiyev not loyal enough, as he appeared reluctant to close America’s Manas air base, which plays a critical role in resupplying US troops in nearby Afghanistan.24
Russia’s displeasure with Bakiyev was also spelled out by a writer for the PNAC-linked (Project for the New American Century) Jamestown Foundation:
Medvedev was uncompromising in asserting Russian domination of the post-Soviet space. He insisted that the government of the Kyrgyz President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was overthrown in a bloody revolution last week that left over 80 dead and some 1,500 wounded, due to Bakiyev’s inconsistency in opposing the US military presence in Central Asia. According to Medvedev, Bakiyev first ordered the US and its allies to leave the airbase, Manas, near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Then he allowed the Americans to continue to use Manas to transfer personnel and supplies into Afghanistan, renaming the airbase into “a transit center” and increasing payments for the lease. Now, Medvedev joked, all may see the results of “such a consistent policy” (www.kremlin.ru, April 14).
The message sent to the Washington elite is obvious: keep out of Moscow’s sphere of influence. Medvedev insisted the US “must not teach Russia how to live” (RIA Novosti, April 14).25
Deep Forces and the Kyrgyz crisis of June 2010
It is too early to speak with confidence about who was responsible for the major ethnic violence of June 2010, with more bloodshed than in the previous episode of 1990. There seems no reason however to doubt the finding of UN observers that the fighting was not spontaneous, but “’orchestrated, targeted and well-planned’ — set off by organized groups of gunmen in ski masks.”26
Since the June events, the new Kyrgyz regime has charged that they were fomented by the Bakiyev family, in conjunction with at least one drug lord and representatives of the jihadi Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU):
The head of Kyrgyzstan’s State Security Service, Keneshbek Duishebaev, is claiming that relatives of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev conspired with Islamic militants to destabilize southern Kyrgyzstan.
According to Duishebaev, Maxim Bakiyev, the son of ousted president Bakiyev, met with representatives of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in Dubai, while the former president’s brother Janysh brokered deals with Afghan Taliban and Tajik fighters. “The transfer of militants to the south of the republic was made on the eve of the June events from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province via Tajikistan’s Khorog and Murghab districts. Cooperation in transferring [the militants] was made by a former Tajik opposition commander and drug baron, whose contact was Janysh Bakiyev,” Duishebaev said.
Taliban, Tajik, IMU, and Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) fighters were offered $30 million in payment, he added….. Duishebaev warned that Islamic militants are seeking to exploit the unrest in southern Kyrgyzstan. “Recently, IMU leaders and warlords held a meeting in south Waziristan, Pakistan. The participants of the meeting concluded the current situation in Osh and Jalal-abad provinces are favorable for sparking destructive activities across the all over the region,” he said.27
The Times (London) reported these charges, and added:
The interim president, Roza Otunbayeva, said that “many instigators have been detained and they are giving evidence on Bakiyev’s involvement in the events”. Kyrgyzstan’s deputy security chief, Kubat Baibalov, claimed that a trained group of men from neighbouring Tajikistan had fired indiscriminately at Uzbeks and Kyrgyz last week from a car with darkened windows to provoke conflict.”28
According to many sources, the IMU is a network grouping ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and relying heavily on narcotics to finance its anti-government activities.29
However the new government’s charges against Bakiyev and the IMU may have been self-serving. It has become increasingly clear that the victims of the massacre were “mostly minority Uzbeks [who] say they were attacked by the Kyrgyz military and the police, and their accounts have been backed up by independent observers.”30 The Uzbek neighborhoods were left in ruins, while ethnic Kyrgyz areas were largely untouched.31 It may emerge that the violence grewout of a prior conflict in May involving local mafia leaders, in the wake of the April 2010 coup.32 This led in late May to riots that former President Bakiyev was suspected of organizing.33
The situation calls for an impartial international investigation. If the current conflict is not thoroughly resolved, it is likely that both Islamic extremists and local drug traffickers will be drawn into it.34
The Kyrgyz Crisis and TransnationalTerror-Drug Mafias
One cannot lightly dismiss the Kyrgyz government charge that the IMU had met in South Waziristan to plan violence in Central Asia. Even before the June riots, there had been a disturbing report that the IMU (and its Turkic split-off, the Islamic Jihad Union or IJU) had established control over parts of South Waziristan, and were planning and training for extended activities in Central Asia.35 Of particular concern was the following paragraph:
The News International recently reported that affluent settlers from the Uzbek and Tajik areas of Afghanistan had come to Waziristan and Tank and had established mini-states. The Uzbek- and Tajik-Afghans were growing in both numbers and wealth, posing a threat to local tribesmen, the story said.36
This raises the crucial question of the source of this jihadi wealth. Was it just from wealthy jihadi sympathizers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, as has been alleged of the IMU?37 Was it also a by-product of the heroin traffic, as others have surmised? Were external intelligence agencies exploiting the situation for their own political agendas? Or, most alarming of all, was it from a milieu fusing jihadi activity, the actions of intelligence networks, and the alarming heroin traffic?38 Whatever the answer, it is obvious that the current disturbances in Kyrgyzstan, and corresponding breakdown of weak central authority, are a boon to extremism and drug trafficking alike.
The last possibility, that there is a deep force behind drug, intelligence, and jihadi activity, would be consistent with the legacy of the CIA’s earlier interventions in Afghanistan, Laos, and Burma, and with America’s overall responsibility for the huge increases in global drug trafficking since World War II. It is important to understand that the more than doubling of Afghan opium drug production since the U.S. invasion of 2001 merely replicates the massive drug increases in Burma, Thailand, and Laos between the late 1940s and the 1970s. These countries also only became major sources of supply in the international drug traffic as a result of CIA assistance (after the French, in the case of Laos) to what would otherwise have been only local traffickers.
As early as 2001 Kyrgyzstan’s location had made it a focal point for transnational trafficking groups. According to a U.S. Library of Congress Report of 2002,
Kyrgyzstan has become a primary center of all aspects of the narcotics industry: manufacture, sale, and drug trafficking. Kyrgyzstan’s location adjacent to major routes across the Tajik mountains from Afghanistan combines with ineffectual domestic smuggling controls to attract figures from what a Kyrgyz newspaper report characterized as “an international organization uniting an unprecedentedly wide circle of members in the United States, Romania, Brazil, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan…These are no half-literate Tajik-Afghan drug runners, but professionals who have passed through a probation period in the mafia clans of the world narcotics system…”39
Others, notably Sibel Edmonds in the United States, have alleged that there is a network of drug-financed and intelligence-related terror activities stretching from Kyrgyzstan to Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Turkey.40
It is because of this possible convergence of disparate elements on the Kyrgyz intelligence-terror-drug scene that I have described the topic of this paper as a syndrome, not as a single-minded scheme or stratagem. Some of the possible components in this syndrome are barely visible. In his monumental book Descent into Chaos, Ahmed Rashid refers to the existence of a “Gulf mafia,” to which the Taliban by 1998 was selling drugs directly.41 A search of Lexis-Nexis yields no results for “gulf mafia,” and there is no other hit in Google Books. Yet there is abundant evidence for such a mafia or mafias, even if little is known about it or them.42
Perhaps the most notorious example of such a drug mafia in the Persian Gulf is the D-Company of Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, one of the two men (the other is Mexico’s Joaquin Guzman) to be listed both on the Forbes’ Most Wanted Fugitives list and also on the Forbes list of billionaires. Dawood Ibrahim merits a special section in a recent Congressional Research Service report on the nexus between criminal syndicates and terrorist groups. Entitled “International Terrorism and Transnational Crime: Security Threats, U.S. Policy, and Considerations for Congress,” the report described Dawood’s involvement with al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).43 This detailed report did not mention the allegation by Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times, that Ibrahim had “worked with the U.S. to help finance the Afghan mujahideen during the 1980s, and that because he knows too much about the America’s ‘darker secrets’ in the region, Pakistan could never turn him over to India.’”44
The Congressional Research Service Report cites Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company as its prime example of what it calls a fusion crime-terror organization (its next example is the FARC in Colombia). It is possible that the leading Mexican cartels should also be regarded as fusion networks, since their practice of terroristic violence has become such an integral part of the political process in Mexico. We can perhaps predict that such fusion networks will continue to dominate both the heroin and the Cocaine traffics, because terrorism and trafficking are so useful to each other. Terrorism creates the kind of anarchy that favors drug production and trafficking, while drug trafficking provides the most convenient and local source of funds for terrorism. Add the demonstrated interest of ISI and other intelligence agencies in both activities, and you have the right environment to foster what I have called the coup-drug-terror syndrome.
In all there are many discrete components of the coup-drug-terror syndrome, beginning with the naïve American belief that imposing American political values on distant countries benefits all concerned, including the peace and security of the globe. The various elements do not have to collude together. But past experience suggests what are the likely outcomes of ill-considered policies that may have been meant to achieve something quite different.
Moscow, Washington, and the Kyrgyz Crisis
What is particularly alarming about this syndrome is that, both in Laos and in Afghanistan, the outcome was a decade of devastating and incompletely settled war. At present there are no signs that Moscow and Washington are willing to fight over Kyrgyzstan. Fortunately the new leader for the moment, Roza Otunbayeva, has good relations with both capitals, and they are promising her support.
Yet there are signs that in both capitals there is tension between the dominant policy and militant factions less willing to compromise. In Washington, for example, Michael McFaul, Obama’s senior director for Russian affairs, said of Bakiyev’s overthrow in April: “This is not some sponsored-by-the-Russians coup, there’s just no evidence of that.”45 As previously noted, there were many in Washington who disagreed, including the ideologically motivated Jamestown Foundation. Fred Weir has since described the April events in the Christian Science Monitor as “a Moscow-backed coup d’etat that was thinly disguised as a popular revolt.”46
In Moscow too there are signs that some desire a more militant approach to the Kyrgyz crisis than that advocated by President Medvedev. When Roza Otunbayeva appealed to Medvedev for Russian troops to help quell the spiraling ethnic crisis in Osh, Medvedev turned her down: “’”It is an internal conflict, and so far Russia doesn’t see conditions for participating in its resolution,’ Russian presidential press secretary Natalia Timakova said.”47 Medvedev’s caution reflected his underlying concern about the treacherous instability of Kyrgyzstan, and his concern not to involve in the conflict the ethnic Russians in Kyrgyzstan. (Russia did dispatch a paratrooper battalion to its base at Tank in the north of the country where most ethnic Russians reside.)48 As Medvedev warned Washington in April, “Kyrgyzstan risked splitting into North and South. If that happens, extremists might start flowing in, turning the country into a second Afghanistan.“49
The approach of Viktor Ivanov, a senior advisor to Putin, was more interventionist. He told a Russian newspaper on June 20 of this year that the Osh area was a major region of Islamist-controlled drug trafficking, and thus a Russian military base should be established there.50 Nevertheless, in Washington four days later, Medvedev repeated to Obama that, “I think that the Kyrgyz Republic must deal with these problems itself. Russia didn’t plan and is not going to send contingent of peacekeeping forces though consultations on this issue were held.”51 Later Nikolay Bordyuzha, Secretary-General of the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), asserted that “there was no decision made on setting up a Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan, particularly, near Osh.”52
Viktor Ivanov wears two hats: he is both a senior member of Russia’s National Antiterror Committee, and he also heads Russia’s Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics. For some time he has been in the forefront of those Russian officials expressing frustration at the American failure to limit Afghan drug production.53 He is far from alone in his concern about the virtual explosion of Afghan drugs reaching Russia since 2001, which many Russian observers have labeled “narco-aggression.”
As early as February 2002, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov raised the issue of “narco-aggression” with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, telling them that whereas Russian border guards seized only 2 kg of heroin in 1996 on the Afghan-Tajik border, and about 800 kg in 2000, in 2001 more than five metric tons of drugs were seized, and half of the drugs were heroin.54
According to Sergei Blagov, a reporter in Moscow for ISN Security Watch,
Russian officials have estimated that the country’s drug addiction rates have increased several fold since the US-led invasion and the offensive against the Taliban’s in 2002, which was followed by hikes in Afghan opium production. Russia is now the largest heroin consumer in the world, with an estimated 5 million addicts.
Facing what it perceives as western willingness to allow opium production to flourish in Afghanistan, Russia’s top officials have described the situation as “narco-aggression” against Russia and a new “opium war.” They also suggest that the international alliance undertake aerial spraying against Afghanistan’s poppy fields.
The Russian press has been even less diplomatic, claiming that US and NATO forces were directly involved in the drug trade. Russian media outlets allege that the bulk of the drugs produced in Afghanistan’s southern and western provinces are shipped abroad on US planes.
Not surprisingly, Russia regards with resentment NATO’s liberal approach toward the Afghan drug industry and the alliance’s reluctance to cooperate in fighting the drug trade. Continued NATO inaction on the drug issue could potentially undermine Russia’s security cooperation with the West on crucial matters such as strategic arms reduction and non-proliferation.55
Repeatedly Viktor Ivanov has appealed to America to eradicate poppy fields in Afghanistan as systematically as it has attacket Coca plantations in Colombia, and for the international community to join Russia in this appeal.56 On June 9, 2010, both he and President Medvedev addressed an International Forum on Afghan Drug Production (which I attended), in an effort to muster this international support.57 I myself share the American conclusion that spraying opium fields would be counterproductive, because it would fatally weaken efforts to woo Afghan farmers away from the Taliban. But I do think that the interests of peace and security in Central Asia would be well served if America brought Russia more closely into joint activities against the global drug trade.
And as a researcher, I believe that Russia has a legitimate grievance against America’s current Afghan strategy, which has left wide open a major drug corridor into Russia from the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan.
“Narco-Aggression” and America’s Skewed Opiate Strategy in Afghanistan
For this reason America should revise its skewed drug interdiction strategy in Afghanistan. At present this is explicitly limited to attacking drug traffickers supporting the insurgents, chiefly the Pashtun backers of the Taliban in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.58 Such strategies have the indirect effect of increasing the drug market share of the north and northeastern provinces.
These provinces support the past and present CIA assets in the Karzai regime (headed by Hamid Karzai, a former CIA asset),59 including the president’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, an active CIA asset, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former CIA asset.60 In effect America has allied itself with one drug faction in Afghanistan against another.61
This strategy has seen repeated attacks on the poppy fields and markets of the southern provinces. Meanwhile production in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, the home of the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, has continued, despite denials, to dominate the economy of that province.62
(The statistics for Badakhshan, the most inaccessible of the Afghan provinces, have been much contested. A UN map of Afghan poppy production for 2007-2008 showed Badakhshan as the provincewith the least opium cultivation: 200 hectares, as opposed to 103,590 for Helmand.63 But LonelyPlanet.com posted an article in 2009, claiming that “Badakhshan is second only to Helmand for opium production. Controlled by Northern Alliance, opium is the backbone of the local economy.“64 And a detailed article in 2010 reported,
The biggest economic asset of the province, the one business most of the would-be Badakhshan VIPs find necessary and profitable to enter into sooner or later, is in fact cross-border smuggling. Actually, some sources claim that the local control of routes and border crossings in Badakhshan corresponds to the map of political power grouping in the province. Even if Badakhshan has lost its former status as one of the principal opium producing regions in Afghanistan, the local expertise and trade links have been maintained. Many laboratories for heroin processing are active in the province…65
Meanwhile there have also been occasional reports over the last decade of IMU terrorist movements from South Waziristan through both Afghan and Tajik Badakhshan.
The Badakhshan drug corridor is a matter of urgent concern for Russia. The Afghan opiates entering Russia via Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the chief smuggling route, come from Badakhshan and other northeastern provinces. The reductions of the last three years in Afghan drug production, while inadequate overall, have minimally impacted the northeast, allowing opiate imports into Russia to continue to grow. Meanwhile the much-touted clearing of opium poppy from the Afghan northern provinces has in some cases simply seen a switch “from opium poppies to another illegal crop: cannabis, the herb from which Marihuana and hashish are derived.”66
As a result, according to U.N. officials, Afghanistan is now also the world’s biggest producer of hashish (another drug inundating Russia).67 This has added to the flow of drugs up the Badakhshan-Tajik-Kyrgyz corridor. In short, the political skewing of America’s Afghan anti-drug policies is a significant reason for the major drug problems faced by Russia today.
What are the reasons for America’s relative inactivity against Badakhshan drug flows? Some observers, not only Russian, have wondered if there is a larger strategy directed against Russia itself. An article in India’s major journal The Hindu, entitled “Russia: victim of narco-aggression,”included the following suggestive reference by John MacDougall, writing for Agence France-Presse:
In 1993, Russian border guards returned to Tajikistan in an effort to contain the flow of drugs from opium-producing Afghanistan. In 2002 alone they intercepted 6.7 tonnes of drugs, half of them heroin. However, in 2005 Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon, hoping to win financial aid from the U.S., asked the Russian border guards to leave, saying Tajikistan had recovered enough from a five-year civil war (from 1992-97) to shoulder the task. Within months of the Russian withdrawal, cross-border drug trafficking increased manifold.68
And we have already noted the Kyrgyz charge that in 2009 the U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Tatiana Gfoeller, “demonstrated full indifference” as Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s brother Janysh closed down the Drug Control Agency there.69
Whatever the causes for the spectacular drug flow, it should be both a global priority and an American priority to address this crisis more vigorously. The reasons for doing so are not just humanitarian. Earlier this year Ivanov told Newsweek,
I have no doubts that drug traffic feeds terrorism in Russia. Huge amounts of illegal money flow to radical groups from the drug trade. At a recent meeting of the Security Council in Mineralniye Vody [in the North Caucasus], we saw reports that the drug traffic coming to Dagestan has increased by 20 times over the last year. That is what fuels terrorism, because terrorists buy their communication equipment and weapons with drug money.70
Conclusion: The Global Banking System and the Global Drug Trade
I believe that Ivanov is correct in linking terrorism to local drug money. I fear also that there might be an additional dimension to the problem that he did not mention: transnational deep forces tapping into the even more lucrative market for drugs in western Europe and America. Undoubtedly proceeds from the global opiate traffic (estimated at $65 billion in 2009), are systematically channeled into major banks, as has also been well documented for the profits from Cocaine trafficking into U.S. banks. When just one U.S. bank – Wachovia – admits that it violated U.S. banking laws to handle $378 billion in illicit ine funds, this supplies a measure of how important is the transnational dimension underlying local fusion drug-terror networks, whether in Dagestan or the Persian Gulf.71
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, has alleged that “Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis.” According to the London Observer, Costa
said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result… Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. “In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor,” he said.72
As a former diplomat, I sincerely hope that the U.S. and Russian governments will collaborate to address these drug-related problems together, in Kyrgyzstan, in Afghanistan, and on the level of curbing? a venal global banking system.
As a researcher, I have to say that I see the U.S. Government as part of the problem, not as a very likely solution to it. We have too often seen the U.S. habit of turning to drug traffickers as covert assets in areas where it is weak, from Burma in 1950 right down to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.73
I conclude that some other major force will have to be assembled to force a change in U.S. government behavior. Russia is right in bringing this problem to the attention of the Security Council, but this is a problem transcending governments. Perhaps religious organizations around the world could be one place to start mobilizing an extra-governmental force. Journalists and other researchers could also supply a component. Somehow the world must be made aware that it does indeed face a triple threat: the threat of drugs, the threat of drug-financed terrorism, and eventually the threat of war.
Meanwhile it is far too early to predict what may eventually transpire between America and Russia in Kyrgyzstan. But it is none too soon to assert that history is repeating itself in an alarming and predictable way, and to recall that the ingredients of the coup-drug-terror syndrome have led to major warfare in the past.
My personal conclusion is that deep forces, not fully understood, are at work now in Kyrgyzstan, as they have been earlier in Afghanistan and other drug-producing countries. My concern is heightened by my increasing awareness that for decades deep forces have also been at work in Washington.
This was demonstrated vividly by the U.S. government’s determined protection in the 1980s of the global drug activities of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which has been described as “the largest criminal corporate enterprise ever.”74 A U.S. Senate Report once called BCCI not just a “rogue bank… but a case study of the vulnerability of the world to international crime on a global scope that is beyond the current ability of governments to control.”75 Governments indeed long failed to regulate BCCI, because of its ability to influence governments; and when BCCI was finally brought down in 1991, it was as the result of relative outsiders like Robert Morgenthau, District Attorney of New York:
In going after BCCI, Morgenthau’s office quickly found that in addition to fighting off the bank, it would receive resistance from almost every other institution or entity connected to BCCI [including] the Bank of England, the British Serious Fraud Office, and the U.S. government.”76
I have tried to show elsewhere that BCCI was only one in a series of overlapping banks with similar intelligence connections, dating back to the 1940s.77
When I first wrote about Washington’s protection of BCCI, I assumed that the BCCI benefited from its status as an asset or instrument for covert U.S.and British intelligence strategies. Since then I have come to wonder if CIA and BCCI were not both alike instruments for some deeper force or forces, embedded in the state but not confined to it, which has or have been systematically exploiting the drug traffic as a means to global power.
Not until there is a more general awareness of this deep force problem can we expect Washington to respondwith a more rational drug policy. My hope in this essay is to provide a further step in the effort to clarify just what these deeper forces are, and the extent to which they are responsible for America’s current, grave, constitutional crisis.
Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and English Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Drugs Oil and War,The Road to 9/11, The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War. His American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection and the Road to Afghanistan is in press, due in fall 2010 from Rowman & Littlefield.
He wrote this article for The Asia-Pacific Journal.