Gretchen Peters is a journalist covering Afghanistan for the AP and ABC News, and also the author of "Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda." Excerpts from her interview with Dave Davies today on Fresh Air:
At 7:41 of the interview:
[Gretchen Peters] "I am certainly not suggesting that they [the Taliban in Afghanistan] were ever a particularly warm and cuddly bunch. I mean, it was a very, very brutal time, and I traveled all over Afghanistan while they were in power. Things were very, very dire indeed, all across Afghanistan. But at that point, you could travel across Afghanistan. Anybody could. They provided security, they ruled with an iron fist, but the country was very, very safe. Now, there is just this incredible level of senseless violence. They behead people who they believe are spies, there are people who get hung in the main square of villages that they control, and left there for days as a sign of what will happen to anybody who doesn't follow their orders.
It's much more like what we see happening in the drug wars of Mexico and Colombia, and that's a point that I try and make in the book ["Seeds of Terror"]. The war in Afghanistan often gets compared to the war in Iraq, but to my mind what is happening is much closer to what we see happening in Latin America. As this insurgent group and other extremist groups that also operate along the border. Al Qaeda and other Pakistani insurgent groups, as they get sucked into crime, they become more and more violent, more and more ruthless, and they seem to be losing the ideological roots of their movement."
There were plenty of incidents of torture-murder, including beheadings, in Iraq. But once again, the strategy is to obfuscate and belittle the obvious common religious ideology between Iraqi and Afghan jihadists, and instead try to draw a comparison to kufir behavior, this time to drug dealers in Mexico. "See? This doesn't have to do with Islam or Afghanistan. Everyone beheads." From my opposite point of view, I cannot help but wonder about the possibility that Muslims from the tri-border region of South America, or jihadis sent from Pakistan/Afghanistan, are becoming involved in the Latin American drug trade, as collaborators, enforcers, and suppliers. Most of the heroin entering the U.S. is currently grown in Latin America, but how could the Afghan Taliban drug lords not want to break into the most lucrative drug market in the world, the U.S.? And of course, they would have other motivations for building a smuggling operation over the U.S. border.
[host Dave Davies] "I want to talk about the role of the opium farmers themselves. You begin the book by describing a trip that you took, I think in 2006, with an opium eradication team, from the Afghan military, I believe. And as they set about destroying these poppy fields, the crops in these poppy fields, you saw farmers standing by. These poor farmers railing at the soldiers, invoking Allah to come and bring down his wrath upon them. [Eh wot? The wrath of peaceful and tolerant Allah? What's He gonna do, quietly introspect them to death?] A pretty sympathetic picture of these folks. What is the role of the farmers themselves? Do they have any option but to grow?"
[Gretchen Peters] "Well, again it depends on where they are. I think that in the areas where there is no governance, where the Taliban is in control in southwest Afghanistan, a lot of the farmers really do have very few options. Poppy is a crop that doesn't rot, it's easy to transport, there is an unending demand for it, they can sell it for a lot more money than most legal crops. And if they grow something like melons or grapes, they're likely to get bruised or completely destroyed by the time they travel down Afghanistan's bumpy roads to the nearest market. So, a lot of farmers will tell you that they have no choice."
They apparently haven't mastered the extremely sophisticated straw-pillow-technology of the kufirs, or the spring-suspension technology, or the paved-road technology. They can safely transport high explosives back and forth over the Afghan mountain border passes with ease, but melons? Somehow Europeans were able to transport fruits and vegetables on unpaved roads 300-400 years ago. In the United States, you can still see the divots dug into the mountain rock where the wooden wagon wheels carried settlers out west. The settlers used rope and block-and-tackle to lift their wagons and cattle up and down the sheer cliff faces of the Sierra Mountains. Those wagons carried all the worldly possessions of their owners, maybe even a piece of fruit or two, over those bumpy mountain ruts.
But Peters' main thesis is that, surprise surprise, the kufirs need to send more money to the poor Afghans, our good friends and strong allies, so that they don't need to grow the only crop that they are supposedly able to grow. Then a flourishing capitalist market will emerge, democracy will thrive, and everyone will live happily ever after. And maybe if we're lucky, just maybe, the Taliban can make it a very, very safe country once again.