US Withdrawal from Afghanistan and National Security

-by Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. and Jainendra Karn**

NEW DELHI (IDN) Who would have thought that Heroin which inspired Lou Reed to write a cult classic in 1967 would be discussed in the strategic circles of global democracies especially for its national security implications in the twenty first century.

Innovative ways have always been used by drug syndicates to launder money which has become a very sophisticated operation and an industry of its own.

The case study of Alevo is an interesting example how money from Norwegian narco-trafficker Gjermund Cappelen was used in order to finance the company in early days, and to commence its international journey.

The Swiss company Alevo established itself in Charlotte, US only to declare bankruptcy later, while its founder Jostein Eikeland addressed platforms like the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Alevo had gained attention when Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Russian billionaire with alleged connection to ex-President Donald Trump emerged as a new investor and installed former associates at the company.

A June 2014 article by Dagens Næringsliv claimed that Cappelen became a shareholder in Alevo as part of a complicated three party transaction between him, Jostein Eikeland and Swedish businessman Berth Milton Jr. But the methods used to launder money were exceptionally interesting.

Meanwhile in India, ever since Rakesh Asthana was appointed the Director General of the Border Security Force in 2020 with additional charge of the Narcotics Control Bureau, the subsequent developments underlined the great emphasis the Government of India had laid to end cross-border drug trafficking in the context of national security.

In January 2021, India arrested two Sri Lankan Tamils linked to international drug syndicate of Pakistan and Sri Lanka in USD 13.6 million Heroin smuggling case. The two were living in Chennai with false identities and had traveled to the Gulf Countries with fake passports.

The United Nations often discusses the role of drug trafficking in promoting and financing global terrorism.  The issue has been recognized by the United Nations Security Council as well.

But the challenge is also how easily international drug money finds its way into the local economic, social and systems of the countries and impacts them drastically from within. 

In an interview, Rakesh Asthana had discussed about the Bollywood drug syndicate which could be the ‘tip of the iceberg’. He also mentioned that investigations have revealed the ‘international’ connections of the drug racket to Dubai and terror organisations.

In 2013, Fox News published an expose about fake passports which were blacklisted by the European Union later. Queerly these fake passports are printed in the UAE and on the platform provided by Diletta, a German company based in Frankfurt.

The paradox is that the dubious passports are made with German technology to travel across the globe by exploiting diplomatic channels but banned by the European Union while Germany rejects the US backed proposal to waive off vaccine patents in the global fight against COVID.

The comical bathos of it all makes the Hamburg based MTS Mangal Transport & Shipping GmbH or Volkswagon Emissions Scandal pale in front of it and along with the notion of German quality, and the nation’s commitment to cut emissions and the role of COVID in it.

But the national and international security implications of such fake passports is that Diletta is making passports for the United Nations and for countries like India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, UAE etc. too.

No wonder drug smugglers Mohamed Afnas and M.M.M. Nawas, both Sri Lankan nationals, gallivanted across the Gulf countries with fake Indian passports.

How will things fare when the US withdraws from Afghanistan? After Vietnam, the US has now lost another war in Afghanistan and President Joe Biden has set 9/11 of 2021 as the deadline. Even as big issues remain unresolved Pentagon had accelerated the withdrawal process from Afghanistan and the US troops might leave by July.

What will be its implications for the national security, international drug trafficking and global terrorism? Afghanistan dominates the global opium markets and now produces over 90% of the world’s non-pharmaceutical-grade Opium which used to make Heroin.

Ranking 173 out of 177 in the world HDI rankings, Afghanistan with a population of about 39 million which is growing at 2.33 per cent annually and a GDP of $19 billion makes it among the world’s poorest countries.

But almost 45 per cent of the GDP of Afghanistan is mainly due to grants from the US and its allies, Saudi Arabia and from countries like India. The main cause of concern is Afghanistan’s own revenues which are less than 10 per cent of its GDP. Just to be sustainable Afghanistan needs an annual grant-in-aid package of over $15 billion.

Any state which is not sustainable becomes a turf for the unscrupulous elements. It has severe consequences for both near and distant shores. Afghanistan lying in the Golden Crescent is especially vulnerable to narcotic trafficking.

The emergence of state sponsors, non-state actors and toxic alliances of both that have diabolical links with the international terrorist groups and networks have created immense challenges for the nation states.

The FBI and DEA had disrupted a major Afghanistan-Pakistani Heroin Smuggling Operation in the US with the  arrest of 16 individuals, in which heroin was being shipped to  the US, and profits from the sale of Heroin were  laundered through Afghan and Pakistani-owned businesses in the  United States, and then sent back to finance terrorists.

As mentioned earlier, huge amounts of drug money is being floated in an un-organised but systematic manner into the US, European and Indian money markets thereby damaging financial institutions.

The scenario will get bleak further and create new challenges for the global economies as they recover from COVID as drug trafficking from Afghanistan and Pakistan threatens both their polities and the economies.

Afghanistan has realized that it has to come out the quagmire it has been in. For long the Afghan government had reservations that Pakistan may be using the Taliban as a proxy and providing support to terrorists thus being a  force inimical to Afghanistan’s very existence.

As the US has started the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, India and other stakeholders have realized that in the absence of a political settlement, Afghanistan can potentially face another cycle of civil war which might have cross-border impacts in the Indian-subcontinent.

Thus India has started its diplomatic outreach in Afghanistan albeit it is limited to the factions and leaders of the Taliban that are believed to be outside Pakistan’s sphere of influence.

This complements the initiative of the US led by its special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad who held talks with Taliban negotiators in Doha to discuss peace in Afghanistan.

However the task is enormous and demands a serious consideration, synergy and multi-level coordinated action, from both the policy makers and the law enforcement agencies before it gets too late for action.

The US Senate hearing titled “Narco-Terrorism: International Drug Trafficking and Terrorism- A Dangerous Mix” before the Committee on the Judiciary in the One Hundred Eighth Congress in which Senators Hatch, Kyl, Sessions, Cornyn, Biden, and Feinstein were present made an apt recommendation.

If we really want to win the war against terrorism, we need to continue and expand our commitment to cutting off all sources of terrorism financing, including drug trafficking. By doing so, we will not only cut off an important source of funding for terrorists, but we will reduce the amount of illegal drugs that poison our communities.”

Senator Biden is now the President Biden of the US who as the Vice President had pushed the-then President Obama to shift towards a small global military profile of the US with a focus on counterterrorism.

The present moment is the opportune time to break the double-helix of international terrorism and drug trafficking by a collaborative action of various stakeholders.

Worth a thought for the leaders and all those who are responsible for tightening the national security architecture as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan continues.

Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. is an ex-diplomat & ALCAP’s Special Advisor for Asia & Africa and Jainendra Karn is a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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