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Walking Afghanistan’s drugs tightrope

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By David Loyn
BBC Developing World correspondent
Friday, 22 June 2007

The drug economy in Afghanistan is now worth about $3bn a year, larger than the legal economy, and it is having a distorting effect on the attempts by the country to return to normality after a generation of war.

The legal thicket entangling Gen Aminullah Amrkhel, the former head of customs at Kabul airport, is a morality tale that says a lot about the state of the nation.

When he first did a BBC interview in the spring of last year, he was confident about his ability to capture drug smugglers at the airport, not just with random searches, but using intelligence tip-offs.

He said he was turning down huge bribes from drug smugglers, and was on the verge of breaking a major international drugs ring.

He showed us a remarkable videotape of a woman who had been arrested carrying 5kg (11lb) of heroin in bags strapped to her body.

She threatened the lives of customs officers, demanding to be given her mobile phone back. She said that with “one call”, she could make them “disappear”.

She did turn out to have friends in high places, and despite the protestations of Gen Aminullah, she was released from custody.

Soon afterwards, he was himself charged with several offences, none involving drug smuggling, after investigators arrived at the airport to look through every aspect of his management.

One of the investigators withdrew early on in disgust, claiming in an Afghan TV interview that they had been made to swear an oath that they would find incriminating evidence against Gen Aminullah.

In hiding

In December, the sacked customs chief fled to London after receiving death threats on his mobile phone.

He returned to a hero’s welcome to Afghanistan’s airport in April only after receiving assurances from senior politicians that he would be protected.

But when I met him in Kabul earlier this month, he was in hiding, moving often, and again in fear of his life.

“I have lost everything including my job because of an illegal plot by the mafia and smugglers, and that is because of the attorney general,” he said.

“He is the protector of the drug smugglers, and he acted on a wrong and false allegation against me by them.”

But Afghan Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabet said in a BBC interview: “Don’t believe him please, don’t believe such nonsense as I was brought under pressure from drug dealers. If I can find a drug dealer like him, I will arrest him… He is lying.

“I am sure the court will convict him… He just tries to get away with his crimes. I am not going to let him go.”

‘Drugs war lost’

Gen Aminullah’s case has attracted significant local support.

The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Sibghatullah Mujadidi, said he had been “working honestly” at the airport, and that he had “no suspicion” about him.

He said that instead it was the attorney general who should be dismissed: “If it was in my authority, I would not leave him one day in his job.”

He said he had visited a jail near Jalalabad that was full of people who should not have been there, imprisoned after “personal clashes” with the attorney general.

A delegation of tribal elders chosen from a rally in support of Gen Aminullah outside parliament won an assurance from the speaker of the lower house, Mohammed Yunus Qanooni, that the whole case would be properly investigated.

The elders said they were planning to hold more widespread protests if the charges against Gen Aminullah were not dropped.

But the attorney general claimed they had been paid $50 each to attend the rally by Gen Aminullah. He said it was easy because “there are so many unemployed people in the city”.

Gen Aminullah is bitter that the international community, and particularly the British, have not given him more support since he was removed from office.

He said they had now “lost the war on drugs… It is damaging British people in both places. Their soldiers die here, because it pays for ammunition and weapons, and the money for that comes from drugs.

“And in Britain they are dying in another way because people become addicted to drugs. It kills their youth there and their soldiers here.”

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Written by afghandevnews

June 23, 2007 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Drugs

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