USA: Bush's Faustian Deal With the Taliban

Note: This column written in May is highly relevant to today's news.--Ed.

Enslave your girls and women, harbor anti-U.S. terrorists,
destroy every vestige of civilization in your homeland, and
the Bush administration will embrace you. All that matters
is that you line up as an ally in the drug war, the only
international cause that this nation still takes

That's the message sent with the recent gift of $43 million
to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, the most virulent
anti-American violators of human rights in the world today.
The gift, announced last Thursday by Secretary of State
Colin Powell, in addition to other recent aid, makes the
U.S. the main sponsor of the Taliban and rewards that "rogue
regime" for declaring that opium growing is against the will
of God. So, too, by the Taliban's estimation, are most human
activities, but it's the ban on drugs that catches this
administration's attention.

Never mind that Osama bin Laden still operates the leading
anti-American terror operation from his base in Afghanistan,
from which, among other crimes, he launched two bloody
attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998.

Sadly, the Bush administration is cozying up to the Taliban
regime at a time when the United Nations, at U.S.
insistence, imposes sanctions on Afghanistan because the
Kabul government will not turn over Bin Laden.

The war on drugs has become our own fanatics' obsession and
easily trumps all other concerns. How else could we come to
reward the Taliban, who has subjected the female half of the
Afghan population to a continual reign of terror in a
country once considered enlightened in its treatment of

At no point in modern history have women and girls been more
systematically abused than in Afghanistan where, in the name
of madness masquerading as Islam, the government in Kabul
obliterates their fundamental human rights. Women may not
appear in public without being covered from head to toe with
the oppressive shroud called the burkha, and they may not
leave the house without being accompanied by a male family
member. They've not been permitted to attend school or be
treated by male doctors, yet women have been banned from
practicing medicine or any profession for that matter.

The lot of males is better if they blindly accept the laws
of an extreme religious theocracy that prescribes strict
rules governing all behavior, from a ban on shaving to what
crops may be grown. It is this last power that has captured
the enthusiasm of the Bush White House.

The Taliban fanatics, economically and diplomatically
isolated, are at the breaking point, and so, in return for a
pittance of legitimacy and cash from the Bush
administration, they have been willing to appear to reverse
themselves on the growing of opium. That a totalitarian
country can effectively crack down on its farmers is not
surprising. But it is grotesque for a U.S. official, James
P. Callahan, director of the State Department's Asian
anti-drug program, to describe the Taliban's special methods
in the language of representative democracy: "The Taliban
used a system of consensus-building," Callahan said after a
visit with the Taliban, adding that the Taliban justified
the ban on drugs "in very religious terms."

Of course, Callahan also reported, those who didn't obey the
theocratic edict would be sent to prison.

In a country where those who break minor rules are simply
beaten on the spot by religious police and others are stoned
to death, it's understandable that the government's
"religious" argument might be compelling. Even if it means,
as Callahan concedes, that most of the farmers who grew the
poppies will now confront starvation. That's because the
Afghan economy has been ruined by the religious extremism of
the Taliban, making the attraction of opium as a previously
tolerated quick cash crop overwhelming.

For that reason, the opium ban will not last unless the U.S.
is willing to pour far larger amounts of money into
underwriting the Afghan economy.

As the Drug Enforcement Administration's Steven Casteel
admitted, "The bad side of the ban is that it's bringing
their country--or certain regions of their country--to
economic ruin." Nor did he hold out much hope for Afghan
farmers growing other crops such as wheat, which require a
vast infrastructure to supply water and fertilizer that no
longer exists in that devastated country. There's little
doubt that the Taliban will turn once again to the easily
taxed cash crop of opium in order to stay in power.

The Taliban may suddenly be the dream regime of our own war
drug war zealots, but in the end this alliance will prove a
costly failure. Our long sad history of signing up dictators
in the war on drugs demonstrates the futility of building a
foreign policy on a domestic obsession.

Robert Scheer is a Syndicated Columnist.

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