From the poppy fields of Flanders to the poppies of Kabul

Written just after the Al Qaeda attack on the twin towers and Pentagon, this article examines how Al Qaeda raised the money for its attacks.

Who funds the Taleban and Al Qaeda? Why, you do, of course.

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 21 October 2001

They are still there: billions and billions of poppies, gracing the largest mass grave in the world. Millions died in the trenches of the First World War: gassed, blown up by mines, cut down storming a machine gun that they new would kill 99% of attackers, or even drowned in mud. Most of the bodies were never recovered, but the poppies are there still.

The “war to end all wars” didn’t, and more than eight decades on the Royal British Legion still sells poppies to raise funds for those injured or bereaved by the many wars we have fought since then. And now there is another one. But this time the poppy is a dual symbol: of the dead and wounded and also of the mind numbing stupidity that launched this latest war. You see, we paid for it. We funded the training of the pilots; we bought the arms for Al Qaeda; we supply the money which props up the monstrous tyranny of the Taleban. We did it through the insanity of an utterly discredited policy: prohibition. Just like the Royal British Legion, the Taleban raises funds by selling poppies.

There is nothing complex in the equation: if you restrict supply you will raise prices. The futile attempts to keep heroin off our streets have created premium profit margins for those, like the Taleban, who cultivate the opium poppy. The sky high prices that prohibition produces have created an army of addicts that desperately needs to fund an expensive habit. They steal cars. They break into our homes. They attack us on the streets. They get their friends hooked and become suppliers. It is the failure of prohibition itself which recruits the next generation of drug pushers.

Against every possible measure prohibition is a failure. The UK criminalised heroin in 1970 to “combat” drug abuse. Oh to have the drug problems of the days when heroin was legal! Every year since prohibition started, drug abuse in the core 15-29 age group has got worse. Recent declines in total consumption are entirely the result of shifting demographics. It is no credit to government policy that the growing numbers of over seventies are not, in the main, drug abusers.

Afghanistan is the principal supplier of the opium poppy to western drug cartels. The supply of heroin is a multi-billion dollar industry. Only renegade states engage in it, so these billions of dollars tend to flow to some of the most reprehensible regimes in the world. Cocaine billions flow to paramilitary groups in Columbia. These two countries have both been utterly devastated by these failures of western policy. And these billions are now in the hands of a terror network that is dedicated to destroying us.

We can chase the money from bank to bank and from tax haven to tax haven, but the fact is western governments created these funds. We have granted our sworn enemies monopoly profits on a crop which is not native to Afghanistan but which grows wild across the whole of northern Europe. Even as we bomb Kabul, prohibition keeps the dollars flowing there.

The government could choke off the funding to the Taleban tomorrow if it had the courage to legalise heroin.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 21 October 2001

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