Haji Bagcho, in his late 60s, is regarded by the authorities as one of the most notorious heroin traffickers in the world. According to the statement from the Justice Department he had been making heroin in secret laboratories along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan for years. The heroin was then sent to 20 countries, and the proceeds were used to support the former Taliban governor of Nangarhar Province and two Taliban commanders responsible for insurgent activity in eastern Afghanistan.
In 2006 alone, Bagcho allegedly made heroin transactions of more than 123,000 kilograms and worth more than $250 million. That accounted for about 20 percent of the total amount of heroin produced in the world that year.
He was arrested in May 2009 and brought to the United States to face charges following a years-long investigation by Afghan and American authorities.
The previous trial ended in November last year with a hung jury. He was retried and found guilty in March this year. During the process and afterwards Bagcho continued to claim innocence.
Well, it looks like the US authorities have taken an important step in their attempts to eradicate probably one of the deadliest threats facing humanity today. The culprit has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
But the story, still poses a lot of questions which have been omitted by the media.
Looking back at bare facts of the recent Afghan history, what do we see? Afghanistan became a hub for opium production during the Soviet military presence there, and in 1995, Charles Cogan, the former CIA Director of clandestine Afghan operation, admitted that while assisting the mujahedeen, the US authorities closed their eyes on the fact that their assistance, among other things was used for increasing opium production, and drug sales which were used for acquiring weapons.
"Our main mission was to do as much damage as possible to the Soviets. We didn't really have the resources or the time to devote to an investigation of the drug trade," Cogan told Australian television in 1995. "I don't think that we need to apologize for this. Every situation has its fallout. There was fallout in terms of drugs, but the main objective was accomplished."
So, the incentive to opium production in Afghanistan was made by the Americans themselves.
Then came the Taliban. For some time, drug production was fluctuating at approximately the same level as during the pre-Taliban time (that is, Afghanistan remained the main area of opium-related drug production, by far exceeding Myanmar). Then in 2000, the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a fatwa declaring growing poppies un-Islamic. This resulted in a drastic reduction of poppy cultivation and opium production, with the year 2001 being the only year when Afghanistan was almost free of this evil. In fact, in the whole history of mankind, this has been the most successful (if not the only successful) attempt to eradicate drug production in a given country.
Things reversed after the foreign invasion. In 2002, poppy cultivation almost reached the 2000 level, and for five years it was on a steady rise reaching its peak in 2007. Now, the question is – was the process going on despite the foreign military presence in Afghanistan or because of it? Sometimes the US experts say that they just cannot eradicate opium production in fear of further alienating the local population for which poppy cultivation is the only source of income. Or, maybe they just don't want to do so for some other reason?
Looking back at still older history, we find a story shedding a totally different light on the present situation. In mid-19th century, Western powers succeeded in making millions of people in China addicted to opium, but the then Chinese rulers tried to put a ban on opium trade and consumption. This resulted in two opium wars aimed at safeguarding the Western interests by keeping the population by and large addicted. The result was similar to the operation "Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan – China turned into a semi-colony of the West.
Of course, it is easy to arrest one notorious drug-trafficker, convict and sentence him and put the blame on the Taliban. But this only disguises the deep roots and causes of the problem.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies