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Bush's Faustian Deal with the Taliban

Bush's Faustian Deal With The Taliban

by Robert Scheer

May 22, 2001 © Los Angeles Times

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 seriously.

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 women.

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


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


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