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International Politics, On the Bookshelf

Book Review: Seeds of Terror

In Afghanistan, farmers grow poppy for opium, which is later processed into heroin and, ultimately, sold on the black market. How, when the Quran defines drugs as “the filth of Satan’s handiwork,” does the Islamic populace in Afghanistan justify growing this illicit crop? For one thing, the sale, but not consumption, of opium is acceptable to the locals because it is supposedly consumed by the West–by infidels–and thus furthers the war on them, outlines Gretchen Peters in her book Seeds of Terror: How Drugs, Thugs, and Crime Are Reshaping the Afghan War. Peters has worked for the Associated Press and ABC News.

This premise is absolutely false, she argues, and “Anyone who thinks infidels are the main consumers of Afghan dope is fooling himself,” she writes. “Addicts in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone accounted for 55 percent of the 1,100 metric tons of opium consumed world-wide in 2008.”

“Users in Central Asia, Iran, and Pakistan smoked, snorted or injected another 17 percent of the heroic produced that year.” European nations and Russia also consume a large portion of this heroin, she writes.

Peters’ book attempts to establish a link between the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the drug trade. “To this day, some senior U.S. officials continue to argue that al Qaeda is not systematically involved in drug smuggling, although many acknowledge that low-rank operatives get involved now and then to earn money,” she asserts. Peters attempts to prove differently, citing two maritime events and some connections between al Qaeda linked insurgents and the drug trade: “However, there is widespread evidence Uzbek insurgents linked to al Qaeda are heavily tied to drug smuggling and control as much as 70 percent of the multibillion-dollar heroin and opium trade through Central Asia,” writes Peters. “Other incidents prove low-level Arab al Qaeda operatives have engaged in trafficking, including two maritime seizures in 2003.”

With no smoking gun to point to, Peters’ book becomes less about terror so much as Afghanistan thuggery and corruption. Thus, the title seems to be a bit of a misnomer. However, the book is a useful primer on Afghanistan politics and graft.

Readers learn that Afghani farmers are stuck in a cycle of poverty where they sell their poppy crops before the harvest. Thus, once the harvest comes, they already owe money to the drug trade. In addition, farmers face violence from the Taliban should they turn to other crops. Peters is against the eradication of poppy crops and counsels the U.S. government to spearhead efforts to combat the opium trade by focusing on traffickers instead of farmers. This is because, with large stores of opium hidden underground, drug traffickers stand to make a mint whenever the supply of opium is lowered. It seems, in Peters’ telling, that drug money as the root of all evil has corrupted every level of the Afghani government up through President Hamid Karzai and his half-brother Ahmed Wali.

While well-sourced in general, the book relies in large part on unnamed sources in the U.S. government who, in citing their frustrations with U.S. policy in Afghanistan, fail to identify themselves and stand by their words. A good read, but not an essential one.

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