[Once again the drug trade's significance rears its ugly head. But -- in spite of what this story says -- an increased US presence will have no intention of weaning Afghanistan from drug production of any other nation from consumption. As FTW has been documenting since its start, it is the control of the drug trade which drives US ambitions. That's why there was virtually no opium production in Afghanistan when the US invasion began, and why almost every year since it has reached record levels. In 2004 the opium harvest exceeded 4,500 metric tons and is still growing.

So Gulliver finds one more challenge from the "little people"; one more demand on an overstretched military. But the drug money is a prize the US will do anything to keep control of, so that it can continue to prop up its increasingly shaky financial markets. - MCR]

'Troubled' Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran triangle may deepen US presence

Khaleej Times Online (AFP)
25 March 2005


WASHINGTON - Dogged by drug, terrorism and nuclear threats, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are fast becoming a "troubled triangle" that could deepen US presence in the region, experts told a conference on Thursday.

The problem is compounded by their strategic interests in each other's backyard, including Iran's strong influence in Afghanistan as Tehran strives to become a nuclear power, leaning toward Russia, China and India to create a strategic counterweight to the United States, they said.

Drugs in Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of opium, is deeply tied to warlords, terrorists and drug mafias within the country.

The drug trade is fuelling Pakistan's booming heroin market and increasing addiction among youths, as well as social ills in Iran, the conference organized by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington was told.

Terrorism is a major problem in the region, with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border a key hideout for the al-Qaeda network, including possibly terror mastermind Osama bin laden.

Aside from being accused by the United States of having a covert nuclear weapons program, Iran has been blamed for backing terror groups in the region.

"Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are a troubled triangle and the US strategy now is to involve the US government in the region in a way to reduce the troubled nature," said Larry Goodson from the US Army War College.

But while a long term American commitment can help Afghanistan wean itself from drug dependency and boost reconstruction of the war-wrecked nation, and restore democracy to military-led Pakistan, it might fuel greater anti-American sentiment in the region, he warned.

"The US faces, as it does in Iraq, a real conundrum in that we have to stay in order to achieve strategic interest of stabilizing and transforming these troubled regions but our very presence there is going to continue to attract some of the more militant jihadists who want to challenge their conception of the US project for the world," Goodson said.

"Anti-American attitudes are at an all-time high in some areas. We really can't stay and yet we dare not go," he said.

In the first salvo on its global "war on terror," Washington led an invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 to overthrow the hardline Taliban regime for backing al-Qaeda, which staged the deadly terror attacks on the United States.

Vali Nasr, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, said Pakistan and Iran were becoming "uneasy" neighbors amid their controversial nuclear capabilities.

"Iran's nuclear program and Pakistan's proliferation of nuclear technology is an explosive issue and for both countries it is about regime survival," said the expert on political Islam and Shiite doctrine.

Iran's nuclear technology was built on support from Pakistan, before it became a key US ally.

Pakistan admitted this month that its disgraced top scientist A.Q. Khan had supplied Iran with centrifuges, used to enrich uranium for atomic warheads.

"The Pakistan regime can suffer seriously or fall from power if A.Q. Khan's network involved the military," Nasr said. "More recently Pakistan has been accusing Iran of unnecesarily cooperating with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) on the A.Q. Khan issue."

Pakistan's leaders very much blame Iran for inciting an insurgency in Baluchistan, a huge but sparsely populated province bordering Iran, "which has become an important problem for the Musharraf government."

"Iran is using ethnic tensions to prevent Musharraf from consolidating power and prevent it from consolidating relations with Washington," Nasr said.

If the United States wants to extend its influence from Islamabad through Kabul and further north, he said: "It will require a sustained American presence, long term, in the region."

"The big question is how and what fashion and how long is the United States going to be engaged in this high level way in Pakistan and Afghanistan and a very different way and negative way towards Iraq," Goodson said.

Ayesha Siddiqa, an ex-Pakistani government director of naval research and now a scholar, said "strategically, it will be positive for Pakistan to support a hostile policy towards Iran" although both countries were worried by President George W. Bush's "preemption" doctrine.

The strategy calls for "preventive" military action by the United States and its partners against groups or countries, which harbor terrorists and have dangerous weapons.