To understand the Taliban and al Qaeda, read this book. "Seeds of Terror" takes you to the heart of the matter—money, not religion. Opium not jihad. Gretchen Peters understands the big picture, the one Obama and the U.S. military desperately need to see.
Opium is still seen as just one means of financing religious fanatics. As Peters reveals, it's much more. For the Taliban, drug money is not just the means; it has become the objective—just like it is for the Colombian and Mexican drug mafias. As she tells us, "The insurgency is exploding precisely because the opium trade is booming."
The Taliban are almost entirely from the Pashtun tribe, and to her credit, Peters speaks fluent Pashto, which may be why the book feels so credible. For ten years, she has tracked the drug racket in every way imaginable, from flying with Pakistanis using forward-looking infrared cameras looking for drug convoys to sipping tea in one of HJK's two hundred houses. HJK, you will learn, was the number one smuggler behind the Taliban, with a billion-dollar drug business extending from Osama bin Laden to Mullah Omar and from Uzbekistan to Dubai. It's a fascinating read.
Peters admits she can't determine the depth of al Qaeda's involvement in the drug trade, although al Qaeda operatives routinely ship drugs to the Gulf. But she proves beyond a doubt that the Taliban has become primarily a criminal operation, and if the Taliban wins, al Qaeda will have its own narco-state.
Here's a hint of what's in the book. Chapter (1) To go after terrorist, you must go after their drug profits. (2) The explosion of heroin during the war to oust the Soviets. (3) The rise of the Taliban and the narco-terror state. (4) How heroin saved the Taliban (and changed them) after we kicked them out. (5) HJK, the sheepherder turned kingpin. (6) How drug money flows outside the banking system—an amazing process. (7) How U.S./NATO policy has avoided the drug war or been wholly inadequate, and how the Afghan government has been corrupted. The final chapter (8) is about what should be done. It's not the most fascinating part, but it may be the most important.
Peters present a nine point approach that seems well thought out, but in my view, her biggest strategic contribution is her thinking on how to attack the drug business. "Twelve percent of the Afghan population lives off the poppy trade. Destroying their livelihoods overnight [poppy eradication]—before providing alternatives—would ... turn more Afghans against the United States. ... The goal should be to cut or eliminate profits for smugglers and financiers at the top." Unfortunately she only goes a little deeper than that, but I think she's headed in exactly the right direction. As Peters has proved, Afghanistan is a narco-terror state, and we need to fight both parts at once--the narcotics business and the terrorist who profit from it.