Merchant of Death
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A New Look at the AF/Pak Crisis
Now that the Afghan/Pakistan crisis if front and center, and the ties between organized crime and the funding of radical Islamist movements are clear, it would be well to understand the origins of this emerging threat and the magnitude of the danger.

One of the best at doing that is a new book by Gretchen Peters, Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling The Taliban and al Qaeda.

I have mentioned the book before, but it is hitting stores this week and provides a clear-eyed view of how we got to this point, and how international heroin trafficking is at the root of the new wave of Taliban advances.

Ms. Peters is a journalist, not an ideologue, and uses her 10 years of experience on the ground in the region to walk readers through myriad ties between the Taliban, al Qaeda and the heroin trade that has allowed the resurgence and spread of a group that was on the verge of complete defeat by the end of 2001. Now they are knocking on the doors of the capital of nuclear state.

It is the best case study to date of the criminal-terrorist nexus that is still so often dismissed in intelligence and senior policy making circles.

The result is not a pretty picture, particularly of the corruption in the Karzai administration, the lack of real progress in dealing with the deep seated social issues and poverty and the overall attractiveness of the drug trade in such dire conditions.

At the same time, the Jamestown Foundation notes the Europol report on the growing connection between the Afghanistan/Pakistan region and the Islamist terrorist threat in Europe.

Indeed, as the report states, “Afghanistan and Pakistan seem to have replaced Iraq as preferred destinations for volunteers wishing to engage in armed conflicts.” These recruits pose a threat to European troops deployed in Afghanistan. Germany, for instance, is particularly worried about the presence of several of its citizens (most notably Eric Breininger) in the region who are allegedly plotting operations against German troops (see Terrorism Focus, January 28).

When fighters return – such as members of the Belgian cell, or members of the Sauerland cell in Germany – they pose a direct threat to European security. As expressed by U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, “the primary threat from Europe-based extremists stems from al-Qaeda and Sunni affiliates who return from training in Pakistan to conduct attacks in Europe or the United States.”

The threat is not just that radical Islamists will take over a nuclear power (and there are signs that the majority of Pakistanis, who are finally understanding the brutality and retrograde nature of this interpretation of Islam) but that the successes in Pakistan and Afghanistan help build the jihadist narrative.

Just as the narrative of divine intervention was central to success of the jihadist efforts against the Soviet Union, the devastating military loss of the Taliban in 2001 offered a chance for a new narrative to be written.

Now, with success on the battlefield again, the jihadists will not thank Western drug consumers for their resurgence. Rather, they will again weave the story of Allah's blessing on the movement as a powerful recruitment tool in jihadi circles around the world.

The question is how to move at this late date. And no policy option offers anything like a silver bullet. Ms. Peters' book makes that clear, as well as clarifying how late in the game we really are.

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