August 22, 2002: United Nations Development Programme Administrator Mark Malloch Brown discusses Afghanistan’s opium trade with host Daljit Dhaliwal.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Mark Malloch Brown, connect the dots. How does the booming opium trade in Afghanistan affect us here in the United States?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, I think there are big dots and somewhat littler dots, and the big dots are just this recognition since September 11 that issues such as narcotics, but equally terrorism, and even very different issues, public health issues, such as HIV-AIDS, which thrive in situations of failed government, and in places where countries can’t, on their own, respond to them and contain them. But if we, the rest of the world, particularly the United States, leave these problems unattended to, they have a horrible habit of coming and stinging us in our backyard.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Well, what’s the threat to the United States in that most of the drugs that come out of Afghanistan actually make their way to Europe, or to Russia, and they don’t end up in American neighborhoods.
Mark Malloch Brown: I think it’s the little dots, in the sense that there clearly is a very real dimension that while these particular drugs . . . and indeed, opium or heroin used in the U.S. is not a significant drug problem. They are part of a global drug political economy, which is very undermining of U.S. interests. And in that way, I think the United States is quite correct to see it as an extension of the drug fight that they’re fighting in Latin America and elsewhere. Drugs undermine countries. Allies of the United States, peoples everywhere. And in that sense, I think the U.S. has recognized that while its first target in Afghanistan is terrorism, and the Al Qaeda group, that, inevitably, the second target is illegal narcotics production.
Daljit Dhaliwal: And that leads into the United Nations efforts that you’re involved in in Afghanistan to try and rebuild the country. I mean a mind-boggling task. Where do drugs, in particular, figure in the bigger picture?
Mark Malloch Brown: It’s an extraordinary force in the political economy of Afghanistan. You’ve got to understand that until last year, there were two sources of income for an aspiring young man or woman in Afghanistan. One was carrying a gun. And the second was narcotics production. Hopefully, the carrying a gun option has been made significantly less attractive by the establishment of a national government in Kabul determined to establish the peace. But with the source of income from gun-running and being an armed soldier in the employ of a warlord having declined, it’s put ever more emphasis on the alternative source of illegal income – narcotics production. So until we get under that control, the ability to establish a peace-time economy where people make money out of legitimate activities and seek their fortunes through regular employment � we’re not going to get there until we’ve crushed this terrible problem of narcotics production.
Daljit Dhaliwal: And what is the U.N., in particular, trying to do, in terms of trying to eradicate the poppy crop?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, we’re working hard both within Afghanistan, crop substitution programs where farmers are paid to plant alternative crops, and are paid for each kilo of poppies that they don’t take to market. But we’re also trying to establish police and security arrangements throughout the country to allow central government to impose its new laws on the subject throughout the land. And third, by trying to revive a peace-time legal economy in the country, we hope more broadly to persuade Afghans to seek their fortunes and future in something other than opium production.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Unfortunately, opium is the economy in Afghanistan. How do you get a poor farmer to try and give up growing opium and substitute that for other crops like wheat, where they’re not gonna make the same kind of money? And that was a lesson that we have already learned in Colombia.
Mark Malloch Brown: Yeah. No. Well, it’s partly you try to get the price right. You give them as large a subsidy as possible for not growing it. A principle that American and European farmers know a lot of the subsidy policies that we apply there. You pay people not to grow. But given the relative returns on poppy cultivation versus, as you say, something like wheat, it’s hard to do it by that means alone. So you have to have a broader rural development strategy where it’s not just that you’re encouraging alternative crops but you’re building a whole way of life, which is within the law, and allows farmers to create a decent life of schools and education for their kids, health care for them and their families, plenty of opportunities that come from being responsible members of their local society. And to try and draw a boundary around that and say, “To participate, to enjoy these benefits for yourself and your kids, you have to be part of a non-poppy economy.”
Daljit Dhaliwal: So the incentives have to be stronger than just maybe substitution and eradication. You’re talking about giving people a stake in the society in which they live.
Mark Malloch Brown: Absolutely. And you don’t do that overnight. Particularly in a country which hasn’t enjoyed national government or peace in 20 years or more. It’s a big challenge to get there, and you know, in fact, we faced in Egypt months after the fall of the Taliban government a dramatic increase in opium cultivation. And that has come about because first, the loss of income from warlordism. And, second, the breakdown of the Taliban’s very brutal law-and- order arrangements across the country where, over the last couple of seasons they had suppressed production. Suddenly, there was anarchy. Nobody was in charge and it gave its farmers a chance to grow a large crop this year. And with the suppression of the crop in the previous two years, prices had gone upwards as demand had started to increase over supply. So this year’s been a very tough year. And on a one-year basis is a setback in the war against opium versus the last year of the anti-American Taliban government.
Daljit Dhaliwal: There’s a real sad and crude irony there that it was the Taliban who were able to actually control the flow of poppy production. And nobody else has really been able to do it effectively.
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, I think that’s right. I mean there was an element of cat and mouse in it in that they were not destroying the poppies, but they were storing them, and in that sense, they had plenty ready to swamp Western markets with if they so choose. So they were creating both a carrot and stick to try and improve their relations with Western governments. And so, I think in the short term, the change of government has been bad for production and it looks as though we’ll have a bumper crop of something like 240 tons.
But going forward, this government, with its absolute commitment to eradicating the crop and its recognition that it is a threat … the kind of … liberal democracy they’re seeking to establish in the country, I think, will be a much better, long-term ally in the fight to end poppy production.
Daljit Dhaliwal: How successful, though, has the interim government been? I mean there have been accusations that they haven’t been trying to eradicate the poppy crop with the kind of gusto that they should be employing.
Mark Malloch Brown: Frankly, not that successful. Not, I think, because of an absence of gusto. This is a government with a lot of gusto. But its gusto doesn’t always carry much further than Kabul, the capital. This is a government which has not established its writ and its authority throughout the country. So in areas where there is a strong local warlord dimension, and there is where there’s something as valuable as poppy production, they have difficulty in establishing their authority. And that’s what we’re confronting.
Daljit Dhaliwal: What is the situation with the warlords? Are they part of the problem? Or are they part of the solution?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, they’re part of the problem, but you’re not gonna solve it unless you make them part of the solution. It’s not, I think, practically possible to displace them and just extend central government roughshod over their very well entrenched local interests.
Daljit Dhaliwal: But if they threaten the interim government, I mean … isn’t there a case? The United States could then get involved.
Mark Malloch Brown: I think the United States is likely to get much more involved in interim security arrangements in Afghanistan than it wishes to. There’s no doubt about that. On the other hand, to take the warlords on frontally and militarily would be a huge undertaking. The reason there are warlords at all in Afghanistan is that you have a political culture developed over many centuries which reflects the geography. Mountains and valleys, with isolated communities in those valleys, communities divided by ethnic background and centuries of suspicion. An environment where it’s very hard to assert central government, and where warlordism thrives, particularly when it has a ready-made income like the poppies.
So overcoming this will be an incremental process in which the central government makes alliances, extends its authority. It’ll be the kind of nation-building process that we saw in Europe, or the United States, or the United Kingdom … and an extreme version … a very extreme version of the long debate in the United States between state and federal government.
Daljit Dhaliwal: How much money has actually been made available by the international community, the United States, in particular, to fight the problem? Just of drugs in Afghanistan.
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, because the solution is rural development and crop substitution, and agriculture, it’s very hard to isolate just the drug money. But tens of millions of dollars have been made available as part of a package where, in the last six months or so, you know, total expenditure has been $1 – $2 billion, on the recovery and development of the country.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Now do you think that that money would’ve been forthcoming if we hadn’t have had 9/11?
Mark Malloch Brown: Nope. Afghanistan, at the time of 9/11, was in the grip of a major drought and food crisis. And we in the United Nations, who’d been working there through thick and thin, were appealing for humanitarian assistance, which we were not getting on anything like the required scale. So the willingness to engage with Afghanistan is obviously a post September 11th phenomenon.
Daljit Dhaliwal: I just want to come back to the eradication programs for a little while. They have been controversial and we have seen protests in the north and in the east of Afghanistan. What’s caused those protests?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, I think we have to understand that for rural communities, used to living off of their own resources, with very little support from central government, and in fact, a view that whenever central government intervenes in their life, it can only mean trouble. In that context, very much, for example, like in the mountainous rural areas of Bolivia, where a similar, crop substitution program led just weeks ago to a pro-cocaine cultivation presidential candidate coming in second in the elections. You’ve seen the same sense of poor farmers and rural groups feeling that finally they found a cash crop which allows them a decent life for themselves and their family, and that, you know, unthinking technocrats and politicians from the urban center of the country are suppressing it for their own interests rather than the interests of the rural poor.
Daljit Dhaliwal: The film also highlights that the interim government, despite being an ally of the United States, and promising to fight the war against drugs, has failed. I mean do you see that as a fair characterization?
Mark Malloch Brown: A fair characterization in terms of results, not a fair characterization in terms of will. I think this is a government which is acutely attuned to the priorities of the United States and its European allies. Many of its senior leaders, including Mr. Karzai himself, and those in charge of finance and reconstruction in the government, have spent many years in the United States. They’re very well aware of U.S. and European priorities and what it takes to sustain that support. And they realize that narcotics is the twin of terrorism, and they’ve got to demonstrate continuously that they’re tough on both issues. So I think there’s no absence of will.
The problem is there’s an absence of means. Their writ just does not run strong in those parts of the country where the poppy is being cultivated. And until that is corrected, until their authority is felt in those parts of the country, their sound is always going to be stronger than their bite.
Daljit Dhaliwal: So how do you give the warlords a stake in the country?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, you give them a stake through the same kind of federal versus Washington system that we see here in the United States, where, you know, there is a balance of power. It’s between what is delegated to the local level and what is dealt with at the national level. And second, you put the warlords into a democratic framework. You, over time, whittle away at the idea of a warlord being able to sustain his base on armed force or ethnic alliance alone. You force local elections. You put them to the democratic test of being able to win those elections. So you socialize them into a democratic state while dividing powers between the center and the regions.
Daljit Dhaliwal: And there have been reports that the warlords are taking money for eradication programs, and they’re not eradicating the poppy crop, and that farmers turned up at the gates of the houses of these warlords demanding money. I mean how do you even begin to try and grapple with the problem of the warlords, given that they’re armed to the teeth, they have fiefdoms that you’ve described.
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, they’re a mixed bunch. You know, some of these warlords are, you know, heroic figures in the resistance against the Taliban and foreign interference in the country who enjoy a huge level of popular support in their areas. And also have a dedicated track record of trying to secure development in their regions. Others are the thugs that your question implies. And, you know, we’re going through this extraordinary process of nation building but at a highly accelerated rate because of all that has happened in Afghanistan. And it’s, in a sense the responsibility for being home to the horror of September 11. And so all the processes of nation-building, which can take decades, if not centuries, in many countries, have been accelerated into this high-speed sprint where, you know, warlords are either being integrated, or isolated, and, hopefully, politically emasculated, where they’re not willing to become part of a democratic liberal future for the country.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Do you think personally that we’re on a losing streak in the war against drugs in Afghanistan? And how do we solve the problem? Do we throw more money at it? How much more money do we need?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, you know, my years in development, I’ve seen solutions which depend on changing the political arrangements in a producer country always in some sense as being a losing streak. In Colombia there were these violent organized cartels which were responsible for the drug trade with the United States. Those cartels were destroyed, but the drug trade didn’t stop. It found a new home – the guerilla movement in Colombia. What has been consistent throughout this is drugs will always find a new route, a new patron, unless you can deal with the demand end. If you still have users willing to pay a very high price for the commodity, drugs will find a way of reaching them. So we are always on a losing streak while demand for opium and heroin remains high on the streets of Europe or of Russia, or when demand for cocaine remains high in the streets of the United States. You’re never gonna solve the problem through trying to crack down on the supplier countries alone. You’ve got to deal with demands in the user countries.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Do you think there’s an argument then to be made for trying to legitimize drugs in the broadest sense?
Mark Malloch Brown: No. I think there’s an argument which, you know, fair people can disagree on, around soft drugs, such as marijuana. There’s, I think, zero argument for drugs such as these. Being in the work I’m in, I’ve seen the impact of these drugs on people, and it’s devastating to individuals, to families, to communities … the ability of those communities to earn a living, to participate in any way in society. So, no, I think there’s absolutely no argument for legalizing hard drugs.
Daljit Dhaliwal: You’ve been to Afghanistan and observed the situation at first-hand. What kind of devastation does this cause farmers and their families who have to grow opium?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, I think you have to understand this in a particular context of timing, which was at the end of last year, there were two dramatic events in the rural economy of Afghanistan. First was the American-led coalition campaign against the Taliban, where America was relying on ground troops who were Afghans. And therefore, there was a huge surge of resources … of dollars into the warlord economy. The second thing was that the Taliban control over poppy production was suddenly lifted as they were overthrown, which allowed a huge surge in planting. Both these facts have made it enormously difficult for the civilian peace-time economy that we’ve been trying to establish since to really be attractive to rural Afghanistan, which saw these great two surges of opportunity from fighting and from poppy production. Now against that, you have to set the fact that poppy production is very hard work. It involves all of the family in it. It’s labor intensive and dangerous, particularly now that the new government has declared it illegal. So both the production itself, and the trans-shipment of it out of Afghanistan to Central Asia is fraught with all the kind of physical and financial risks that the crop will be seized and taken away from you and such which makes it hardly a stable basis for a poor family to make a decent living, or a living which will allow it to put its kids in school, etc. It’s too labor intensive for the whole family, on the one hand, and too unpredictable because of its illegal character on the other.
So, you know, even if theoretically, they’re making a bit of a killing on this, this is not the way any of us would choose to make a living.
Daljit Dhaliwal: And it’s a trade that a large number of women are increasingly being drawn into, not just in terms of working the poppy harvest, but also the trafficking of the drug.
Mark Malloch Brown: Yeah. Yes. And, of course, trafficking which doesn’t stop at the Afghanistan border. I mean the most, in a sense, dramatic side effect of all of this is the extraordinary jump in usage of opium and heroin in the countries of trans-shipment, in Central Asia, in Iran. Iran appears to have something like a two percent usage among its adults, which is a very high rate. Matched only by some of its Central Asian neighbors. So it’s leaving in its wake a trail of tremendous social devastation.
Daljit Dhaliwal: You said earlier on that Afghan leaders are aware that narcotics is the twin of terrorism. Could you just flesh that idea out a little bit more?
Mark Malloch Brown: Yes. It’s the twin at home and abroad. At home, the two make a natural nexus. Where it’s a source of income for terrorists who, by virtue of being an armed force in the society, can easily lend their armed protection to the organization of the drug trade. So these are two forces in a society which naturally make common cause against the forces of civilian rule and law and order, and such like. And abroad, they are an equal twin because, for the United States, or its European partners, Afghanistan is a source of two evils, not one. Terrorism and drugs. Both of which pose a threat to the stability and well-being of American citizens and their European counterparts.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Now you’ve been in charge of raising funds for Afghanistan’s long-term development. Was it easy to get the donor countries to pledge the kind of money that they did?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, it was a race against time. I am always acutely aware that the kind of intensity of public interest, which, therefore, drives the interest of political leaders, is always short term in nature. When the TV cameras move on somewhere, the interest moves with them. So within a month of the new government taking office in Kabul at the end of last year, we had a donors conference in Tokyo and the sheer speed with which we were able to pull together plans led to a very generous outpouring of support. And my own view was that every week we have delayed beyond that initial month would have cost us hundreds of millions of dollars of lost money as donors remembered the rest of the world and their obligation and commitments to help elsewhere. But, you know, that said, generous though it was, in the course of things it was only a first down payment.
Daljit Dhaliwal: How much was pledged?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, it was about $4 or $5 billion. And over some years. And it’s going to take, you know, a lot more than that, say, over the next decade to get Afghanistan to where I think we all want to see it. A stable society with a functioning economy, and kids in school, and parents in regular work.
Daljit Dhaliwal: I mean we’ve seen a shift in development over the past 20, 40 years, and it’s become a lot more important now to foster democratic institutions. How would you characterize that shift, and why do you think it’s happened?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, it is a dramatic shift. In the case of my organization, the U.N. Development Program, when I took it over three years ago, I declared that I was going to make the promotion of democratic governance a number one priority as an organization, because I believed and believe so profoundly that it is the software of successful development. You can build bridges, you can dig wells, or put up school houses. But unless a people are committed to democratic institutions, which keep their governments accountable for the education they provide, or the way they manage the public infrastructure of a country, you will never get the development results you want.
Democracy provides accountability and transparency. And those are critical to successful development.
But when I set this out as my stall, if you like, that this is what UNDP is going to be about in the future, there was a huge backlash from many governments who said “This is completely inappropriate. It’s interfering in the internal affairs of our country.” Now a short three years later, 60 percent of our program resources, between $600- and $800 million last year, went on democratic governments. And 140 countries around the world asked our support in this area.
So it has gone like a firestorm across development, this recognition of how important it is. And, you know, we go back to a very great Indian economist, Amartya Sen, who won the Noble Prize for Economics several years ago, and who is a great guru to UNDP, to me, and all my colleagues.
He observed, in the observation that many think won him his Nobel, that there had not been a famine in India since democracy was established there after the Second World War. Because when people start to go hungry, they can make a fuss. They can call up their elected politician, the local member of Parliament and demand that something is done about it. Whereas, you know, in this same period of time, over the last 50 years, we had a famine in China, in many ways a much more efficiently run economy than India’s.
But nevertheless, a famine that cost 30 million lives, compared to India’s record of not a life lost to famine in this period. Or North Korea, where two million people were lost just a few years ago in a famine. In each case, poor people, as they started to get very hungry, had no political means available to them to demand and agitate the help from government. So we feel very, very profoundly that democracy, not necessarily American style democracy, but democracy in the sense of government and institutions being responsible to their citizens is an absolute bedrock relationship for successful development of a country.
Daljit Dhaliwal: In terms of Afghanistan’s democratic and political institutions, how successful have they been and if they’re not seen as successful in the eyes of the donor nations that have promised this money, is there a danger that Afghanistan could just get dumped on the heap again?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, you know, first these are very early days. To ask whether institutions of democracy are a success after a few months, you know, is, in a sense, a breathless question because establishing these institutions takes years, if not decades. You know, America one of the greatest democracies ever, a little bit like the democracy in Britain, or the version of democracy in Ancient Greece, took a long time for the institutions to really build up public legitimacy for the culture of democracy to be established.
But having said that, on early results, Afghanistan’s doing quite well. It’s Loya Jirga process, which assembled representative leaders from around the country in Kabul where they debated the country’s future, and set up a constitutional convention and elected a government, confirmed the leadership of Mr. Karzai for a further two years. These were good, strong, appropriate outcomes and ones which have increased the legitimacy of Mr. Karzai and his government a long way. But perhaps even more significantly is you don’t need a vote in Afghanistan to know what’s on people’s minds. I mean, in my case, just walking through the street of Kabul last December before Mr. Karzai’s government had even emerged from the negotiations in Germany that the U.N. was sponsoring for establishing an interim administration. You stopped and asked men, women as they started to come out on the streets again, and kids what they wanted. And, you know, it was like a great sort of moving festival of a focus group. And the answers came through very clearly. The kids, little boys out on the street, wanted education. Not just for themselves but for their sisters who were not yet back on the streets, let alone in school. And the government, with the support from UNICEF and other donors, when the March school year began, got more than two million kids in school. The second thing they demanded was law and order on the streets. Not so much the big warlord question of the divisions and fragmentation of the country but simple policing arrangements on the streets. So it was safe to go out and about. There, a bit more of a mixed success. Reports of women still being attacked for being out. But nevertheless, community by community, street by street, law and order is starting to be established and there’s a major program of police training underway by the Germans, and my organization, UNDP. Then people were complaining about the famine, and a lot of food has gotten into the country, and a lot of seeds now that the drought is broken to make sure that next year’s food crop is better. So if democracy is all about responding to people’s priorities, then again, I think it’s been quite a good start for this government.
Daljit Dhaliwal: One of the issues where the U.N. has been quite effective was in raising funds to pay the salaries of government workers so that the government could function normally. Were you in a position to translate that to some of the more controversial areas, like whether drugs were actually being marketed and trafficked?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, frankly, only at the margin. I mean we did pay police salaries and costs for the training of police officers. But our difficulty was no objection to paying the salaries of those involved in these activities. Far from it because we recognize how intrinsic it is to the successful stabilization and development of Afghanistan. Our difficulty was other than that. It was that we felt enormously important in these early months of this operation that no donor money went missing. There is such a predisposition among donor public opinion, in the U.S. particularly, think the worst of foreign aid, that “It’s money down a rat-hole,” as a congressman once famously said. So the trust we feel to make sure that the monies we take from the American taxpayers and others can be fully accounted for and that we know where it’s going meant that we insisted on seeing a payroll, when we made transfers for paying salaries. And in the more distant parts of the country, which were not fully under the control of the central authorities in Kabul, this proved a real problem because those in power in those parts of the country just wouldn’t share payroll data with the center. So it was much less successful than we hoped in distant areas.
Daljit Dhaliwal: OK, we know that there’s a huge problem with drugs in Afghanistan. But there’s also a problem with the narco societies of Central Asia, where the drugs are actually passing through. The U.S. now has a newfound role and clout in that region. How should it be using that more effectively so that we don’t end up getting more mini-Afghanistans?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, you know, this is a region which . . . generally Central Asia has a development crisis. The governments don’t meet a very high standard of democratic participation in general. They still have strong-man rule. They persisted in running their economies in a way which is not restructured or modernized, so that they have not enjoyed high rates of economic growth. Those which have had oil, or the promise of oil, have thought to live off that. Others have lived off other sources of income, even including the narcotics traffic.
So this is a very unpromising area for good advice about development to be accepted. When you combine that with a growing dependence of the political economy, on the income thrown off by narcotic traffic, you’ve got a tough problem.
And in a perverse way, the fact that the US needs these countries now, as bases, means that in some ways the US influence is less, not more. Because in the past there was much more of a big stick argument. “Either reform your economies, stop the drug trafficking, or we’re not going to help you.” Now with bases there, there’s a requirement to help anyway. So the U.S. has got to be very careful about this, and make sure that, in its anxiety to agree to new security arrangements with these countries, it doesn’t sell out, on the vital economic reform agenda, and indeed anti-narcotics agenda, which is so critical to those countries’ future.
Daljit Dhaliwal: So do you think then that the U.S. has to make very difficult choices, that it has to choose either between the war no terror, or the war against drugs?
Mark Malloch Brown: No, because they are, as I said before, twins of each other. But you’ve just got to make sure that you don’t come up with a set of policies, and security commitments on the other hand, on the terrorism side, which undermine your efforts on the narcotics side. You can’t have one-handed policy making. You can’t have the defense department’s interest prevailing over those of the state department, and other parts of the U.S. government, who are more interested in the narcotics issue. So you need balance and trade off between these two objectives, and a sophisticated three dimensional strategy for engagement with these countries, that recognizes that just throwing military aid at them, and turning a blind eye to these other problems, not just narcotics, but economic reform as well, and democratic reform. That if you ignore those problems, you will actually exacerbate exactly the sources of instability and long term vulnerability, in the region that has caused you to intervene in the first place.
Daljit Dhaliwal: These states, these five Central Asian republics, all have problems, to varying degrees, with Islamic fundamentalism. How does that actually complicate the drugs picture, one, and two, could they become a threat to U.S. interests in the area?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, it complicates it at several levels. First, you know, there is a general danger, for U.S. foreign policy at the moment, and I would say more broadly, Western foreign policy. The extraordinary principled support for human rights that has characterized Western foreign policy in the last decade or so, is lost in this war against terrorism. We must not allow governments to characterize all their political opponents as somehow terrorists, or neo-terrorists. We cannot allow this to come down to the support of corrupt status quos, which allow no democratic expression and voice for their people, because indeed it was precisely those kinds of conditions that arguably were the breeding ground for Al Qaeda in the first place, and elsewhere in the Islamic world. Second, we absolutely must avoid, at all costs, the presumption that somehow Islamic fundamentalism is synonymous with terrorism. You know these are countries for whom Islamic culture is going to be a critical part of a stable political culture.
Daljit Dhaliwal: A lot of the movements did start out as moderate Muslim movements, but became radicalized, because of the repressive nature of the regimes.
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, that’s right, and they became that because they had no political means of democratic expression. So it would be incredibly short sighted, to support governments in a crack down on democratic expression, in the view that that was the way to end terrorism. All it may do is breed new generations of terrorists.
Daljit Dhaliwal: And how much of a threat do you think that could become to the United States?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, managed properly it needn’t be, in that, the U.S., through large parts of its history has always been the ally and champion of democratic expression and human rights around the world. And it must not get its compass points distorted here. And give up on that agenda. It’s got to make sure that the targets of its anti-terrorist activity are indeed those who despise democracy and have turned their backs on them. It must not itself, by accident, become the ally of anti-democratic regimes.
Daljit Dhaliwal: I just wanted to come back to our film a little bit. We saw a woman there who used to teach at a university. But when her country’s economy collapsed in Tajikistan, she lost her job and she was forced into drug trafficking just so that she could make a living for her children. Is the UN equipped to deal with this very basic issue?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, you know, if we’re about anything, it’s about the fight against poverty. And, you know, here is yet one more manifestation of how poverty limits and distorts people’s choices, and forces them into activities they would never choose, if they had any other choices available to them. And so in that sense, we keep on coming back to the issue of how do we build, you know, viable political economies underneath people, which expand their choices, and allow them the opportunity to participate, as wage earning, God- fearing citizens in their countries. People get driven to these things. They don’t choose them. And, there’s a chicken and egg in all of this, that when terrorism and narcotics take a hold on a society, the conditions of stability which allows you to allow economic growth, encourage economic growth to flourish, are missing. So, you know, in a sense, the more narcotics trafficking and terrorism there is in a society, the fewer choices people have to do other things, because the other parts of the economy shrivel and die. So the challenge for us is to somehow break the nexus, encourage normal economic activity to flourish, and then you will see people migrate to that area of the economy, with great willingness, because nobody chooses, for themselves or their family, either this risk, or this exclusion from the parameters of normal, civilized life.
Daljit Dhaliwal: We’ve established that drugs are a problem in Afghanistan, but they’re also a problem in the narco societies of the five Central Asian countries that we’ve talked about. Does the UN have any kind of regional plan to tackle the problems of drug production in Afghanistan, and in Central Asia, given that the two are so interlinked?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, I recently had conversations both with my colleague, the head of the UN drug control program, and also with my representatives from each of these five central Asian republics, with just this in mind. The need to construct a regional program, which combines strengthening to the law enforcement proponents in the different region, to the crop substitution arrangements, to the economies of all countries, and particularly those parts of the society which are directly touched by this. So you need to combine some elements of law and order, strong elements of development, and some elements of education and prevention, to try and prevent the spread of this narcotics economy, in these countries. And to put this together on a regional basis, is something we’re now embarking on, because you’re absolutely right, it’s the only way to deal with this.
Daljit Dhaliwal: And if we don’t tackle it at that level, what’s the threat to the United States?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, you know, the direct threat, as your viewers will by now know, is more to the United States’ allies, it’s to Europe and Russia, who are the consumers of this particular drug chain. But the indirect threat is very much to the United States, because it’s this kind of nexus of terrorism and drugs, or guerrillas and drugs, which is driving U.S. policy towards Colombia and its neighbors, which is flooding the markets of U.S. cities, and corrupting the lives of young Americans, with cocaine. And crack. And so these two issues are first cousins. Fail in one, and we’re likely to fail in both. Because, you know, these drugs are very easily substitutable, the networks that produce one easily migrate to be the networks that produce and ship the other. And they both represent a dangerous, but rather black economy trend, in globalization, which is the rise of an international criminal economy, closely allied with terrorist guerilla forces, in different parts of the world. And this is a real threat to the security of America.
Daljit Dhaliwal: You said that it takes years, or even decades, for democratic institutions to develop. How long, then, should we wait before we declare those a complete failure?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, or a complete success, I suppose. You know, democracy is a intrinsically happily messy Business, as it’s a way of managing competition between people, about life and death issues in their society. And therefore, you know, the measure is never the historian’s measure, where you reach the point where you look back and say it’s succeeded. It’s a much more short term, continuous measure. And you know, as I’ve argued, I mean, this first year of this great democratic experiment in Afghanistan has tended to respond to people’s priorities. It’s got kids into school, it’s got the beginnings of law and order established in their streets. It’s begun to get a civilian economy under way, and it’s given them a government, which has some legitimacy which they can all trust. So in terms of a first year score card, it’s pretty good.
Daljit Dhaliwal: OK, so if repressive regimes create militant movements, are you suggesting that the United States should ally itself with the militants rather than with the governments?
Mark Malloch Brown: No, I’m not perverse enough to encourage that kind of coalition for the United States. I think foreign policy is a lot more nuanced than that. But I think the U.S. would really be missing out on the real lesson of September if it thought that a crackdown on civil liberties and democratic rights amongst its allies was an effective long term strategy to avoid terrorism.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Now, if the drug control programs in Central Asia fail, and the booming opium economy in Afghanistan continues apace, what are the dangers for Afghanistan’s neighbors? And do you also see dangers for the global community at large?
Mark Malloch Brown: Well, for Afghanistan’s neighbors, it’s more people who become drug users, it’s more instability as a larger and larger share of those countryies’ income depends on this trade. And it’s almost certainly the criminalization of political life. So it’s a huge cost. For the world, it’s an increasing number of a young generation of people who are drug users. It’s also the possibility of a growing nexus between narcotics and terrorism, which will finance terrible incidents and attacks on democratic institutions in many places, no doubt, before it’s through. So the urgency of taking on this issue cannot be underestimated.
Daljit Dhaliwal: Mark Malloch Brown, thanks very much for joining us here on WIDE ANGLE.
Mark Malloch Brown: Thank you.