Afghanistan, Turkey and the drug trade – Is a NATO member playing into the capitalism of terror?

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SHAFAQNA – Turkey stands once again in a disturbing light as Russian officials and Middle East experts have alleged that the country is playing into the capitalism of terror for financial gain.

“Turkey is used by drug dealers as a transit country for heroin trafficking from Afghanistan, “ the head of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov told reporters in mid-December during a conference.

He added, “In this case, oil trafficking coincides with drug trafficking, but the directions are different. While Afghan heroin is trafficked through Turkey, oil is delivered to Europe through the Balkan countries, in the opposite direction .. It’s really a lot of money generated by drug trafficking. Afghan narcotic drugs bring about $150 billion in criminal money that gets into criminal circulation and results in destabilization of the situation in the transit countries, and Turkey is one of such countries.”

Russian defense analyst Ivan Eland explained how Turkey’s dealings were uncovered after Russia and Afghanistan both conducted an investigation into those routes drug traffickers have pursued to smuggle their products into Europe and Eurasia.

Findings established that Turkey remains deeply involved in Afghanistan drug trade: together the facilitator and the industrial, as it is in its laboratories that opium – the raw material in heroin production, has been not only shipped to Turkey, but treated and manufactured into drug products, before being sent off to other markets abroad.

“The cargo traveled along the route of Badakhshan-Doshi-Bamiyan-Herat, then further through Iran and into Turkey, where the opium was processed in well-equipped laboratories … into high quality heroin, and then was to be sent to Europe and Russia,” Ivanov said during an anti-narcotics committee meeting.

“Daesh [ISIL] is receiving between $200 million and $500 million annually from smuggling Afghan heroin into Europe,” he added.

While Turkish officials have refused to comment on the matter, arguing that Ankara harbors no ties what-so-ever with traffickers or radical outfits, Turkey’s involvement, or at least, its sitting in the middle of an incredibly complex Black trade has led experts to ask very difficult questions indeed.

In an interview with Shafaqna in December 2015, Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan argued that Turkey, another patsy of Saudi Arabia has allowed for traffickers affiliated to Terror to run their activities undisturbed  – sharing in the benefits they drew to help prop the pockets of unscrupulous politicians. But how far are those terror connections really running?Most importantly can we assume that Turkish President Recep Erdogan is complicit?

While Moscow’s recent claims can be construed as politically motivated, it is however difficult to ignore those smoking guns which over the years and months have offered glimpses into those terror ties Turkey has played into, and maybe exploited to score a few political points of its own.

In July 2015 Martin Chulov of the Guardian wrote in a report, “A US-led raid on the compound housing the Islamic State’s ‘chief financial officer’ produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members.”

Black market oil  has long been the main driver of ISIL revenues – and Turkish buyers have been its main clients.

As a result, the oil trade between radicals and the Turks was held up as evidence of an alliance between the two. It led to protests from Washington and Europe – both already wary of Turkey’s 900-mile border with Syria being used as a gateway by would-be jihadis from around the world.

The estimated $1m-$4m per day in oil revenues which is thought to have flowed into ISIL coffers since late 2013 helped to transform an ambitious force with limited means into a juggernaut that has been steadily drawing western forces back to the region and increasingly testing state borders.

Today it is drug trafficking terror outfits have turned to to turn a profit and fuel their ambitious war machine.

Ivan Eland  however is a bit more nuanced in his understanding of the situation.

Eland believes that while Turkey is buried deep into the drug trade, Ankara is not exactly allowing traffickers to run free across its borders. “We have to keep in mind that there is also a dispute now between Turkey and Russia over the air defense thing. The air defenses of Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft, so it’s all in the mix of the Turkish-Russian dispute, I think,” he told RT TV in an interview last December.

To which he added, “There has been a lot of criticism that they don’t monitor their southern border very much and that enables ISIS to make money off drugs and, of course, anybody else going through there could have a drug route as well.”

Here is how Elmand sees the ramification of Afghanistan-Turkey drug trafficking ring. “A lot of these insurgency movements still make money off drugs, and the Taliban has been one of the kings of doing that. So I think Helmand province had a lot of symbolic meaning for British and American forces, and also the drug trade and its strategic location as well. The real problem is if you eradicate the drugs the farmers just support the Taliban. And if you don’t eradicate the drugs the Taliban get the revenue. So, no matter what you do it is probably going to end up helping the Taliban. The more control they have of the territory of the province, the more they are going to be able to profit from the drug trade which, of course, fills their coffers with money and makes them stronger.  And they have gotten stronger over the last year.”

Still, in November 2014 a former ISIS member told Newsweek that the group was essentially given free reign by Turkey’s army. Such a connection implies Ankara’s full knowledge of those trades radicals have carried out and benefited from over the years.

“ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks,” the fighter said. “ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria.”

But as the alleged arrangements progressed, Turkey allowed the group to establish a major presence within the country — and created a huge problem for itself.

“The longer this has persisted, the more difficult it has become for the Turks to crack down [on ISIS] because there is the risk of a counter strike, of blowback,” Jonathan Schanzer, a former counterterrorism analyst for the US Treasury Department, explained to Business Insider.

“You have a lot of people now that are invested in the business of extremism in Turkey,” Schanzer added. “If you start to challenge that, it raises significant questions of whether” the militants, their benefactors, and other war profiteers would tolerate the crackdown.

Could it be that Turkey’s entanglements with Terror only got more complicated, and more perverse?

By Catherine for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies

 

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