To get an idea of just how badly things are going in Afghanistan, take a look at the latest “good” news coming out of the prominent southern city (and Taliban strong hold, and heroin trafficking center) of Kandahar: the appointment of a new police chief, Brig. Gen. Abdul Razik, to replace the earlier one who was killed in a suicide attack six weeks ago. For nearly as long as we have been in Afghanistan, the debate has pivoted on stopping the Taliban vs. stopping the heroin trade. Cut down opium plants, the argument goes, and you encourage poor farmers to join the Taliban. Well, Razik may have proved himself a fearsome foe to the Taliban, but his record on stopping heroin traffic when he was in charge of the border police is a little less stellar.
Matthieu Aikins’ 2009 cover story for Harper’s Magazine is a great primer on “why an uneducated 30-year-old warlord remains firmly entrenched as an ISAF [the NATO military wing in Afghanistan] ally and drug trafficker at a crucial border crossing.” Now the man in charge of policing Afghanistan’s second largest city, Razik used to be
….the most powerful Afghan Border Police officer in the southern part of the country—a former child refugee who scrambled to power during the post-9/11 chaos, his rise abetted by a ring of crooked officials in Kabul and Kandahar as well as by overstretched NATO commanders who found his control over a key border town useful in their war against the Taliban. With his prodigious wealth, loyal soldiers, and connections to top government officials, Razik was seen as a ruthless, charismatic figure, a man who brooked no opposition to his will.
It’s not just Atkins who describes Razik as a former drug smuggler — it’s pretty much common knowledge in the south that if you pay the right border guards, you can get whatever you want into, and out of, Pakistan. And Razik is their commander. There is an Afghan saying that “a fish rots from the head.” Surely someone should have been looking at Razik’s record on stopping heroin traffic as much as his record on stopping the Taliban?