London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Speaking at the “Afghanistan: Our Country, Our Future” conference that was recently held in central London, Mohammad Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand Province, the most volatile province in Afghanistan, spoke with confidence and ease about all the positive developments that have taken place in his province since he was officially appointed by President Hamed Karzai in March 2008.
As the governor was addressing the conference, journalists were whispering among themselves about the level of violence and the state of corruption afflicting Afghanistan. Just before the governor appeared to address the press conference, the machine of violence had killed four British soldiers from the international coalition forces operating in Afghanistan. These soldiers were killed when an explosive charge blew up the military vehicle they were boarding. This incident raised the number of British military personnel killed in Afghanistan since the start of 2009 to 123 soldiers and to 148 soldiers since the start of the military intervention in Afghanistan at the end of 2001. About 8,300 British soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan with the majority of these stationed in the Helmand Province.
Governor Gulab Mangal, who is a member of the Mangal tribe in Paktia Province, worked in the Afghan army and the Interior Ministry in morale and guidance affairs. He disclosed many details about the fight against the drugs industry in Afghanistan. According to statistical reports released by the United Nations, Afghanistan used to produce more than 90 per cent of the world’s production of heroin. Afghanistan is now witnessing an escalating wave of violence due to the strong return of the Taliban militias and President Hamed Karzai’s inability to impose control on the country that the rising planting of drugs and drug trafficking are threatening to turn it into a state of drugs. Governor Gulab Mangal, who has escaped 13 assassination attempts, admitted that the most serious problems threatening his province are corruption, terrorism, and the presence of members of Al-Qaeda, the drug mafia, and elements from the Taliban that are spreading violence and fear in the regions under their control. However, he pointed out that the forces of the International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] are exerting extraordinary efforts to control the violence and to contain the Taliban and burn down the heroin factories. Governor Mangal called for more ISAF troops to be stationed in his province that is suffering from the highest level of violence in Afghanistan. He pointed out that the British soldiers lost their lives there for the sake of humanity, pointing out that as long as Helmand is not secure and safe, the streets of London will not be secure and safe either.
Governor Mangal denied that the Taliban control about half the area of the Helmand Province. He said that in cooperation with the Afghan forces, ISAF is inflicting heavy losses on the Taliban in almost daily clashes. He added: Security is rising day after day. This is apparent in the people’s trust in the government, the Afghan troops, and the international forces. The citizens are cooperating with the patrols touring the streets of Helmand. The governor said that the ousted Taliban movement is the first to gain from drug trafficking. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, he emphasized that the Taliban are forcing the farmers to plant drugs and are levying taxes on them in the areas under their control. Moreover, the manufactured drugs and heroin are transported under the protection of the Taliban. Answering a question posed by Asharq Al-Awsat, he said: I support the reconciliation between the government and the moderate elements of the Taliban”. He revealed that there are hard-line elements among the Taliban that have ties to Al-Qaeda and that cannot be trusted. He also said that some elements joined the Taliban due to the weakness of the local government. Adding that he has good news from Helmand related to the war on drugs, Governor Mangal said: The government forces in Helmand have recently seized about 41 tonnes of drugs and destroyed several factories to make heroin. He added that the amount of drugs coming from Helmand this year will drop due to the efforts exerted by ISAF and the Afghan forces to contain the drug mafia.
The Afghan official added that the farmers are punished by the Taliban that torch their crops of wheat and barley and vegetables if they do not cooperate. The farmers will thus have no choice but to return to planting drugs once again. Governor Mangal stressed that the Taliban are the first to gain from the spread of corruption and drug trafficking. He said that the citizens in his province have no other source of income except farming or planting wheat. As for planting drugs, Islam has prohibited this in part and parcel. Answering another question by Asharq Al-Awsat, he said that Mullah Omar, the leader of the defunct fundamentalist movement, issued a fatwa [Islamic religious ruling] in 2000 to which the Afghan people responded and that ended the planting of drugs throughout Afghanistan. However, this industry has returned with force and its products are threatening the western capitals of the world. He added that the Taliban exploit Islam; religion does not change with time or place; the Taliban elements are rejecting the fatwas issued by Afghan religious scholars that prohibit the planting of drugs. He pointed out that many farmers have responded to these fatwas but the Taliban are resorting to violence against farmers that plant alternative products such as wheat and vegetables.
Governor Mangal said that the Taliban and the drug mafia are enemies of humanity, adding: The danger from drugs is not threatening my country only but also the western capitals. Mangal revealed that there is close cooperation between the Taliban and the drug mafia, adding: Their interests are identical; I can even say that they are two faces of the same coin. The Taliban and the drug traffickers are working together to destroy Afghanistan. There is close cooperation between them. The governor said that the officials in Helmand Province organized a three-month program last year to raise the awareness of the farmers. Several trustworthy Afghan religious scholars participated in this program by issuing fatwas and giving lectures in the mosques to convince the farmers that Islam prohibits the planting of drugs because it is a serious “mafsadah” [causes harm to humanity]. He pointed out that ISAF should focus its efforts on the 100-mile long border strip between Afghanistan and Pakistan because it is the source of violence and provides a safe haven to the leaders of Al-Qaeda there. He said: The border south of Helmand is used as a passage way by the jihadists, Al-Qaeda elements, and elements of the Taliban to transport drugs. It is a source of worry and tension by the British soldiers deployed in Helmand. It is to be noted that last year, Afghanistan produced more than 90 per cent of the heroin produced in the world. Heroin is extracted from the poppy plant and smuggled abroad; it is strongly addictive.