Drugs and the Pakistani military
In part two of our interview with security expert Sunil Ram, Sunil explains the complex affairs of the
Pakistani military and their reliance on drug trafficking revenue. Sunil explains how this story has gone
completely unreported as a result of the sheer difficulty in obtaining information on the activities of the
Pakistani military-business elite. Meanwhile, NATO and the US are turning a blind eye toward the
movement of drugs through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
PAUL HAMEL, REAL NEWS MEMBER: Inependent media should be funded at the highest level possible. Its both a responsibility and a privilege to be able to participate in such a thing.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the next segment of our discussion with security expert Sunil Ram on the deepening crisis in Pakistan. Sunil is a former Canadian military officer, as well as a former advisor to the Saudi royal family. He currently works with the consulting group ALEXIS International. Welcome again, Sunil. So we left off in the last interview segment with the question I was asking: is Pakistan not more susceptible to US pressure and US plans, in other words a push by the US to get a full-scale Pakistani military assault on the Taliban areas in Pakistan? And you had talked in the last segment that the drug money that the Pakistani army gets their hands on gives them some independence, but I would ask you again: Is it really enough to withstand the US pressure? Are we not likely to see a much bigger military action against the Taliban by the Pakistani army?
SUNIL RAM, SECURITY ANALYST, ALEXIS INTERNATIONAL: I think what we’ll see is exactly what happened under the Musharraf regime. There will be a certain push momentarily, and then a pull back. The Pakistani military, it is not really in their strategic interests to mess about in the North-West Frontier region, simply because it does disrupt those drug routes, and that’s a critical aspect. You have to understand that the Pakistan military, in terms of the former senior officers and their cohorts, control every key aspect of the Pakistan economy; that is, they hold the directors’ positions in these corporations or they physically run these corporations. There are also large number of assets that the Pakistanis have a tendency not to talk about. They have large gold fields that they haven’t tapped yet. They also have a large amount of gas and oil. And at the current world prices, these areas are very economically viable. They simply have to convince companies to come in there and do the work for them. So there are other resources. But the drug money is a critical aspect, because this money comes through the country, obviously it has to be laundered in some form or another, and many of the corporations that operate within Pakistan are given these links. And, admittedly, this is very hard to find out, because you have to be inside Pakistan, and the chances are you won’t make it if you ask too many questions. But the money is being pushed through these corporations, being laundered, and therefore there is a flow of cash that is not visible.
JAY: Now, is there anything within either Pakistani judicial system or through their press where any of this has come out and actually been verified? I mean, I understand why, given the history, logic leads one there, but in terms of either legal or journalistic process, is anyone ever going to make this case?
RAM: No, and part of the reason is is because they have little to no real access to the higher echelons of the military. It is a closed shop. We’re dealing, again, with a feudal society when we’re talking about the Pakistan military and the elite. There is a constant fight that goes on. I mean, you know, when we look at Benazir Bhutto, and everyone was crying at her death, and there was sort of all this crocodile tears from the West, we have to take a much harder look at Bhutto. Bhutto in fact taught Musharraf the lessons of how to control the judiciary. The very things that Musharraf did, Bhutto had done herself. So what we have is we have a structure—if you really question the power elite, and especially those who are running the show, they’ll simply drop your file in front of you, a file of your children, or your aunt, and simply—and this is exactly what Musharraf did.
JAY: I know there’s certainly verifiable cases of journalists who have disappeared and shown up dead six months later.
RAM: Right. And this is the hammer that they have that they use and have always used.
JAY: Including the Daniel Pearl case, which most people believe the ISI was up to their eyeballs in.
RAM: Absolutely. And why? And the "why" being if you follow the drug trade, and the fact that such a vast amount of drugs flows through—and that is proven.
JAY: Now, this never gets talked about in the American political milieu or in any mainstream journalism.
RAM: Well, absolutely, because it’s one of those taboo topics. Nobody wants to talk about it, because guess what? The very same routes that NATO has to use to bring its stuff into Afghanistan also happen to be the egress routes for the drugs. So one can argue, even, if you want to, that potentially the presence of NATO even provides the physical cover for the Pakistan military to continue this operation.
JAY: Well, the American military leaders have said on many occasions, "Drugs: not our problem."
JAY: In other words, we have other things to do than to watch those routes. And as you said earlier, they are the same routes that were used during the jihad against the Russians.
RAM: And none of this was shut down. None of this was shut down. So the only difference is now things’re being ramped up. And one has to really seriously look at the numbers. You’re looking at 12,000, 15,000 metric tons of heroin is coming out of Afghanistan. This is an industrial-scale production quantity. This cannot be brought out on the backs of camels, as much as everybody would like to see that. But there is enough evidence to show that this is a large-scale convoy production that’s going on.
JAY: Well, looking ahead, if there is a President Obama—and if the election was today, that’s probably what there will be—and assuming nothing big changes, and assuming there is an election, which some people are suggesting even that—. But let’s assume life unfolds more or less as it usually does. We will probably see a President Obama who has staked almost his whole foreign policy on what he’s going to do in Afghanistan. So what do you make of what he’s talking about for his plans? ‘Cause certainly there’s not much NATO and the US can do unless they have a strong Pakistani partner.
RAM: Oh, absolutely. And as I’ve been saying for years, you can’t deal with Afghanistan unless you deal with Pakistan first. And this has been completely missed at the strategic level for a litany of political reasons. But the bottom line is that even, as we well know with presidents, what they say during the electoral run-up isn’t necessarily what they do.
JAY: Well, the real fight taking place right now seems to be over whether to talk to the Taliban, talk to the leadership, talk to sections of the Taliban. The new Pakistani government has been saying there needs to be negotiations; the British are now saying it.
RAM: Well, absolutely. Militarily it’s a stalemate. I mean, there are enough NATO forces to really stop the Taliban from overrunning the country, but there is no way NATO and the Americans are going to win. They simply can’t. The resources available to the various elements of the Taliban—this is not a homogeneous group anymore—through the money that comes from the drugs is massive, and also the fact that the Karzai government is grossly corrupt, always has been, and really are just merely a puppet regime of the Americans. Taliban have a certain level of support growing within the country. Pouring more NATO troops in—and, again, what I originally said during the initial invasion, I said unless they put half a million troops in from the beginning, you’re not going to get anywhere in Afghanistan. That’s never going to happen, so there is, really, only one option, and that’s a diplomatic one, as distasteful as that may be to the various parties. But the Taliban are the people you’re going to have to deal with. Which group of Taliban? That’s a critical aspect, because if you’re dealing with the Taliban who represent the elements that work for the ISI in Pakistan, you’re going to have continued chaos. And clearly you’re not going to be able to include the Karzai people in this, because they are part of the problem. And, of course, then let’s tie in the warlords. Never forget various elements of the Taliban provide the physical security for these warlords in their egress routes for the drugs. Again, that’s well documented. So the result is we have a far more complex mix. Withdrawal? Sadly, the Afghan people pay the price for that.
JAY: So in the next segment of our interview, I’ll ask you: if you get the famous 3 a.m. phone call from the new president Obama, what would you recommend? Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Sunil Ram.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.