According to yesterday's Times, U.S. officials have decided to leave him in place in Kandahar, his seat of power (and also a center of Taliban activity), when we invade it sometime in the near future — all the moralistic talk about fighting corruption notwithstanding. It seems State has decided that we've pissed off Hamid Karzai enough lately, and that the military (and probably the C.I.A. as well) think Ahmed Wali might be useful.
Well, of course he'll be useful, and of course he'll be happy to work with us. Greedy, self-interested bastards always are happy to "work with" anybody tossing billions of dollars around. Needless to say, he can't be trusted — a history of vote rigging, dope smuggling, money laundering, seizure of other people's property, and an host of other traditional capitalist modi operandi does not inspire great trust. The trick will be to use him to best advantage.
Since he's been paying off the Taliban for years — to lay off his properties, opium shipments, etc. — it's been suggested that he'd be good person to help "turn" some of the "less radical" Taliban, and bring them into the government's camp, but I have a better idea.
A much more effective way to use him would be as a go-between to help the United States buy all the local opium production, at premium prices. What better way to win the hearts and minds of the locals than to become the best customer for their most important crop?
I know. I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating. The best way to curry favor in Afghanistan while cutting off the flow of heroine to the United States and the rest of the world is to buy the raw material — the raw opium — before it is processed. Ahmed Wali's influence extends throughout Kandahar province, and well into Helmand. That's a majority of the opium production in the country.
You may recall that a decision was made not to destroy the opium crop when we took Marja. What's happening to that opium? Nobody seems to be asking that question — at least nobody being quoted in the Times. Could it be that the Obama administration already is following my suggestion? It would be nice.
In the meanwhile, though, the Russians are royally pissed by all the Afghan heroin currently making its way onto the streets of Moscow. Was a commitment to help reduce the heroin flow part of the agreement to reduce our nuclear arsenals? We'll never know.
So let's use Ahmed Wali Karzai to best advantage — to stop the opium before it leaves Afghanistan. We will not be able to persuade the Afghans to replace their most important cash crop with, say, potatoes or winter wheat. Buying all their opium not only will keep it off world markets, but will make us their most important trading partner. It's a lot cheaper than fighting a never-ending war.