“Afghan drug trafficking brings US $50 billion a year”
RT: General, you were in Afghanistan when the Soviet troops were there. In your opinion, what was the most difficult task that our troops faced in that country, what was the hardest thing for them to accomplish?
Mahmut Gareev: For the Soviet troops, the most difficult thing was the uncertainty of their status. Immediately after our paratroopers landed in Kabul, Marshal Sokolov, Chief of the Defense Ministry's Task Force, said at the meeting of unit commanders, "We did not come here to fight. Do not engage in any hostilities. Establish garrisons, carry on combat training and be vigilant. That is all." But the very next day, then-Minister of Defense Colonel Rafi came running to him. Panic-stricken, he said there had been a rebellion in Gerat, and the rebels had disarmed the army command and seized the artillery. He begged for urgent help. Well, we didn't come to fight, did we? The situation was getting catastrophic: if the same happened in two or three other places that would mean that the government army was defeated and disarmed by rebels in front of Soviet troops. So, Sokolov ordered a battalion dispatched to Gerat for that one and only case, but then it became a habit, with units being sent here and there.
The idea that troops would not engage in the fighting had been naïve from the very beginning. How can one ever go to a country where the people are in a civil war and stand aside? It had been clear since the very beginning that going there and staying away from the fight would be impossible.
Essentially, we went there without any goal or program. What to do, what objectives to pursue? I still hear arguments about whether the troops accomplished their objectives or not. There were no objectives, such as occupying an area or to defeat somebody. That uncertainty of our status made everything, including the task of helping the Afghan army, extremely difficult.
RT: They mention decisive movements, quick actions and a large army presence but that is exactly what the US and the coalition forces did and they are still failing to accomplish their task, they are still stuck in the same battles that the Soviet troops were stuck in. What’s the difference, what is their mistake?
M.G.: They’re repeating our mistake. At the moment, the number of American, British and other troops in Afghanistan is almost equal to what we had in the 40th division, which is about 100 thousand. 42 countries are involved. But they're having great difficulties in solving problems. NATO forces are very difficult to manage. Six months ago they made a decision to move one squadron from the north of Afghanistan to the south where the British troops are stationed. It was discussed in Bundestag. Half a year later – the decision has been made, but the squadron still remains where they were before. Actually, they themselves admit that if drugs were smuggled past them, they wouldn’t interfere. Why? That’s another tough question. Now, what if Russia was to act selfishly and play in geopolitics – just like our opponents are used to doing? They got us involved in the war in Afghanistan and immediately began to provide help for those rebels, the Mujahideen. We could do the same now – we could support the rebels and fight against Americans. But it’s not even in our people’s minds. No one is going to do that.
When I was there in 1989 and 1990, the production of drugs almost ceased, apart from in certain areas. Since then, it has increased by 44 per cent. And all of the drug traffic goes through the city of Osh where we want to establish our base, Termes or other places.
90 per cent of drugs from Afghanistan go to former Soviet republics. 80 per cent of the world’s drugs are produced in Afghanistan. They’ve outdone the South American countries, such as Columbia. Thirty thousand young people in Russia die from drug use every year. And, sadly, some of the leaders of the CIS countries don’t really want to interfere. In other words, there are too many people who make money on this.
I don’t make anything up. Americans themselves admit that drugs are often transported out of Afghanistan on American planes. Drug trafficking in Afghanistan brings them about 50 billion dollars a year – which fully covers the expenses tied to keeping their troops there. Essentially, they are not going to interfere and stop the production of drugs. They engage in military action only when they are attacked. They don’t have any planned military action to eliminate the Mujahideen. Rather, they want to make the situation more unstable and help the Taliban to be more active. They even started negotiations with them, trying to direct them to the Central-Asian republics, to destabilize the whole region and set up their bases there.
One would think – right now, Russia is interested in cooperation with America. During Obama’s visit, there was talk about providing air and ground corridors for Americans to supply their troops in Afghanistan. And some journalists even say now that it’s good for Russia that Americans are in Afghanistan; that we need to help them because they are there to restrain the Mujahideen and keep them from attacking us. That’s right – it’s just that the problem is that they don’t do anything of the kind.
RT: If the Soviet troops hadn’t left Afghanistan in 1989, do you think that the country would be different now. How would this presence of Soviet troops have affected Afghanistan’s present?
M.G.: Not so long ago, Najibullah made national reconciliation the foundation of his policy. It had had results before. There was really no need for the Soviet troops to remain in Afghanistan after 1990. Our troops left on the 15th of February. I arrived there with my group on the 7th. Although Gromov said that there were no soldiers left there after he left, but what about us? I met with the leaders of our main divisions, specialists, advisors. We all stayed there – and we were all Soviet soldiers at the time. I guess he said it for some political reason. The Soviet troops left and the Najibullah regime actually grew stronger. The thing is, while the Soviet troops were there, the 7 or 8 rebel groups had one common enemy, the Soviet troops. They joined forces to fight against it. When the troops left, there was no common enemy left, so, they started to fight with each other. Najibullah used this craftily in turning them against the other. He did it to remain in power even without the Soviet troops. The troops left and Russia had a change of leadership. And what happened? General Rudskoy went to Afghanistan and got in touch with the Mujahideen – those we fought against, those, who held him captive. Kozyrev also took their side.
But take democracy, for example, and the principle to support the countries with democratic processes underway. In Afghanistan, all women were made to wear burqas; it’s forbidden for them to attend school or work. The Taliban have set up a reactionary regime. What kind of democracy is this? By the way, this happened after the Mujahideen came to power. Flawed as it was and even with elements of totalitarianism, the regime suggested by Najibullah was far more progressive.
RT: You mentioned democracy. Do you think that in Afghanistan, a country torn by civil wars and being in the middle of a political chaos, the democracy is possible, that the elections would have a chance to be free, fair and represent the will of the Afghan people?
M.G.: Do you know the place where democracy was born? In the garden of Eden, when God brought Adam to Eve and said – “choose anyone you like”. Really, it hasn’t changed much since then. Of course, it is impossible for Afghanistan now to hold adequate elections that would, on top of that, reflect the real declaration of the will of the people. The situation is as follows. The Pushtuns are the people that mainly form the state. The Taliban threatened people to stop them voting and promised severe punishments for those who might want to participate. The intelligentsia is scared stiff too. The only people able to vote in the elections would be those from regions that are not controlled by the Taliban, but protected by NATO troops. Those will be the people who’ll vote, whereas others may not be able to. So, there will be no adequate and fully-fledged declaration of the people’s will. On the other hand, you can’t bring the country’s leadership over from the States and tell those people that this person would rule. Courtesy demands to at least say that that person was elected. At least on the surface, the election should appear legitimate and one could always refer to it saying that the leader was elected. How he was elected – that’s another chapter of the story. No one asks questions like this in our time anymore. Everyone knows exactly how things are done. Of course, the Americans would like Karzai, who they established there, to remain in power – or Abdullah, who has already been the Foreign Minister twice. They are fine with either. But, 10 percent of the population are Uzbeks. There are also Tajiks, Turkmen and others. In such unstable circumstances, a lot will depend on their choice. So, Americans are now making moves to attract the votes of those people to support Karzai. The worst case scenario for them will be if other candidates come together and put forward someone to oppose Karzai. Then, quite different forces could come to power and will gradually move away from obeying the Americans.