Haji Bashar Noorzai, 43, an Afghanistani tribal leader, came to New York to answer U.S. questions about the war on terror and ended up arrested for drug trafficking. As Noorzai, 43, awaits trial, Time magazine says the case “raises larger questions about America’s needs, goals and instincts in fighting its two shadow wars: the war on terrorism and the war on drugs.” The question is when do you bend the rules for one to help the other? Afghanistan is where these two battles converge, as the runoff from a $3 billion opium trade helps pay for guns and bombs deployed against U.S. and NATO forces.
Drug enforcement officials claim Noorzai’s capture as a prize. Afghanistan is the world’s largest source of heroin, and his arrest, says Drug Enforcement Administration chief Karen Tandy, “sent shock waves through other Taliban-connected traffickers.” Noorzai was also a leader of a million-member tribe who had offered to help bring stability to a region that is spinning out of control. Because he is in jail, he is not feeding the U.S. and the Afghan governments information; he is not cajoling his tribe to abandon the Taliban; he is not reaching out to his contacts in the Taliban to push them to cease their struggle. He is in no position to help persuade his followers to abandon opium production, when the amount of land devoted to growing poppies has risen 60 percent.