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Haji Bashir Noorzai - the scapegoat Haji Bashir Noorzai Haji Bashir Noorzai Buy Postcards
Haji Bashir Noorzai

In Afghanistan the roads are so decrepit and dangerous that traditional Afghan crops cannot reach markets for a reasonable cost. A good alternative is opium, the cash crop. Think of it as a cross between cocaine and maple syrup. Farmers grow poppies, cut the bud with a razor, and collect the sap. Middlemen refine it into opium, a condensed and valuable product suitable for export.

Fighting the opium trade is a trap. Opium funds the Taliban and the warlords, but also provides a living for Afghan farmers. Burn their fields without providing an alternative and we make war on the people. So we have left opium alone, frustrating drug warriors back in the USA. These men, fresh from the good feeling of killing Pablo Escobar in 1993, sought to win an equally meaningless victory against heroin. For a sacrificial Afghan drug lord they liked one "Bashir", a leader of the Noorzai tribe.

Bashir Noorzai fought the soviets as a young mujahideen commander in the Kandahar area, near Mullah Omar. He helped the CIA buy back stinger missiles, then reestablished order with the Taliban. Noorzai tried to facilitate CIA-Taliban communication after the invasion, but found the Americans were too angry. In 2005 Americans invited him to New York City for a parley. Among Afghans, he would have been protected under "Melmastia", the Pashtun code of hospitality. No invited guest can be harmed. Of course Americans are not Pashtun, so Noorzai asked for a safe passage promise instead.

Once in New York, Haji Bashir was handed over to the drug warriors, who explained that for Americans, hospitality isn't really a rule, and since he was an evil drug lord, not a guideline either. They threw him in prison for opium smuggling, where he remains; a warning to Afghan tribal leaders that Americans live by no code recognizable to them, and should not be trusted.