* U.S. adds Taliban commander to narcotics "Kingpin" list
* Designation freezes any assets he may hold in the U.S.
* Fears of deepening Taliban involvement in drug trade
* Move might complicate dialogue with insurgents
By Matthew Green
ISLAMABAD, Nov 15 The U.S. government added a
top Taliban commander to its list of suspected drug trafficking
"Kingpins" on Thursday in the first such designation of a leader
of the Afghan insurgency.
The move underscores concerns that Taliban commanders may be
playing a growing role in heroin production, seeing the trade as
a lucrative revenue stream to fund their campaign after most
foreign troops have left Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The U.S. Treasury said it had put Mullah Naim Barich on the
Kingpin list, which bans U.S. citizens from doing business with
him and freezes any assets he may hold in the United States, for
trafficking drugs from the southern Helmand province - the
centre of Afghanistan's heroin industry.
"Today's action exposes the direct involvement of senior
Taliban leadership in the production, manufacturing, and
trafficking of narcotics in Afghanistan," Under Secretary for
Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a
Barich is the Taliban's "shadow governor" of Helmand, a term
used by insurgents in their campaign to establish parallel
administrations in territory they control.
The Kingpin designation puts the Taliban fighter on a par
with notorious drug lords from Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia.
Although the listing is unlikely, by itself, to derail
Barich's activities, it may signal a growing belief in parts of
the administration that the U.S. should take a more robust
approach to Afghanistan's nexus of traffickers and insurgents.
For years, Western officials have debated the extent to
which the Taliban has profited from the drug trade primarily by
taxing the harvesting and shipment of opium, the crop used to
make heroin, or by dabbling in running the industry directly.
The U.S. Treasury said Barich was deeply involved in the
heroin trade and had issued a decree ordering his followers to
launch attacks to disrupt a plan announced by Helmand's
provincial government in January to eradicate poppy crops.
"Barich is involved in many levels of the heroin and opium
drug trade, including leading meetings with drug traffickers,
controlling opium production, and owning his own drug loads,"
the Treasury said.
Afghan officials fear the departure of most foreign troops
could trigger an increase in heroin production in a country
where drug cartels have long established links with members of
the government and security forces.
"As soon as foreign forces leave Afghanistan, there will be
a surge in drug cultivation," said Al-Haj Wali Alizai, the head
of the counter-narcotics commission in the Afghan parliament.
"It's not only the Taliban who are connected with drug
trafficking. Everybody is involved," he said.
Barich's Kingpin designation may inject a new variable into
attempts by the Obama administration to kindle a dialogue with
the Taliban since it might raise legal questions over any
attempt to include him in any future negotiations.
"Mullah Barich is a very senior person in the current
Taliban leadership," said Gretchen Peters, author of Seeds of
Terror, a book on the Taliban and the drug trade.
"This raises a new level of complexity for officials in the
Obama administration and State Department who are seeking to
reconcile with the Taliban," she said.