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US mulls releasing drug kingpin demanded by Taliban

13 Aug 2020 1TV News

The United States is considering to release Bashir Noorzai, an Afghan heroin kingpin, who is imprisoned since 2005, it has been reported.

Noorzai was given a life sentence in 2009 after being convicted of conspiring to import heroin into the US and conspiring to distribute it.

Noorzai was arrested in April 2005 after being identified by US President George W. Bush as one of the world’s most wanted drug traffickers.

Prosecutors had said Noorzai led an international trafficking organization since 1990 that manufactured heroin in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They said he helped the Taliban come to power and gave explosives and weapons in return for protection of his opium crops.

During a conference call in late June, Mullah Baradar, the Taliban’s head of political office in Qatar, asked the US Secretary of State to release Noorzai, according to the office’s spokesman.

TIME, citing unidentified US and western officials, reported on Wednesday that US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has quietly recommended setting Noorzai free.

Putting Noorzai back in action would add one more skilled player to the global drug trade, with Afghanistan already the world’s largest producer of heroin, the proceeds of which western officials say will end up funding the Taliban.

“They are trying to go back to business as usual,” says Gretchen Peters, who studiedthe Afghan drug trade, and now runs the private intelligence organization CINTOCthat tracks hidden criminal networks. “Haji Bashir Noorzai was the original financier and protector of the Taliban,” skilled in exporting heroin and importing weapons, she said.

A former US defense official, however, said that adding one man back to the drug scene isn’t going to have that much impact on a country already leading in global heroin production.

“It’s a power play on the Taliban’s part,” he said. “They’re just trying to make it as hard as possible to get to the table.

A former senior official the US Drug Enforcement Administration called Noorzai “the single largest heroin trafficker in the world and one of the founding fathers of the Taliban shura in Afghanistan.”

“My concern is that if anyone thinks they are going to go back home and bag groceries…they’re not,” the former senior DEA official says. “They’re going to pick up where they left off with a vengeance — and it’s going to be directed at the United States of America.”

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