Dual-Use Products Have Dual Consequences for Removal

by Joshua Foust on 9/26/2011 · 5 comments

The Haqqanis are Afghan members of the Zadran tribe, but it is in the town of Miram Shah in Pakistan’s tribal areas where they have set up a ministate with courts, tax offices and radical madrasa schools producing a ready supply of fighters. They secretly run a network of front companies throughout Pakistan selling cars and real estate, and have been tied to at least two factories churning out the ammonium nitrate used to build roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

Oh hey, the New York Times, so ammonium nitrate is also a cheap fertilizer which is used by 99% of Afghans and poor Pakistani sharecroppers to grow things like, you know, food. So by saying that ammonium nitrate is used to make IEDs but not mentioning the critical role it plays in the regional economy (farmers would literally be priced out of the market if fertilizer turned expensive through a totally enforced ban), you mislead readers into thinking these factories serve a nefarious purpose instead of a normal one that bad people happen to exploit. Oh and also the Karzai family has been linked to those two factories as well — not because they’re insurgents (we think?) but because the factories themselves are not what are causing IEDs.

This is a really shoddy moment in an otherwise very good piece about the Haqqani mafia (More from Registan.net on this violent clan is here).

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Matt Irvine September 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm

This is a really shoddy moment in an otherwise very good post about the New York Times:

1. You don’t explain that there is not a single formula for CAN. Indeed, it can be coated or treated to reduce explosiveness as it is in the U.S. and elsewhere. In fact, it can be produced at low cost still with coating that makes it almost completely inert.

2. The idea of banning this production and use is really not too foreign, in 2010 NWFP banned CAN along with two other chemical fertilizers due to their dual use capacity. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=87937 The article does highlight the cost of the ban on local farmers but it is still a pretty important part of the discussion and context.

Joshua Foust September 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Hey Matt.

1. Who cares? My point is that the NYT left out context about ammonium nitrate. You reinforce my point.

2. Again: this is my point. Notice how I said “enforcable,” and even a partial ban had a severe local effect, including worries of famine. Which again, reinforces my argument.

So how, again, is this shoddy, if your only contribution is that I didn’t make the New York Times look bad enough in explaining their airbrushing of the problem?

Dave September 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I actually didn’t think the reference was that bad. I understand your point that it’s pretty much a necessary commodity but I think the line was more intended, not to say that all ammonium nitrate factories are bad, but that the Haqqani network is deliberately investing in two of them to obtain a ready supply of the material. After reading your post and then reading it in the article, my reaction was very underwhelming to what the NYT wrote.

What would make a very interesting discussion would be how to best regulate ammonium nitrate coming out of factories. I realize in practicality that’s about as possible as me walking to mars, but it could be an interesting academic exercise. Thus coating it to make it less explosive was probably a valid comment.

Boris Sizemore September 27, 2011 at 2:42 am

This is another one of those NYT’s “let’s say something that fits with everything everyone else says…”

The focus on the Haqqani units or the focus on the Raziq issues is just part of the same picture that misses the central fact.

Afghanistan now and in the past is run by either strong men or tribal leadership usually regionally based. We, the Islamic Forces, or the Pakistanis currently decide whom to support. Each Grouping all over the country does there own thing when We, the Islamic Forces, or the Pakistanis are not looking. Simple self interest on a very dangerous battlefield.

One value of understanding this and Joshua Foust mentioned this is “if all the Bad/Good guys are the same” why couldn’t we use this as a basis for working towards peace ie. accepting the regional realities of power establishing that and getting the hell out. This way the Haqqanis get theirs, the Raziq get his etc. When we are gone, well they can just figure it out.

We have not been able to do more in ten years, and need to accept that we can only enforce our will in selective areas by occupying them with the forces we have. We can only control where we sit, and beyond line of sight it is another picture completely.

Of course no one wants to say this. But it is a basis for a discussion. Since we are leaving, and we are in severe economic problems, thus it does not make sense to stay considering the overall national situation.

This war is one of choice and when you can’t afford it, well, that is what you do. Ask the British. They made this same “cost plus” analysis three separate times in Afghanistan. Just makes sense somehow.

As hard as we have fought, this is not “Band of Brothers” or “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” for the US, or the Western World. Accept that and it all gets so much easier. Bank ATMs are more important at the moment.

Here on the Front lines, what we are hearing and seeing is that there are a lot of new “Pakistani Jihadi Units” which are being added to each Jihad Front, and that they will be the forces that decide the day as ISAF draws down. Like the previous Taliban onslaught, this would make most discussion mute, and there would be no need for IEDs as these units are well armed already.

Of course, it will be at least two years until the New York Times figures out what is going on today and reports on it as if it was a new discovery when it is already too late.

geoff October 7, 2011 at 7:22 am

Calcium Ammonium Nitrate, used in 80 percent of the homemade devices in Afghanistan and many in Pakistan, is not the fertilizer of choice in either country. Urea is. It is a niche product, acconts for around 8 percent of the market. It is only made by two factories, both run by PakArab fertilizers. I didn’t understand the reference to “tied” to. Does it mean they have ties to a shareholder in PakaArab, one of Pakistan’s largest companies? The product is available at more than 2000 Pakarab distrubutors nationwide.

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