Sunday, August 05, 2007


By Libby

Unsurprisingly, poppy production in Afghanistan has risen again this year, with the country now supplying 95% of the world's crop. The US has predictably responded with their usual failed policy proposals.
But counterdrug proposals by some U.S. officials have met fierce resistance, including boosting the amount of forcible poppy field destruction in provinces that grow the most, officials said. The approach also would link millions of dollars in development aid to benchmarks on eradication; arrests and prosecutions of narcotraders, corrupt officials; and on alternative crop production.

This has been their basic strategy to combat drug production for the last forty years anyway. It didn't work in South and Central America and it won't work in Aghanistan. Karzai has wisely put the kibosh on their addlepated plots so far. And well he should because they pose a greater danger than the production itself.

You don't have to a policy wonk to see the Catch-22 here. The heroin trade forms a great bulk of Afghanistan's GDP. Although the figure is no doubt inflated, it's estimated that the poppy crops are worth $38 billion in "street value." To begin with a measly $475 million in counternarcotics efforts, most of which would no doubt go to eradication and not to alternative crop development, won't be much of an enticement for voluntary change.

Eradicating the crops hits the farmer, who is at the bottom of the chain and barely makes a living growing the flowers, not the producer of the drug who makes all the profits. There's a reason they grow poppies, just as those in the Andes cultivate cocoa. The land is harsh and the crop is easy to grow and returns the best profit but it still provides only bare sustenance for the farmer, who generally owes the drug producer money for providing the start up costs. If you destroy his crop, he still owes the money and since we have done almost less than zero in rebuilding their infrastructure, how can he repay the debt?

Well, once he runs out of daughters to sell to the warlords, the obvious choice would be to work for whoever he owes the money to, either an outright drug producer or one of the fabled narco-terrorists who have entered the drug trade for its obscene profits in order to finance their operations. Even if he can repay the debt, seeing a season's worth of work destroyed by a foreign occupier might anger him enough to join the resistance anyway.

No counter-narcotics scheme will work to eliminate the drug trade, short of total legalization. Legalize the drugs and eliminate the black market and the problem is long way towards being solved. Short of that, simply buying the poppies from the farmers for legal production of morphine, as the Senlis Council advocates, would at least put a dent in the trade and provide an income large enough to deter Taliban and AQ recruitment. The only sure way to fail is to try to eliminate it by force.

I'm certain I don't need to remind you that before we removed the Taliban in order to "get AQ," their government had virtually eliminated the poppies. I'm not saying the Taliban wasn't a repressive regime, but I find it difficult to see how for the average Aghani, the present situation is much better. For us it's certainly worse. Before the peasants just hated their government for suppressing them. Now they hate us for destroying their livelihoods.

As I predicted both here and in Iraq; destroying a repressive regime that at least provides stability for its people, without then immediately building an economic infrastructure under which the people can thrive, ony causes more harm than good. Nobody is going to thank you for it.

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