Cut the Tal­iban’s life­line

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Steadily in­creas­ing opium pro­duc­tion is an im­ped­i­ment to Afghanistan’s sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity, and so it was im­por­tant that Pres­i­dent Bush and Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai ad­dressed the is­sue at Camp David. The Tal­iban has be­come more ef­fec­tive at prof­it­ing from the Afghan poppy crop and is us­ing the opium in­dus­try to fuel its resur­gence. The chal­lenge for both gov­ern­ments is to make sure that coun­ternar­cotics and se­cu­rity ef­forts re­in­force — not un­der­mine — one an­other.

U.S. ef­forts in Afghanistan started with a fo­cus on the ter­ror threat, and coun­ternar­cotics ef­forts were left to the Euro­peans. The United States is now be­com­ing more di­rectly in­volved in coun­ternar­cotics, ac­cord­ing to John P. Wal­ters, the di­rec­tor of the White House Of­fice of Na­tional Drug Con­trol Pol­icy, and with the large amount of aid set to go to Afghanistan, the United States is equipped to strongly pur­sue those ef­forts.

The gov­er­nor of Baluchis­tan, a south­west­ern prov­ince in Pak­istan, was in Wash­ing­ton re­cently ex­pound­ing on the detri­men­tal ef­fects of al­low­ing opium pro­duc­tion. Awais Ghani told edi­tors and re­porters at The Wash­ing­ton Times that opium pro­duc­tion throws a life­line to the Tal­iban, and it also strength­ens those el­e­ments that have a vested in­ter­est in the ab­sence of a strong cen­tral gov­ern­ment and the se­cu­rity it would pro­vide. Pak­istan and Afghanistan’s mu­tual and of­ten pub­lic ac­ri­mony is well doc­u­mented, but on this is­sue Pak­istan’s po­si­tion is both cor­rect and valu­able.

The drug econ­omy makes up 25 per­cent to 33 per­cent of Afghanistan’s to­tal econ­omy, and through money laun­der­ing and front com­pa­nies it is be­gin­ning to con­tam­i­nate the law­ful econ­omy as well. As it has been in other coun­tries, the drug trade has in­creased cor­rup­tion, par­tic­u­larly among the lo­cal and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments. Over­all poppy pro­duc­tion has in­creased, but pro­duc­tion in many north­ern prov­inces has de­clined, while the trend has gone the other way in the south — par­tic­u­larly in the prov­ince of Hel­mand, where the num­ber of hectares of poppy more than dou­bled from 2005 to 2006. There are lessons here for the United States and NATO.

Al­though as a prov­ince Hel­mand is the sec­ond-largest re­cip­i­ent of U.S. aid, farm­ers are turn­ing from licit crops to poppy. This may re­flect pres­sure from the Tal­iban or sim­ply the fact that farm­ers make more money by grow­ing poppy. Ei­ther way, it shows that in­cen­tives alone are in­suf­fi­cient to con­vince farm­ers to raise al­ter­nate crops and em­pha­sizes the need for erad­i­ca­tion. Speak­ing last month at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Am­bas­sador Thomas A. Sch­we­ich, the act­ing as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for in­ter­na­tional nar­cotics and law en­force­ment af­fairs, es­ti­mated that only 30 per­cent to 40 per­cent of Afghan farm­ers have no vi­able al­ter­na­tive to grow­ing poppy. In­cen­tives and co­er­cion could there­fore go a long way to­ward re­duc­ing opium pro­duc­tion.

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