Drugs, bombs and fail­ure

End­ing drug ad­dic­tion, a huge prob­lem in Afghanistan, is not re­ally Amer­ica’s goal.

The Miracle - - Opinion - By: Rafia Zakaria Source: Dawn

T H( US has failed in Afghanistan. The news is not new but the de­tails of its fail­ures and the con­se­quences are ever more alarm­ing. Since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new South Asia strat­egy last Novem­ber, giv­ing the mil­i­tary more author­ity to un­der­take ac­tions, a new spate of bomb­ings has en­sued. Be­tween last Novem­ber, when the new strat­egy of at­tack­ing sources of Afghan Tal­iban fund­ing was put in place, and this past May, the US mil­i­tary and Nato have car­ried out over 100 air strikes against what they be­lieve are drug-test­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Bomb­ing these ar­eas, the US mil­i­tary now be­lieves, will stem the opium pro­duc­tion that over $8 bil­lion in fund­ing for anti-nar­cotics mea­sures have not. But, end­ing drug ad­dic­tion, a huge prob­lem in Afghanistan, is not re­ally the goal. The cur­rent com­man­der of US forces in Afghanistan and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieve that the main source of fund­ing for the Afghan Tal­iban is opium pro­duc­tion. It is true that opium pro­duc­tion in Afghanistan has in­creased by huge per­cent­ages in the last few years. In 2017, es­ti­mates show that opium pro­duc­tion in­creased by over 60pc. Af­ter 40 years of war, 17 of them un­der US/Nato oc­cu­pa­tion, poppy is a res­cue crop for farm­ers lead­ing an ex­is­tence in ex­treme poverty. A study by the Afghanistan Re­search and Eval­u­a­tion Unit found that for mil­lions of Afghans, the drug econ­omy is the only source of in­come. It is in­deed a dilemma: while poppy cul­ti­va­tion has pro­vided liveli­hood to many with no re­course to other oc­cu­pa­tions in a war-rav­aged coun­try, it has lethal im­pli­ca­tions within and out­side Afghanistan. Mean­while, even as it courts the Tal­iban for peace talks, the US un­der Trump be­lieves that a ‘vic­tory’ is only pos­si­ble if the sources of fund­ing are elim­i­nated. In the words of for­mer US army com­man­der Gen John Ni­chol­son, the plan is to “hit the Tal­iban where it hurts; their fi­nances”, and “nearly 200 mil­lion of this opium in­dus­try goes into the Tal­iban’s bank ac­counts and this … re­ally pays for the in­sur­gency”. While Ni­chol­son, and the bomb-happy Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion may be­lieve this, not ev­ery­one within the US se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment does. A CIA re­port from 2009 dis­puted the idea that the opium trade was the only source of Tal­iban fund­ing. In­stead, it pro­posed that the fund­ing on which the group re­lied comes from a va­ri­ety of sources. Other more re­cent re­ports, in­clud­ing those by the Spe­cial In­spec­tor Gen­eral for Afghanistan Re­con­struc­tion, have shown that while the Tal­iban un­doubt­edly re­ceive fund­ing from opium pro­duc­tion, it is not the only form of rev­enue, with money from tax­a­tion and do­na­tions also form­ing sig­nif­i­cant sources of in­come for the in­sur­gent group. Un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, car­ry­ing out hun­dreds of bomb­ings on al­leged cen­tres of nar­cotics test­ing and pro­duc­tion is just the sort of face the US wants to present to the world. Devoid of un­der­stand­ing or nu­ance and bent on cre­at­ing a lurid and un­nec­es­sary show of its mil­i­tary power, the bomb­ings are a cruel re­minder of an Amer­ica that bombs first and thinks later. It is un­known when that mo­ment of think­ing and eval­u­a­tion will ever come. In the mean­time, re­ports and stud­ies from Hel­mand prov­ince, where many of the air strikes have taken place, show that the rea­son for poppy and opium cul­ti­va­tion is re­lated strongly to the lack of a cen­tral gov­ern­ment and se­cu­rity. In Hel­mand prov­ince, where over 40pc of Afghanistan’s poppy cul­ti­va­tion is said to take place, only a hand­ful of dis­tricts are con­trolled by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, with the rest be­ing un­der con­trol of the Tal­iban. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent pa­per on the in­sur­gency and drug trade in Hel­mand prov­ince, many poor peo­ple pre­fer to live in the Tal­iban-con­trolled dis­tricts of the prov­ince be­cause they are then per­mit­ted to cul­ti­vate opium while the gov­ern­ment­con­trolled ar­eas crack down on it — cru­cially, with­out pro­vid­ing any al­ter­na­tives for their liveli­hood. It is tragic that the Afghan gov­ern­ment and in­ter­na­tional donors have not con­cen­trated on curb­ing poppy pro­duc­tion by in­vest­ing in sus­tain­able long-term oc­cu­pa­tions for the peo­ple. Air strikes will in­evitably kill and hurt and in­jure and de­stroy the poor in a place where death and vi­o­la­tion have com­manded lives for too long. In the rage of de­feat, it seems, the US has turned to the fury of de­stroy­ing even fur­ther what it has been un­able to trans­form. If all else fails, bombs will do, de­spite the fact that they promise only de­struc­tion and lit­tle prospect of re­vers­ing ei­ther Afghanistan’s or Amer­ica’s fortunes. The bombs and air strikes will nei­ther de­feat the Afghan Tal­iban, nor end opium pro­duc­tion. They will make life harder for Afghans who, be­cause of a lack of op­tions and the yearn­ing for sur­vival, farm opium. Oth­ers will die in the path of bombs, their un­de­served ends jus­ti­fied by the as­sump­tion that they de­served to die. The dead, even the chil­dren and the women, will be col­lat­eral dam­age in the war against drugs, sat­ing per­haps the ire of a US that has, at least in Afghanistan, lost the ‘war on ter­ror’. Lost wars ne­ces­si­tate bombs and blame, and that is pre­cisely what is be­ing doled out in Afghanistan. The op­tions be­fore the US seem to be a lost war or an end­less war, and so far it seems to be choos­ing the lat­ter. The bit­ter truth is that the Afghan peo­ple, weak­ened, rav­aged, used and mas­sa­cred, need opium to sur­vive — they have been stripped of forms of liveli­hood that do not carry such dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences for mil­lions around the globe. The writer is an at­tor­ney teach­ing con­sti­tu­tional law and po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.