Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Opium & Afghanistan

Jon Lee Anderson has a harrowing and brilliant report from Southern Afghanistan in the New Yorker, focussing on the attempts to discourage opium production. Having read his story with great interest, the question that jumps out at me is why is the West trying to do this? The farmers of Afghanistan are incredibly poor, and opium is the single reliable cash crop. By destroying poppy fields, Western forces are alienating those whom we desire to be allies, punishing farmers from pro-government areas (because Taliban-dominated areas are too dangerous to operate in) and aiding the Taliban insurgency. The process of destroying poppy fields helps exacerbate corruption, as farmers bribe local police to ensure that their fields are not destroyed.

Incidentally, the description of the Dutch approach to pacifying Uruzgan is almost unbelievable. While they are appropriately skeptical of the poppy eradication efforts, their commanding officer is quoted as saying "We're not here to fight the Taliban. We're here to make the Taliban irrelevant." The Dutch appear to be both passive and witless. Even their preferred reconstruction strategy appears to have done virtually nothing.

Judging from this article, defeat appears to be a very real possibility for the West in Afghanistan.

Update: Anderson has a great set of photos of his experience as well.


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