Pubdate: Sun, 14 Apr 2002
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Mark Bowden
Bookmark: (Afghanistan)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


By all accounts, there's going to be a bumper poppy crop in Afghanistan 
this year.

Fields of the pink, violet and white flowers are blossoming in the 
provinces of Nangarhar and Helmand, traditionally the source for about 70 
percent of the opium and heroin in the world. The gray paste made from 
these colorful flowers is a bounty for the farmers and illiterate laborers 
who work these fields, a fortune for the drug traffickers who process and 
ship it - and a plague for the countries throughout the world that battle 
drug addiction.

So the interim government of Afghanistan finds itself caught between local 
interests and its international obligations.

Hamid Karzai, the Western-backed leader who stepped in after the Taliban 
was ousted last year, is committed to eradicating the crop - and meeting 
serious resistance from the growers. The challenge comes while he is also 
struggling to manage the traditionally warring factions of his country long 
enough to hold elections and establish a democracy. He still faces a strong 
threat from remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, elements of which have 
been caught plotting assassinations of the new government's leaders. It is 
no time for the United States and Europe to be making his task more difficult.

It is vital to the U.S. war on terrorism that the emerging Afghan 
government be independent, authentic and successful. Forcing Karzai to 
crack down on his country's largest cash crop puts him in the position of 
acting like a puppet for Western interests and encourages his (and our) 
enemies. Drug addiction remains a serious social problem in the West, but 
this it is not the top priority.

The truth is that poppy cultivation works for Afghanistan. Addicts in 
Europe, the United States, India, Pakistan and elsewhere pay wealthy drug 
traffickers, who pay farmers to grow poppies. Antidrug efforts keep the 
supply low, which artificially inflates the price, which means the 
impoverished farmers are paid more for poppies than anything else they 
could grow.

The system works as an engine for local economies in impoverished nations 
all over the world, and the forces waging the drug war have yet to find a 
way to fight it. Drug trafficking has delivered more money to the Colombian 
and Afghan hinterlands than any government program in history.

There have been intensive efforts to encourage the poppy growers in 
Afghanistan and the coca growers in Colombia to cultivate alternative 
crops. Programs offer economic incentives to regions that crack down 
effectively on poppy production and provide subsidies for growing 
alternative crops.

But these efforts have been too poorly funded and too narrowly applied to 
be effective. At most, the success they achieve in one region just pushes 
the growing elsewhere. So long as there are customers willing to pay 
exorbitant rates for drugs, somebody, somewhere, will grow the crops, 
process the drugs, and deliver them.

In short, it's a terribly complicated problem that will not be worsened or 
solved in the long run by cracking down on Afghanistan this year. The 
growers borrow money from traffickers to tide them over during winter, then 
repay them when their crops are harvested in spring. Karzai's government 
didn't announce its ban on poppy growing until January, after the crop had 
been planted, which means growers were already committed to harvesting 
their crops. The government program is offering them about $500 per 
half-acre, but they can earn about $2,000 by selling the poppies. 
Resistance to the government plan has already erupted into violence in Helmand.

What makes the most sense right now is a one-time-only buy-back program, 
which would keep the world's largest poppy crop off the market and buy time 
until the Afghan government is on its feet. The United Nations and United 
States have promised billions of dollars toward rebuilding the country. 
Expecting too much too soon could undermine the larger goal.


The Rev. John Langan, a Georgetown University philosophy professor whom I 
quoted in last week's column about torture, asked if I would further 
explain his views. While he acknowledges that torture might be morally 
justifiable "in very rare cases," he does not believe that the case of 
al-Qaeda senior leader Abu Zubaydah, who was arrested earlier this month, 
meets those conditions. "My point was that if one sets up the supposedly 
ideal case for using torture - proximate danger to large numbers of people, 
strong evidence that the person to be tortured has the relevant information 
- - the conditions will be satisfied only in very rare cases," he said. "I 
did say that in the proposed case and in cases very like it we would not 
blame the agents, but that is different (importantly different for a moral 
philosopher) from endorsing the action. Torture, as I said to you, yields 
information of poor quality, puts our own people at greater risk if and 
when they become prisoners, damages the character of the torturers and the 
reputation of the United States. I also believe that using torture against 
al-Qaeda prisoners does not meet the relevant conditions and is likely to 
be little more than an act of vengeance."
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