Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jan 2006
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2006 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Robert I. Rotberg, is director of the Program  on Intrastate 
Conflict at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard 
University  and president of the World Peace Foundation.
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THERE IS A STRIKING ANTIDOTE to worsening security in Afghanistan, 
where suicide bombing and convoy ambushes now occur every day. 
Increasingly, these Taliban- and Al Qaeda-sponsored attacks are 
linked to opium and heroin trafficking. Afghanistan supplies 80 
percent of Europe's heroin and is the  largest grower of poppies in the world.

Instead of legalizing poppy growing or attempting to eradicate the 
stubborn plants and destroy the livelihoods of impoverished farmers, 
why not pay the farmers to grow something else? Afghans already grow 
wheat as their staple grain.

Simply exhorting farmers to turn away from poppies to wheat, saffron, 
and pomegranates will not work. But  providing serious, guaranteed, 
long-term incentives that will encourage farmers  to grow wheat in 
preference to poppies could well produce addictions to wheat  instead 
of heroin.

Senior Afghans, meeting in December at Harvard University  with 
American and British researchers, believe that wheat is the answer. 
Americans spend about $3 billion a year attempting and failing to 
expunge the Afghan poppy crop. The conclusions of a Kennedy School of 
Government project on  Afghanistan estimate that providing annual 
guarantees for purchases of wheat at  triple the world price would 
cost less than eradication. To be credible for  farmers, the 
guarantees would have to be established for five- and 10-year 
periods, not just annually.

A marketing board could do the buying, and the  problems of supply 
that would have to be watched carefully would concern smuggling wheat 
into the country rather than smuggling opium out. The results could 
also be eaten by hungry Afghans, or exported to neighboring Pakistan 
or Tajikistan. And Europe would benefit immensely from reduced 
supplies of heroin. By thus ending the major battles to eradicate 
what is now the main peasant commodity, and the source of great 
profits for warlords and middlemen, subsidizing wheat would also 
contribute to peace.

It might also help to undercut some of the appeal of the Taliban. 
Terrorism now connected with narco-trafficking would also cease, thus 
improving overall national  security. If the scourge of poppy growing 
can be reduced and then eliminated, Afghanistan might stand a chance 
to prosper and develop well. Otherwise, the landlocked nation's 
future will be precarious, and the new government will  continue to 
be a collection of its sections, with little unity. Making headway on 
poppies and drugs would provide the central government of Afghanistan 
with a sense of common purpose that could draw the proto-nation 
together. Today the central government has only limited visibility 
and legitimacy beyond Kabul, the capital.

A handle on the poppy problem would also  give Kabul an edge over 
regional power brokers.

Washington and Brussels should  use their collective financial muscle 
to assist President Hamid Karzai's government and the new national 
parliament in this way, and not by attacking  farmers trying to be 
productive by any means that they know how. To accomplish these and 
other worthy objectives, Afghanistan needs to be well governed.

The key governance deliverable is security.

Second is a much enhanced  rule of law. A climate of impunity for 
powerful people now prevails, and must be  altered.

The state must not continue to be complicit in the abuse of ordinary civilians.

Washington and Brussels must do more to help the Karzai government to 
develop its legal apparatuses and codes.

Even when the police make arrests,  their investigations are weak, 
and the legal system plays favorites. There are  few assurances of 
predictability or integrity, with many local warlords imposing  their 
own dictates on civil and criminal disputes.

The country also requires an  ability to recognize and protect 
individual rights. Battling harder against  corruption is critical, 
also, although this is a task largely for the Karzai  government and 
not for outsiders. These obstacles impede Afghanistan's emergence 
from conflict and chaos.

With skillful internal leadership and outside assistance, however, 
these barriers can  be overcome.

But the time horizon is five years, not months or single years. The 
role of foreign donors will remain critical for that period, and 
beyond. More  coordination among those donors will be essential, but 
Afghanistan must provide  the priorities more than it now does.

State building in Afghanistan is not an enduring effort.

But if drug-related and judicial reforms happen, and if Afghan and 
NATO forces can reduce insecurity, then -- and only then -- 
Afghanistan will emerge as a strong ally and an effective developing nation.

Robert I. Rotberg is director of the  Program on Intrastate Conflict 
at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard  University and 
president of the World Peace  Foundation.
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