Pubdate: Wed, 03 Jan 2007
Source: Esquimalt News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Esquimalt News
Author: Vern Faulkner
Bookmark: (Afghanistan)


Liberal MP Suggests Alternatives to Destroying Critical Afghanistan Crop

Opium is a key element of the current conflict in Afghanistan.

Opium poppies are now a form of livelihood for many farmers. But U.S. 
commanders with NATO forces have ordered poppy fields destroyed, 
sending farmers stripped of their livelihood straight to the Taliban. 
At least the Taliban and drug lords allow the farmers means to put 
food on the table, Liberal MP Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) said.

"The Americans only want to destroy more of the poppy crop, which 
drives the subsistence farmers to the Taliban."

Some military pundits have suggested that Canadian forces have been 
targeted - the fatality rate for Canadians in 2006 was six times the 
NATO average - because Canadian soldiers turned a blind eye to poppy 
growth and, rather than destroy the poppies outright, had begun to 
encourage transition to other cash crops.

That has only enriched and empowered the warlords and drug lords in 
Afghanistan, creating more power struggles and conflicts, said NDP MP 
Denise Savoie (Victoria).

Martin suggested that Western countries should purchase opium 
poppies, and use those materials in the manufacture of legitimate 
opiate-based pharmaceuticals.

At the same time, farmers should be guided on a transition path away 
from poppies to other viable crops. That will undermine the power and 
influence of the drug-dealing warlords that currently afflict Afghanistan.

The cost of purchasing poppies will be extensive, but "it will be an 
awful lot cheaper than waging a war," Martin said.

"Unless we deal with that, the opium crop is the financial fuel for 
the Taliban and al-Qaida."

Conservative MP Gary Lunn (Saanich-Gulf Islands) did not wish to 
discuss the role of the opium crop in the ongoing conflict.

Savoie agreed that the opium trade - made more lucrative by 
"simplistic" U.S. intervention - is a key issue in bringing some 
measure of peace to Afghanistan.

"There's no easy answer and I'm not an expert, but I'm told by many 
that have looked at it that there are many legal, medicinal uses for 
(poppies)," she said, echoing Martin's thoughts.

"There would be, I am told, a way of dealing with it that could be 
channeled into a legal way that would not take away - and that's the 
key - that would not take away a farmer's only livelihood."

Such uses include legal, medicinal applications and more, she said.

"I am told that there are other uses that we're not even aware of, in 
terms of fuel," Savoie said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake