Pubdate: Wed, 02 May 2007
Source: Barrie Examiner (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007, Osprey Media Group Inc.
Author: Gwynne Dyer
Bookmark: (Heroin)


"Respected people of Helmand," the radio message began, "the soldiers
of the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan National
Army do not destroy poppy fields. They know that many people of
Afghanistan have no choice but to grow poppy. ISAF and the ANA do not
want to stop people from earning their livelihoods."

It was such a sensible message that it almost had to be a mistake, and
of course it was.

The message, written by an ISAF officer and broadcast in Helmand
province last week on two local radio stations, was immediately
condemned by Afghan and American officials. So does that mean that
ISAF really is going to destroy the farmers' poppy fields?

Well, not exactly. The latest plan is that it will be civilians who
spray the farmers' fields with herbicides, while the Western soldiers
just stop the farmers from retaliating. That should win lots of hearts
and minds in Helmand and other opium-producing provinces of
Afghanistan where the former Taliban regime is making an armed
come-back attempt.

The soldiers of ISAF do not want to be seen as destroyers of the poppy
crop because that would get lots of them killed. It was allegedly a
Territorial Army (reserve) officer newly arrived from Britain who "got
a bit carried away with the language" and sent the offending message
to local radio stations in Helmand, but most other army officers in
Afghanistan, whatever their nationality, privately agree with him. You
cannot fight a war against the Taliban and a "war on drugs"
successfully at the same time.

That was clearly understood at the time of the invasion in 2001. The
Taliban, austere Islamist fanatics that they were, had eradicated
poppy-growing entirely by 2000, by the simple expedient of hanging
anybody they caught growing poppies.

Then the Taliban's house guests, Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida
friends, carried out the 9-11 attacks against the United States. Bin
Laden probably didn't mention this to the Taliban in advance, because
Afghanistan was bound to get invaded as a result. In fact, he almost
certainly wanted the United States to invade Afghanistan, imagining
that it would result in a long guerrilla war and ultimate humiliation
for the United States, just as it had done for the Soviet Union in the

The United States dodged that bullet by not really invading
Afghanistan at all. It simply contacted the various ethnic warlords
who were already at war with the Taliban regime, gave them better
weapons and lots of money, and left the fighting on the ground to them.

However, the United States now depended on those warlords to keep
Afghanistan quiet without flooding it with American troops. The
warlords needed cash flow, which meant poppies: opium and refined
heroin account for over one-third of Afghanistan's gross domestic
product and almost all of its exports. So the U.S. turned a blind eye
in 2002, while its warlord allies encouraged farmers to replant the

Afghanistan now produces 92 per cent of the world's heroin. The "war
on drugs" lobby in the United States insists that something be done
about it, so the U.S. and allied armies end up trying to destroy the
farmers' crops. The Taliban swallow their anti-drug principles and
promise to protect the farmers. Guess who wins the war.

"We cannot fail in this mission," said John Waters, head of the White
House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, last December. But if
he would like to succeed in Afghanistan, he might just try buying the
crop up.

Next year, of course, Afghan farmers would plant twice as many
poppies, so the costs of the operation would rise over time. And
nothing will stop the flow of heroin to the West: even if poppy
production were entirely suppressed in Afghanistan, it would simply
move somewhere else, like the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia.

But buying up the opium crop is about the only thing that would give
ISAF a chance of winning its increasingly nasty little war.
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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath