Pubdate: Fri, 04 May 2007
Source: North Bay Nugget (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 North Bay Nugget
Author: Gwynne Dyer


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 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 from President Hamid Karzai
on down.

So does that mean that ISAF really is going to destroy the farmers'
poppy fields?

Well, not exactly. The latest plan is 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 comeback 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 (for the farmers can
turn into Taliban fighters overnight).

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

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.

The Taliban begged for Western aid for the distressed farmers, who
were only earning a quarter as much from growing grain and vegetables,
but Mullah Amir Mohammed Haqqani was adamant: "Whether we get
assistance or not, poppy growing will never be allowed again in our

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 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 1980s.

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. It worked very
well, and there was no guerrilla war.

However, the United States now depended on those warlords to keep
Afghanistan quiet without flooding it with American troops (who were
all heading for Iraq anyway).

The warlords needed cash flow, which meant poppies: opium and refined
heroin account for more than 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 poppies, and didn't object when they
were "elected" to parliament and joined Karzai's cabinet either.

Opium production soared last year to 6,400 tonnes, and Afghanistan now
produces 92 per cent of the world's heroin.

The "war on drugs" lobby in the United States insists 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, as if
wishing would make it so.

But if he would like to succeed in Afghanistan, he might just try
buying the crop up.

Afghan farmers get paid considerably less than $100 a kilo for their
raw opium. Multiply 6,400 tonnes by $200 a kilo, to outbid the drug
smugglers, and ISAF could have bought up last year's entire Afghan
crop for $2.5 billion.

What's more, the money would be going straight into the pockets of the
people whose "hearts and minds" are at stake: the 13 per cent of
Afghans who are involved in the opium trade.

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 South-East 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: Derek