Pubdate: Mon, 07 May 2007
Source: Telegraph, The (India)
Copyright: 2007 The Telegraph
Contact:  000
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

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, including President Hamid
Karzai. 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 (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 taliban and a "war on drugs" successfully
at the same time.

That was clearly understood at the time of the invasion in 2001.
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.

High Hopes

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

The US dodged that bullet by not really invading Afghanistan. It
simply contacted the various ethnic warlords who were already at war
with taliban, gave them better weapons and money, and left the
fighting on the ground to them.

However, the US 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 US 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. The "war on
drugs" lobby in the US insists that something be done about it, so the
US and allied armies end up trying to destroy the farmers' crops.

"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. Next year, of course, Afghan farmers would
plant twice as many poppies, so the costs of the operations would rise
over time.

Nothing will stop the flow of heroin into the West. Even if it is
suppressed in Afghanistan, it will happen somewhere else . 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: Richard Lake