Pubdate: Thu, 24 Jan 2008
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Greg Watson
Referenced: Richard Holbrooke's OPED
Cited: Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan


John Manley's otherwise brutally frank assessment of the dismal
situation facing Canada and other countries fighting in Afghanistan,
curiously glosses over one of the most serious and intractable enemies
of the entire effort: Opium.

This week's controversial report by a panel of experts headed by the
former Liberal cabinet minister acknowledges only that "the opium
trade is a complicating factor in Afghan security, and it is both a
result of violent instability and a contributor to it.

"Opium profits flow to the Taliban, to criminal elements and to
corrupt government officials," the Manley report notes. "Coherent
counter-narcotics strategies need to be adopted by all relevant agencies."

Talk about a problem understated, and a solution easier said than

According to the United Nations authority on drugs and crime, the
poppy fields of Afghanistan now produce a stunning 93% of the world's

Writing in the Washington Post this week, former U.S. ambassador to
the UN, Richard Holbrooke, calls the Afghan narcotics trade "probably
the largest single-country drug production since 19th -century China."

Afghan government officials, he says, "including some with close ties
to the presidency," are protecting the drug trade and profiting from

In financial terms, Holbrooke estimates the Afghan opium trade
currently equals about 50% of the country's official gross domestic

In other words, Canadian forces are currently fighting to bring order
and stability to a country in which more than a third of the entire
economy is controlled by drug lords and corrupt government officials
supporting the opium biz.

While it is impossible to know exactly how much drug money is
financing the Taliban insurgency that is killing Canadian troops,
experts agree the cash flowing from the poppy fields is more than
enough to keep the war going for years, if not decades, to come.

The question is obviously, what to do about it?

Holbrooke notes the U.S. is spending about $1 billion a year on
counter-narcotics programs in Afghanistan, yet, the opium harvest in
2007 actually grew by almost 30% over the previous year to a
staggering 8,200 tons.

The whole expensive U.S. effort, Holbrooke says, "may be the single
most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy.

"It's not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban
and al-Qaida, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan."

The Manley report recommends offering "effective economic provisions
to induce would-be poppy farmers and middlemen to prefer and find
alternative lines of work."

But Holbrooke says the "alternative livelihoods" strategy has been
tried elsewhere with no success, and is even less likely to work in

"Poppies are an easy crop to grow, and are far more valuable than any
other product that can be grown in the rocky, remote soil of

"It will take years to create the networks of roads, markets and
lucrative crops that would induce farmers to switch."

As usual, George Bush has a novel idea -- namely, herbicide

Apparently he told Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai last year:
"I'm a spray man myself."

But Holbrooke cautions that any such poppy-eradication programs would
only create a backlash among Afghans against both the local government
and Western forces, and "serve as a recruitment device for the Taliban."

Uprooting the poppy trade, he argues, will be impossible without
weeding out corruption in the Afghan government and police forces.

"To be sure, breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential, or
all else will fail," Holbrooke says. "But it will take years."

Something to consider in the coming debate over the Manley report, and
how long Canadian troops should remain in Afghanistan.
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