Afghanistan and the Opium Crop

The New York Times Magazine has an 7 page article on Afghanistan and the opium crop, with a headline asking if the country is a "narco state."

The author's suggestions for fixing the problem include these steps:

1. Inform President Karzai that he must stop protecting drug lords and narco-farmers or he will lose U.S. support. Karzai should issue a new decree of zero tolerance for poppy cultivation during the coming growing season. He should order farmers to plant wheat, and guarantee today’s high wheat prices. Karzai must simultaneously authorize aggressive force-protected manual and aerial eradication of poppies in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces for those farmers who do not plant legal crops.

2. Order the Pentagon to support this strategy. Position allied and Afghan troops in places that create security pockets so that Afghan counternarcotics police can arrest powerful drug lords. Enable force-protected eradication with the Afghan-set goal of eradicating 50,000 hectares as the benchmark.


3. Increase the number of D.E.A. agents in Kabul and assist the Afghan attorney general in prosecuting key traffickers and corrupt government officials from all ethnic groups, including southern Pashtuns.

4. Get new development projects quickly to the provinces that become poppy-free or stay poppy free. The north should see significant rewards for its successful anticultivation efforts. Do not, however, provide cash to farmers for eradication.

5. Ask the allies either to help in this effort or stand down and let us do the job.

I'm dubious about getting involved in another drug war. My concern is it will come home to roost in the form of new domestic drug laws. More here.

Here's a Timesonline article about the opium farmers joining forces with the Taliban as a result of forced eradication of their crops.

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    Barnett Rubin Agrees (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by squeaky on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:13:44 AM EST
    I'm dubious about getting involved in another drug war.

    I'm going to make this short, because there is nothing new here. The Bush administration responded to 9/11 by arming and funding every commander they could find to fight the Taliban, regardless of criminal past or involvement in drug trafficking. Then they refused to get involved in "nation building" activity and instead got other "lead nations" to be responsible for various security issues with insufficient funding and capacity, including counter-narcotics. Then, every time that President Karzai tried to remove one of the U.S.-funded commanders from a position, Donald Rumsfeld would warn him against it and say the US would not back him if there was a problem.

    Link (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by squeaky on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:14:34 AM EST
    ah our resident Neo-Imperialist speaks. (none / 0) (#20)
    by Salo on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:17:06 PM EST
    Farmers should be ordered to plant wheat? (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Green26 on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:18:29 AM EST
    I don't know anything about the soil, climate, or machinery on poppy areas/farms in Afghanistan. However, I did grow up on a wheat farm, and I doubt that declaring a switchover in crops like this makes much sense or is feasible.

    Not As Profitable (none / 0) (#5)
    by squeaky on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:43:34 AM EST
    Ordered by who? President Karzai  is making too much $$. It accounts for up to 1/3 of his GDP.

    (For a detailed analysis of the drug economy in Afghanistan, counter-narcotics policy, and the fallacies of arguments like Schweich's see the report I co-authored with Jake Sherman.)[PDF]

    (Another point: drugs is by far the largest industry in the Afghan economy, probably accounting for a quarter to a third of GDP. It is not a "deviant" activity in the sociological sense. As a political scientist, I don't know of any government in the world that does not have relations with the owners of its country's largest industry and biggest employer. There was a very good essay on this general problem, not focusing on Afghanistan, by a Hungarian World Bank economist. I'll post the link as soon as I can find it.)

    Barnett Rubin


    Talk about tyranny.... (none / 0) (#14)
    by kdog on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 08:01:36 AM EST
    I thought we were bring glorious freedom to Afghanistan?

    Now we want Karzai to "order" farmers what to grow?  One would think in a free country a farmer picks his crops, not the state.

    That's how the Taliban rolls, and I guess it's how we roll.  Authoritarians with no respect for the sovereignty of free men.

    I have a novel concept...let people grow what crops they want, and let people buy what crops they want.


    It's a good way to provoke a fight with the farmer (none / 0) (#18)
    by Salo on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:11:56 PM EST
    population there. And those guys will win against any military.

    This Is Just Stupid (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Dave Latchaw on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:51:39 AM EST
    When the Taliban were in power they had put a severe crimp in the opium biz. The warlords who actually run the place were happy to help us boot them out. The resurgence of the Taliban occurred when they decided that opium growing wasn't so bad after all.

    The key to "winning" (or more accurately having the warlords pretend that you're in charge) is to turn a blind eye to opium growing.

    We can either buy all their crop or pay them not grow it. But wiping it out is just not an option.

    and considering Karzai is not much more than (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by kempis on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 05:31:07 AM EST
    the mayor of Kabul, it's foolish to expect him to be able to order the warlords to do anything.

    The warlords run Afghanistan. Karzai is there only because they allow him to be.


    um, yeah, this concept (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by cpinva on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 01:34:43 AM EST
    has worked so well for us in columbia (cocaine), mexico & the US (pot). nothing like taking something tried and failed, and exporting it to other countries.

    ok, i'll bite, who stands to make money out of this idea?

    Poppies will make them sleep... (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by desertswine on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 01:58:32 AM EST
    The god Morpheus made crowns out of the poppy flowers and gave them to those he wanted to put to sleep.

    That oughta work just as well as the NYT plan.

    U.S. Policy Has Made it Worse (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by Rob901 on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 02:04:08 AM EST
    I have been in Afghanistan since 2002.  If you look at the numbers, you will see that the amount of poppy grown would go up and down; as would the amount of wheat grown.  Lots of farmers were growing wheat, but the price dropped and switched to poppy, which caused the price of wheat to go up.  

    U.S. policy was to not allow price supports for wheat, when if they had maybe more farmers would have kept growing it.  Also, the World Food Program dumpped foreign (including U.S.) wheat onto the market, further depressing the price.  Why not buy Afghan wheat for distribution.  One of the problems for farmers is the cost of transporting their wheat, had the WFP paid for the transportation it would have greatly helped the farmers.

    Poppy eradication drives up the price for what remains and is good for the poppy traders.  Eradication only hurts poor farmers and never impacts on the availability of poppy.  Eradication at most might cut 20% off a bumper crop.  BTW, the U.S. paid drug merchants (warlords and other government appointees) to destroy crops.  Do you think they destroyed their own crops, or those of their buddies.  No, they destroyed the crops of poor farmers who had no political say in the process.  We waste millions of dollars on failed policies, that go to support the people we wish to defeat.

    The answer is to look the other way.  Price supports for wheat would help too; and it would be cheaper for us to buy and destroy the poppy than our current failed policy.

    in most of the world, there is un-met need for morphine-based pain-killers. Were the US & other Western doners willing, they could kill two birds with one stone: stabilize poppy crop prices and supply pain reducing medicine to very low income people.

    Juan Cole Warns Obama on Afghanistan (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by bmc on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 08:59:17 AM EST
    Must Read:


    Obama is saying the wrong things about Afghanistan.

    He hit the right notes during his swing through Iraq, but his plans for that other war could mean trouble.

    By Juan Cole

    Jul. 23, 2008 | Barack Obama's Afghanistan and Iraq policies are mirror images of each other. Obama wants to send 10,000 extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but wants to withdraw all American soldiers and Marines from Iraq on a short timetable. In contrast to the kid gloves with which he treated the Iraqi government, Obama repeated his threat to hit at al-Qaida in neighboring Pakistan unilaterally, drawing howls of outrage from Islamabad.

    But Obama's pledge to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan will not be easy to fulfill. While coalition troop deaths have declined significantly in Iraq, NATO casualties in Afghanistan are way up. By shifting emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan, would a President Obama be jumping from the frying pan into the fire?

    Obama is a front man for escalating (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Salo on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:14:58 PM EST
    the war in central asia.

    Juan Cole needs to wake up.

    The war in Iraq is winding down, and the war for central asia is heating up.

    This time the Dems are going to do the selling.


    And How! (4.00 / 1) (#21)
    by lentinel on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 02:56:30 PM EST
    "...his plans for that other war could mean trouble."

    So far, what I get is that Obama will withdraw troops from Irag - and send them to Afghanistan. He is using the same rhetoric as Bush. This is a war we must win. It is a war against terrorism - etc. ad nauseam.

    What I really don't understand is why the so-called netroots isn't up in arms against this jingoistic bellicose stupidity.

    Why is there such an attachment to Obama - who has such little attachment to progressive or peace-loving causes?

    It is beginning to seem truly sick to me. A kind of dementia.


    Afghan opium & USA foolishness (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by wurman on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 09:23:23 AM EST
    1st, Pres. Karzai is a warlord.  2nd, his government is  more functional than "merely" running Kabul.  3rd, Afghanistan is organized on a regional basis with "levels" of administration down to units as small as districts & cities.  4th, a majority of officials in the regions, districts, & cities actively support Karzai & his policies.

    Obviously, Karzai is more than the mayor of Kabul if he can de-rail & defeat the opium eradication plans of Schweich & his drug-fighting bureaucrats from Washington DC.  Clearly, Pres. Karzai can control Helmand & Kandahar provinces, so perhaps he can manage a few other areas also . . . ?  And to imply that illiterate Afghan farmers are somehow making geo-political & strategic decisions about crop selection is hysterical.

    It appears as if Schweich is a Bu$hInc anti-drug bureaucrat, with some "ambassadorial," status who is in a turf war with the Pentagon over budget & resources.  His dismissive & dis-respectful statements about Pres. Hamid Karzai seem quite extraordinary.  It is unlikely that published accusations would be made without high-level approval.

    Schweich's comments on NATO Commanders, specific allies, the US commanding general(s), & the Karzai government seem to indicate that he has no fear of reprisals within the administration--or he sees his career ending in 4 months anyway.

    Even so, his eradication plan is doomed.  His need for helicopters will go unmet.  And his diatribe will result in less funding as the people he has insulted will work against his plans within the congressional committees.

    Finally, it has been rumored for decades that "Other Government Agencies" profit from the narcotics trade & have vested interests in keeping the production up, prices high, & interdiction very low.  Looks like "business as usual" for the traffickers, despite this oppo.

    Isn't Opium A Weapon of Mass Destruction? (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by john horse on Mon Jul 28, 2008 at 12:43:33 AM EST
    Over three years ago, I wrote the following comment about Afghan opium cultivation in Talkleft.
    Explain something to me. Afghanistan is the only drug producing country that we have direct military control over. Why has opium production exploded over there? Isn't the opium that is grown there like a dagger aimed at the heart and soul of American youth?

    I am still waiting for an explanation.  Its not like acres of opium poppies are that hard to spot.  Why are we still talking about this three years later?

    Ask Ollie North (none / 0) (#24)
    by squeaky on Mon Jul 28, 2008 at 11:49:57 AM EST
    He should have the answer.

    What a disaster (4.66 / 3) (#1)
    by Dadler on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 12:04:44 AM EST
    Just what Afghanistan needs, the numbskull American drug strategy.  We're such f*cking idiots.  So now what, we surveil the entire wasteland to find flowers.  Lovely.  Why not just make heroin legal and let the price tumble to nothing?  You'd think we'd have learned that little lesson about prohibition when we repealed our own about seventy years ago.  Did I mention what idiots we are?  Unbelievable.

    because the agriculture industry (none / 0) (#10)
    by cpinva on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 03:41:34 AM EST
    would raise holy hell if they did.

    U.S. policy was to not allow price supports for wheat,

    the bottom line here is that the current administration hasn't got a clue what to do about afghanistan. they never planned beyond getting rid of the taliban, just as they never planned beyond deposing saddam in iraq.

    in case you haven't noticed, republicans, as a group, don't tend to dwell much on the long-term. like their corporate supporters, their main concern is what's the next quarter's earnings per share and dividend?

    bush and his cronies have taken a pretty decent situation, inherited from clinton, and damn near destroyed the country and the military.

    they've tried every bad "conservative" economic approach, and proved, beyond any reasonable or unreasonable doubt, that they are the most incompetent bunch to ever darken the hallways of washington.

    their gross mismanagement is either inspired, or just plain stupid beyond the pale.

    Legalization? (none / 0) (#12)
    by lentinel on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 06:00:11 AM EST
    What about legalization?
    Then we wouldn't have to go around killing people.

    Have you seen those old movies where the Feds burst into a warehouse and start shooting with machine guns, slaughtering the guys who are brewing beer?

    Don't we have better things to do?

    ah, the irony... (none / 0) (#15)
    by p lukasiak on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 08:11:23 AM EST
    Here's a Timesonline article about the opium farmers joining forces with the Taliban as a result of forced eradication of their crops

    The Afghan resistance/Northern Alliance has all but disappeared until the Taliban took a hard line on poppy cultivation.  

    I thought Iraq was a cluster**, what with the whole Sunni/Shia thing... but when/if a Taliban/opium grower alliance forms, we're looking at a rerun of the USSR's experience in Afghanistan.

    The "best" part is that Europe is the primary market for Afghan produced opium and its derivatives - its our NATO allies that suffer the social/economic costs of heroin addiction arising from the Afghan drug trade.

    This is a Drug Warrior with Myopia (none / 0) (#22)
    by msaroff on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 10:14:13 PM EST
    Sorry to pimp my own blog post here, but when you look at his prescriptions, they come down to:
    • Massive spraying of crops.
    • No payments to farmers.
    • Militarizing the anti-poppy effort.

    This is just a drug war hard liner being an monomaniac, and not giving a damn about the issues that complicate the situation in Afghanistan.

    Thomas Schweich just wants to spray defoliants, and doesn't care about anything else.