Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Poppy Farming in Afghanistan

Out of all the various pro and con arguments on how NATO's can effectively deal with the abundance of poppies being grown in Afghanistan, I have to say that Anne Applebaum has a pretty good answer on what is needed to effectively cut down illegal activity while keeping the local population happy. Here's what she noted in her most recent column over at Slate:

Yet by far the most depressing aspect of the Afghan poppy crisis is the fact that it exists at all—because it doesn't have to. To see what I mean, look at the history of Turkey, where once upon a time the drug trade also threatened the country's political and economic stability. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could bring down the government. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey—this was the era of Midnight Express—was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.

As a result, in 1974, the Turks, with U.S. and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine, and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes. You wouldn't necessarily know this from the latest White House drug strategy report—which devotes several pages to Afghanistan but doesn't mention Turkey—but the U.S. government still supports the Turkish program, even requiring U.S. drug companies to purchase 80 percent of what the legal documents euphemistically refer to as "narcotic raw materials" from the two traditional producers, Turkey and India.

Why not add Afghanistan to this list? The only good arguments against doing so—as opposed to the silly, politically correct, "just say no" arguments—are technical: that the weak or nonexistent bureaucracy will be no better at licensing poppy fields than at destroying them, or that some of the raw material will still fall into the hands of the drug cartels. Yet some of these problems can be solved by building processing factories at the local level and working within local power structures. And even if the program only succeeds in stopping half the drug trade, then a huge chunk of Afghanistan's economy will still emerge from the gray market, the power of the drug barons will be reduced, and, most of all, Western money will have been visibly spent helping Afghan farmers survive instead of destroying their livelihoods. The director of the Senlis Council, a group that studies the drug problem in Afghanistan, told me he reckons that the best way to "ensure more Western soldiers get killed" is to expand poppy eradication further.

While I'm generally a fan of eliminating all aspects of the illegal drug trade, I have to say that I'm all for the policy of making the cultivation of poppies legal. Now the reason why I support this is the fact that the cultivation of these products actually provide legitimate medicines and painkillers which if conducted in a proper method could also provide a healthy living for the impoverished people of Afghanistan(If they can wrestle this away from the nefarious elements of the country). It might go against the principles and policies that we have established in fighting the "War on Drugs" in Central and Southern America but I'm guessing that fighting terrorists and keeping or turning Afghans in our favor far outweighs what we can achieve in destroying such an abundant cash crop. Legalizing poppy grow and making a living out of the production sure beats having more smack on the streets of America and Europe. Maybe someone in NATO, the Pentagon, the NSC, or White House is paying attention to Applebaum's work.

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