Before and after the war: Afghanistan’s indispensable opium
Fields of opium poppy stretch in every direction as soldiers with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, conduct a patrol near the village of Mir Hotak, Kandahar province, Afghanistan in 2009. Stars and Stripes April 15, 2009.
For the entire war in Afghanistan, the U.S. has moved in different directions around the complexities of domestic opium production, and now with a timetable for withdrawal, the future of the country’s historic drug trade and America’s impact on it are weighed in a recent New York Times feature.
Trying strategies like eradication and alternate crop programs have cost about $6 billion, all in an effort to slow the drug trade that corrupts Afghanistan and provides a foothold for insurgency.
An excerpt from the feature story:
The seemingly unbreakable allure of poppy profits — for producers and traffickers, government officials and Taliban commanders alike — has kept fighting opium at the heart of efforts to improve security. It drove Richard C. Holbrooke, later the special envoy to Afghanistan, to write in 2008: “Breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential, or all else will fail.”
That concern is no less serious today, on the eve of the departure of thousands of American troops. But even as American leaders continue to emphasize the importance of the anti-opium effort, some officials are privately conceding that there is little chance for its large-scale success before the end of the NATO military mission in 2014.
The story works in layers of detail, like how a bad weather season only increases drug prices and the necessity to plant more the following season, and how in 2005 British forces found nearly 20,000 pounds of opium at the office of the governor of the Helmand Province.
With the current price of opium at $320 per kilogram, the story quotes one poppy farmer in Oruzgan Province as saying there is nothing to replace the risky crop.
“The poppy is always good, you can sell it at any time. It is like gold, you can sell it whenever and get cash,” said Mohammed Amin.
Source: The New York Times