Friday, February 8, 2008
Just Say No
For those of you who remember, the phrase “just say no” was the catch phrase coined by former American First Lady, Nancy Reagan as a part of the war on drugs. Aimed at preventing children from experimenting and becoming addicted it was a simple and straightforward message.
Although Afghanistan is the frontline for the War on Terror, it is also the frontline for the war against drugs. In 2007 it was estimated that 93% of the world’s opium was produced in Afghanistan. Although the Taliban regime maintained a strict stance against the cultivation of drugs while they were in power, the drug trade now provides them with a great source of revenue in order to pursue their fundamentalist ideas. It is a criminal enterprise that assists them to maintain operations while simultaneously causing a great deal of concern for coalition forces.
For the most part, it is not the Taliban themselves that produce the opium. Instead, they offer local farmers a certain amount of money to do the work for them. I tend to believe that the offer is most likely to be accepted as it is likely to be much more beneficial for the farmer to accept. Perhaps there are some that do it willingly, but I really cannot offer any informed opinions on that particular matter. From there, the raw plants are cultivated and are then sent out into the world drug markets.
This of course poses many problems for coalition forces as well as world governments. Various attempts have been made to curb the problem. For the most part, the solution of choice thus far has been simple - aerial spraying of pesticides in an attempt to kill the plants. However, this has proven to be less than effective. First, it is difficult to police and spray in a country as large as Afghanistan and more importantly, it leaves the farmers with no source of income and is counterproductive to winning their hearts and minds.
Various international organizations have examined this issue and have made differing recommendations. One of their recommendations is to provide farmers with an alternative crop in order to allow them to sustain their livelihood. However, this option presupposes that farmers are growing drugs of their own free will and can be convinced to change their minds. Yet, for those who do not participate of their own free will, an alternative to growing drugs will likely result in death as the Taliban will likely view their actions as collusion with international forces.
The second recommendation is for the international community to buy the drugs directly from local farmers and to use it for medicinal purposes. This recommendation may have some merit but again, one must wonder what will befall a farmer that chooses to sell his crop to legitimate international buyers as opposed to the Taliban. Second, it legitimizes the practice and there may be governments who have reservations about appearing soft on curbing the world’s drug problems. Finally, this could result in a bidding war between various governments and the Taliban potentially placing large sums of money into the hands of individuals who may be aligned with those who we are trying to fight.
In the end, there is no easy solution. It is a problem that needs to be solved if substantial gains are to be made in the country. It gives new meaning to the old adage we were taught throughout our childhood, “winners don’t use drugs”.
The photo included above is a case of drug running gone sour. The white bags in the photo contain roughly $1.5 million of raw opium. The suspects were caught by the Afghan National Army at a local checkpoint and were quickly detained. Although, not proven, the individuals were suspected of having ties to the Taliban.