Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Problems resulting from drug trade do not disappear after election in Afghanistan
An article from Asia Times Online (credit to Aunt Deb for sending me this) does a very good job of explaining many of the problems that are a result of the booming drug economy in Afghanistan and the ineffective and potentially disastrous way that the US has (mis)handled the situation. Most recently, there have been reports of chemical spraying to eradicate poppy crops.
It was over the poppy fields in Nangarhar province, in villages abutting the Tora Bora mountains, that aerial spraying of chemicals kicked up a controversy recently. According to reports in the media, unidentified aircraft flew back and forth over poppy fields in Nangarhar spraying "a snow-like substance" - chemicals - on the crops. The chemicals have not only destroyed the poppy crop, but also ruined fruit and vegetables that were being cultivated there, besides affecting the health of villagers and their livestock. Hundreds of villagers have reportedly shown up at hospitals with skin ailments and breathing problems.Of course, this is just a new twist on a problem that is already threatening Afghanistan and the region (not to mention the US). According to Antonio Maria Costa, director of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, "The fear that Afghanistan might degenerate into a narco-state is becoming a reality." And the approach taken by the US in Afghanistan seems not to have shed those flaws that have marred the US "war on drugs" previously.
Not surprisingly, the dusting of the poppy crops with herbicide has triggered off immense anger among the villagers, who see the destruction of the poppy crops - their only source of income - as destruction of their livelihood. The poorer farmers now face economic ruin. Who is behind the chemical spraying of the crops is still unclear. The Karzai government insists that it is opposed to "aerial spraying as an instrument of eradication" of the poppy crop and "has not authorized any foreign entity, any foreign government, any foreign company, or anyone else to carry out aerial spraying".
Most Afghans point an accusing finger at the Americans or the British, but both countries have denied involvement in the spraying. The US Embassy in Kabul insists that the US government has "not conducted any aerial eradication [of the poppy crop], nor has it contracted or subcontracted anyone to do it on its behalf". It also denies knowing who carried out the spraying.
However, few in Afghanistan appear to be convinced by the US denial. After all, as pointed out by Hajji Din Muhammad, the governor of Nangarhar, "The Americans control the airspace of Afghanistan, and not even a bird can fly without them knowing."
Afghan officials have also pointed out that the Americans have been arguing for many months now in favor of chemical eradication of Afghanistan's poppy crops. This is a strategy they have used to tackle coca cultivation in Colombia, despite the anger it has triggered among the coca farmers, and they are keen to adopt that strategy in Afghanistan.
Critics of the US-British approach have pointed out that in order to check the supply of narcotics to their countries they are targeting desperately poor farmers, while avoiding the political price that comes with taking stern action to tackle demand for drugs in their countries. Some have suggested action against those higher up in the narcotics trade chain. But this the Americans and the British have failed to do. Those who languish in Afghan jails for narcotics-related offences are the small-time peddlers, not the big players in the business. US forces have also ignored warlords' involvement in the opium trade in exchange for their help in fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban.What a mess, what a mess.