Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?

From the NYT, a very interesting article. I have known small bits and pieces of this story and I see this as the new focus for us. The author is Thomas Schweich. This link will take you to his "cached" bio at State. I don't know why his bio is currently unavailable at State......but I'm guessing this article hasn't won him a lot of friends.

Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?
Published: July 27, 2008

On March 1, 2006, I met Hamid Karzai for the first time. It was a clear, crisp day in Kabul. The Afghan president joined President and Mrs. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador Ronald Neumann to dedicate the new United States Embassy. He thanked the American people for all they had done for Afghanistan. I was a senior counternarcotics official recently arrived in a country that supplied 90 percent of the world’s heroin. I took to heart Karzai’s strong statements against the Afghan drug trade. That was my first mistake

Over the next two years I would discover how deeply the Afghan government was involved in protecting the opium trade — by shielding it from American-designed policies. While it is true that Karzai’s Taliban enemies finance themselves from the drug trade, so do many of his supporters. At the same time, some of our NATO allies have resisted the anti-opium offensive, as has our own Defense Department, which tends to see counternarcotics as other people’s business to be settled once the war-fighting is over. The trouble is that the fighting is unlikely to end as long as the Taliban can finance themselves through drugs — and as long as the Kabul government is dependent on opium to sustain its own hold on power.
Even before she got to the bureau of international narcotics, Anne Patterson knew that the Pentagon was hostile to the antidrug mission. A couple of weeks into the job, she got the story firsthand from Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who commanded all U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He made it clear: drugs are bad, but his orders were that drugs were not a priority of the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Patterson explained to Eikenberry that, when she was ambassador to Colombia, she saw the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) finance their insurgency with profits from the cocaine trade, and she warned Eikenberry that the risk of a narco-insurgency in Afghanistan was very high. Eikenberry was familiar with the Colombian situation, but the Pentagon strategy was “sequencing” — defeat the Taliban, then have someone else clean up the drug business.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was arriving at the same conclusion. Later that year, they issued a report linking the drug trade to the insurgency and made a controversial statement: “Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty — quite the opposite.” The office convincingly demonstrated that poor farmers were abandoning the crop and that poppy growth was largely confined to some of the wealthiest parts of Afghanistan. The report recommended that eradication efforts be pursued “more honestly and more vigorously,” along with stronger anticorruption measures. Earlier this year, the U.N. published an even more detailed paper titled “Is Poverty Driving the Afghan Opium Boom?” It rejected the idea that farmers would starve without the poppy, concluding that “poverty does not appear to have been the main driving factor in the expansion of opium poppy cultivation in recent years.”

The U.N. reports shattered the myth that poppies are grown by destitute farmers who have no other source of income. They demonstrated that approximately 80 percent of the land under poppy cultivation in the south had been planted with it only in the last two years. It was not a matter of “tradition,” and these farmers did not need an alternative livelihood. They had abandoned their previous livelihoods — mainly vegetables, cotton and wheat (which was in severely short supply) — to take advantage of the security vacuum to grow a more profitable crop: opium.
(This addresses what I thought was one of the biggest roadblocks.)
In the area of agricultural incentives, since most farmers already had an alternative crop, we agreed to improve access to markets not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and the wider region. USAid would establish more cold-storage facilities, build roads and establish buying cooperatives that could guarantee prices for legal crops.
You really need to read the whole thing. If even part of what this guy says is true......we need to make some big changes. The author's conclusions are below.
The solution remains a simple one: execute the policy developed in 2007. It requires the following 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.

There are other initiatives that could help as well: better engagement of Afghanistan’s neighbors, more drug-treatment centers in Afghanistan, stopping the flow into Afghanistan of precursor chemicals needed to make heroin and increased demand-reduction programs. But if we — the Afghans and the U.S. — do just the five items listed above, we will bring the rule of law to a lawless country; and we will cut off a key source of financing to the Taliban.
The author cites the relevant experience of certain people being ignored by DOD because their attitude is fight the insurgency then have someone else clean up the drug trade. If we are going to "Surge" into Afghanistan....we might as well go all out.

I am also peeved by the allegations that NATO allies undermine this effort. Everyone is always screaming at us for not acting in concert with out allies. I know there is plenty of blame to go around......but you know, I don't see that most of our allies have been all that helpful in this endeavor.

I wish the author success. He has certainly changed my mind on several key points. I was falling for the "poor farmers" myth hook, line and sinker.

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