Headlines lawless Afghanistan/drugs


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[font=verdana, geneva, arial, sans serif][size=+1]After the Taliban
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From The Economist print edition

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]New figures show Afghanistan's opium output is rising fast[/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-2]Get article background[/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]A DELUGE of sticky brown resin threatens to submerge the new Afghan state. According to figures released on November 18th by the [size=-1]UN[/size]'s counter-narcotics agency ([size=-1]UNODC[/size]), Afghanistan has seen a huge rise in opium production for the third year running. [size=-1]UNODC [/size]puts the export value of this year's crop at $2.8 billion—equal to 60% of last year's [size=-1]GDP[/size].[/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]It could be worse. This year, 131,000 hectares of Afghanistan was sown with opium seed, a 64% increase on last year's figure. Yet the harvest, 4,200 tonnes of opium resin, was up only 17%. Western donors might like to put this down to their efforts to destroy the crop; they would be wrong. [size=-1]UNODC[/size] says eradication had little effect on yield. Only bad weather and crop disease prevented Afghanistan smashing its record of 4,600 tonnes of opium, produced under the Taliban in 1999. Nonetheless, over 95% of the heroin reaching Europe derives from Afghanistan. [/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]What can be done? First, study the failure of existing efforts. In 2000, the Taliban banned opium production, thereby triggering a rise in the market price of the drug, and increasing the value of their copious stockpiles. The ban was rigorously enforced by savage beatings. The Taliban were then bombed from power, and Britain took charge of counter-narcotics in the new Afghanistan. Its policies have been more palatable, but less successful. To encourage opium farmers to remain abstinent, a British diplomat designed a poster featuring a red opium poppy. Alas, when the poster returned from the printers, the red poppy had become a pink tulip. The posters went out anyway.[/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]Spending around $150m a year, Britain has formed an array of counter-narcotics departments and law enforcement agencies, which began functioning only this year. Money has also been spent on persuading poppy farmers to grow alternative crops, like fruit trees or saffron. The [size=-1]UN [/size]development agency meanwhile advocated floriculture—hoping to turn Afghanistan into a bed of roses. But, in the absence of almost any law enforcement, such schemes were hopeless. Even if Afghans could be persuaded to grow saffron, the country has few roads to give them access to markets. In fact, opium cultivation has no financial equivalent. Last year, each hectare under cultivation yielded 45 kilos of opium, which earned farmers $283 a kilo. This year, the price was $92—still not bad, when [size=-1]GDP [/size]per head is around $200.[/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]Neither Britain nor the [size=-1]UN[/size] can curb the opium explosion. There is only one power in Afghanistan able to enforce the law: America, which has around 18,000 troops in the country, hunting the Taliban. This year, having been persuaded that the Taliban were using opium cash to buy arms, America waded in. At its behest, the government ordered provincial governors to destroy 25% of the poppy crop in their areas. A few did so, including the governor of southern Helmand. Yet his province still grew more opium than any other. In Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, shiny tractors and [size=-1]SUV[/size]s mingle with camels and donkey-carts. The marble mansions of drug-dealers have mushroomed among the mud-brick houses. Helmand is ideal drug country: poor, lawless and close to the borders with Pakistan and Iran.[/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]America also issued an American security company, DynCorp, with a $50m contract to train an Afghan eradication team. The team's 400 members got two weeks' training—long enough, says one diplomat, “to learn how to drive a tractor and point a gun.” Operating in central Wardak province, it caused chaos. Farmers fired rockets at the team's camp, and sowed their poppy fields with land mines. Yet it destroyed 1,000 hectares of poppy in six weeks, and should be expanded next year. This week, America announced an additional $780m for drug-control efforts.[/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]Britain meanwhile pinned great hope on a top-level interdiction force, trained by its elite Special Air Service. Operating since January, the Afghan Special Narcotics Force has destroyed over 51 tonnes of opium and 32 heroin-producing labs. It has also arrested 20 mid-level drug traffickers, but, in the absence of a functioning justice system, none has been convicted. A drugs squad within the Afghan police force faces greater obstacles. When its commander tried to arrest a drug trafficker outside the gates of Kabul, the suspect summoned militiamen loyal to a senior minister. The police chief received a bloody nose.[/size][/font]

[font=verdana,geneva,arial,sans serif][size=-1]Failing the return of the Taliban, Afghan drug traders will surely thrive if no-one is ever punished. To accelerate the creation of a new justice system—currently being designed by Italy—the [size=-1]UN [/size]plans to train judges and advocates specially to try opium traffickers, and to renovate a wing of Kabul's main prison to house them. In such an approach, alongside concerted crop eradication, and a continuing development of Afghanistan's economy, lies a distant glimmer of hope. Such was the formula next-door Pakistan used to eradicate opium from its northern provinces during a twenty-year campaign. Although, according to [size=-1]UNODC[/size], opium is making a return there too.[/size][/font]

apparently the USA is just as ineffective on the war on drugs in Afghanistan as it is has been elsewhere- yet we spend billions per year anyway.
awesome isnt it?