Friday, January 26, 2007

Afghani Poppies

In the mid-1980s, the price of heroin plummeted to new lows. This was a boon for heroin addicts and casual opiate users (if there is such a thing as casual opium use).

The drop in price was connected to the increase in poppy production in Afghanistan, which was the final theater of the Cold War, where American taxpayers unknowingly handed over gazillions of dollars to religious terrorists who were doing the bidding of the Reagan Administration.

American tax dollars poured to warlords and imams (including the now infamous Osama binLaden) who took control of Afghanistan and turned it into a theocratic state that would, with the fall of the Soviet Union, be bullied into submission by the Taliban.

The USSR and the USA were using, empowering, and enriching a tiny number of people in Afghanistan, which threw the populace into a spiralling poverty that left few options for earning a living. Opium production became a primary income for almost half the population.

Afghanistan is a nation of 30 million people.

They have been devastated over the past 25-years by all the major players in the are. First they were conquered by the Soviets, then liberated by the US-funded Taliban, then stabilized by religious fundamentalists money funnelled in from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The best part of this phase of recent Afghan history is that the economy began to stabilize. It was a cultural and political nightmare, but the economy was stable, which prevents civil war.

Sadly, the stabilization provided by the Taliban included the rise to power of religious fundamentalists who planned and carried out heinous attacks on civilians of the Western world.

The United States was now obliged to destabilized the theocratic regime we had empowered.

In 2002, we began our war against Afghanistan, and chased the Taliban out of power. We pretended that we wanted to catch the bad guys, but since the bad guys are the children of powerful world leaders and businessmen, we let them escape into the hills and find succor in the bosom of Pakistan (another of our not-very-nice client states).

We have empowered a new regime. Things aren't going well. Some of the people we failed to empower this time around have been empowered by theocrats who see the re-destabilized Afghanistan as a new market for their own profiteering.

The lack of stability has forced many Afghanis back into opium production, and into the embrace of theocrats who do not like the United States.

It is estimated that opium and heroin production account for half the current GDP in Afghanistan. The other half of the economy is supported by a combination of small markets and foreign aid (mostly foreign aid). But, when a farmer who is now growing opium goes to the market to buy a shovel, pail, and dry goods for his home, it means that opium production is supporting that market. So, if half the economy is based on growing opium and processing heroin, then some percentage of the remaining 50% is thriving because those poppy growers and heroin producers are buying equipment, clothes and food. I think this would probably mean that closer to 60-70% of Afghanistan's GDP is based on poppy farming and heroin production. The remaining 30-40% is foreign aid.

How does this war on terror in Afghanistan which has led to the highest production of heroin in history work with our war on drugs here at home?

Since the United States is the only nation funding a War on Drugs (one of our most ludicrous campaigns), and the rest of the world wants to actually control drug production and the drug-distribution industry, we are at odds with even our closest allies on this issue. Our draconian drug laws, which often cause mothers to be imprisoned for life whilte businessmen who steal billions walk free, prevent us from taking a morally feasible position on a global platform.

It seems to me that our reasons for fighting wars are misguided and our methods for fighting wars have never worked in the modern world.

It seems to me that we are not winning any wars anywhere. Not abroad, not at home, nowhere. Maybe we need to regroup.

Here's some interesting reading from a variety of sources:

Taliban Rising, The Nation, October 30, 2006

Afghan Poppy Trade, Trade Environment Database

Afghanistan, Opium and the Taliban, Paradise Engineering

Canadians not keen on U.S. poppy eradication plan,'s National Post

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