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Monday, March 24, 2008

The problem with poppies and Taliban insurgents

Opium_poppies In the Western Standard exclusive, “The problem with poppies,” reporter Colby Cosh wrote:

One of the troubling things about NATO's war in Afghanistan is that there continues to be major disagreement between the allies over one of the most important proximate war aims: namely, the interception of funds from opium poppies being used to bankroll guerrilla operations of the Taliban. Not everyone agrees with the U.S.'s determination...to pursue a policy of poppy eradication through on-the-ground violence and aerial spraying...

Bringing the American drug war to Afghanistan could eat into Taliban revenues at the expense of creating more recruits for operations against NATO soldiers--or, for that matter, terrorist strikes elsewhere...

So far the rules of engagement for Canadian soldiers forbid the destruction of poppy crops. They've had to make a tough choice between making more enemies in-country by destroying valuable plants and closing their eyes as they literally trudge through the fields of the Taliban underground economy.

In a Globe and Mail series -- "Talking to the Taliban" -- that promises to “probe the heart of the Taliban insurgencies in Afghanistan,” reporter Graeme Smith also looks at the impact of poppy eradicaton programs:

Air strikes and drug eradication are feeding the insurgency in southern Afghanistan, as those actions convince some villagers that their lives and livelihoods are under attack.

In a unique survey, The Globe and Mail interviewed 42 ordinary Taliban foot-soldiers in Kandahar and discovered 12 fighters who said their family members had died in air strikes, and 21 who said their poppy fields had been targeted for destruction by anti-drug teams.

Some analysts have described senior Taliban leaders reaping large profits from the opium industry, but [American author] Ms. Chayes said the ordinary fighters are only trying to protect a meagre source of income in a place where other jobs are scarce.

So what should be done about illegal poppy production in Afghanistan? Cosh reports on this proposed solution:

The Senlis Council, a Canadian-led economic think tank with an office in Kabul, has recently offered a tempting way of solving the dilemma: if we're going to devote Afghan and NATO army resources to annihilating a cash crop, why not try policing it instead and allow legitimate international drug manufacturers to pay competitive prices for the poppies? The logistical difficulties are enormous, but years of U.S. "eradication" in Colombia has hardly taken cocaine out of the industrialized world's nightclub bathrooms.

Read more from Colby Cosh here.

Posted by Matthew Johnston on March 24, 2008 | Permalink


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Excellent solution. The next step would be to eliminate the policing of the crops too.

Posted by: TM | 2008-03-24 10:23:28 PM

I don't know if what the Senlis Council proposes about legalizing the opium poppy crop is practical or not. What I do know is that the Harper government has stubbornly refused to meet with Noreen MacDonald, head of the Senlis Council, so she can explain her idea and how it could work. Are we so overflowing with good ideas about how to win in Afghanistan that we can afford to blow her off?

Ms. MacDonald has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and is not a peacenik who decrys the military mission. In fact her Council recognizes the need for security and supports a strong military role as the way to achieve it. So she has a lot of credibility.

Why Harper or a designated minister such as Peter MacKay refuse to meet Ms. MacDonald baffles me.

Posted by: JMD | 2008-03-25 6:59:36 AM

JMD, I think the reason is that everything a government does has some kind of political consequence. If they thought meeeting with the Senlis Council was good for them, they would do it in a heartbeat.

As frustrating as this is, we shouldn't expect anything different from them when the only reward that matters is winning the next election.

A party can be idealistic, or get elected, but rarely both.

Posted by: TM | 2008-03-25 9:29:10 AM

The invasion of Afghanistan was the U.S.'s call.
The Taliban would still be in power if the U.S. had not invaded.

When the U.S. withdraws, all NATO forces will too.
The prosecution of the war is up to the U.S., including the poppy question.
Unilaterally meeting the Senlis Council is not in the interest of any supporting NATO nation if the U.S. doesn't meet jointly with them too.

Posted by: Speller | 2008-03-25 9:41:45 AM


US Government urged to halt Afghan poppy eradication program – stabilisation in Afghanistan impossible if failing policy continues

President Bush should initiate Poppy for Medicine projects

US should help form “NATO-Plus” force – Increased focus on Pakistan needed

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Senlis Council on Monday urged the United States Government to halt plans for forced poppy crop eradication in Afghanistan, citing the drastically deteriorating security situation in the country. With the US set to restart manual crop eradication any time now, Senlis said a continuation of this failing policy would undermine NATO’s efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.

Read the complete press release here:


Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2008-03-25 3:28:15 PM

Here is an idea, get out of the business of enforcing stupid prohibition laws against opiates and any other substances that people use to get intoxicated. Humans have been using narcotics for recreational purposes for a few thousand years with no noticeable decline because of local prohibition laws. If narcotics were legal, then legal narcotics would be cheap and available locally, cutting out the terrorists in Afghanistan, as well as cutting the local thugs and criminals out of the game.

Posted by: Tom | 2008-03-26 8:31:18 PM

Its not the taliban bringing in heroin, its the US government. Its Iran-Contra in Afghanistan.

Posted by: Titus | 2008-03-27 11:53:24 AM

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