Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Opium Poppies Are the Talibans' Money

Evidently, opium poppies is the sinews of the Talibans' insurgencies. The fact that both of them are the NATO's targets is not a matter of dispute.

According to statistics published in the latest report from the United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium poppy cultivation is posing a problem to the North-Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) troops in a post-Medieval country called Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, the UNODC considers Afghanistan as the world's leading drug producer.

However, it's important to know that 13 provinces out of 34 are considered as being drug free. The UNODC's latest report on Afghanistan says that "despite massive poverty, opium cultivation has diminished." Moreover, "the number of opium-free provinces [has] more than doubled, from 6 last year to 13 in 2007."

Opium production per province in Afghanistan.

These 13 drug free provinces are actually part of provinces that are very well-secured while the South West is seen as being "lawless". Nonetheless, in Canada, the mission in Afghanistan leaves some of us with an impression of failure. In many Afghan provinces, opium poppies cultivation happens under the very noses of the NATO's troops.

First of all, the net opium poppy cultivation was at 193,000 ha this year, an increase of 17% in comparison with last year. Secondly, while 448,000 households were involved in this criminal activity in 2006, they're now at 509,000 according to the UNODC's report. Above all, 3.3 million Afghan are cultivating opium poppies.

Frightening is the fact that the Helmand province (where British troops are deployed) "has become the biggest source of illicit drugs in the world", according to the Independent. Moreover, 53% of all the production of opium poppies comes from this province.

Evidently, opium poppies is the sinews of the Talibans' insurgencies. The fact that both of them are the NATO's targets is not a matter of dispute.

As opposed to what a certain cunt believes, drug production mostly happens in the Southern regions of Afghanistan with a production rate of 69%. This happens because Talibans - who are also active along the Pakistani border - have no difficulty to affirm their presence in the provinces of Hilmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Day Kundi, Zabul, Farah and Nimroz (154,981 ha). Not only security conditions in some areas of these provinces raise fear, but they're also inaccessible to the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGO).

Notice that from 1996 to 2000, opium poppies (which reached 15,000 tons) was the Talibans' sole source of foreign exchange. However, in July 2000, the Talibans' leader, Mullah Omar, banned the production of opium poppies (not its exportation) by saying that it's against Islam. Now, the Talibans' mood has changed and they're using this drug to suit their interest: buying weapons and paying militia men.

The UNODC's report shows that while many poor provinces abandoned opium poppies production, many wealthy provinces (starting with Hilmand and Kandahar) stay in this illicit activity. In other words, poverty generally has nothing to do with opium poppies production in Afghanistan. The provinces in which these activities take place are mostly in the South and many of them are wealthy.

Changes in opium production in Afghan provinces.

This leads us to one question: was it Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War, who said that weakening your enemy from inside is a key to win a war?

Of all the ways, we can think about proceeding to a tougher eradication. However, how do you demonstrate to wealthy farmers (who are supposed to collaborate with the NATO's troops, mind you) in the south-west of Afghanistan that other agricultural activities pay off? In short, only 19,047 ha was eradicated.

Secondly, opium is what it takes to make heroin. To make this drug, precursors needed for the conversion of opium are imported from neighbouring countries. So far, many drug markets and heroin laboratories in Afghanistan are just waiting to be destroyed. However, how is it possible to control the border crossing points between Afghanistan and neighbouring countries?

There are so many questions. The objectives of the mission in Afghanistan are clear. In order to guarantee success, the NATO needs to re-check the way to fight its war on two fronts: Talibans themselves and drugs.

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