Sunday, August 3, 2008

Emerson: Burning poppy crops not the solution to Afghanistan's poppy crisis.

Burning poppy crops not the solution to Afghanistan's poppy crisis: Emerson

For once I must agree with Emerson. The U.S. likes to tear up or use herbicide to eradicate opium poppies claiming with some justification that sale of opium helps to finance the Taliban.
However, it also helps finance the Karzai government and the warlords that are part of the supposedly democratic government that we are supposed to be protecting.
Some even on the left have the idealistic view that we can help promote a good clean drug free Afghanistan. Right we can help the Yanks yank out all those horrible poppies. Well at least the Conservatives aren't idiotic enough to buy into that vision. This policy of course would be imposed upon the Afghans against their will. That seems not to matter somehow. It is all for their own good.
What such a policy will do will be to recruit more to the Taliban cause and probably even an understanding between the government and the insurgents that they will do everything possible to stop the process. By the way there is no poppy crisis in Afghanistan. The crisis is in the minds of foreigners. Opium poppies for Afghans are a huge cash cow. Destroying the poppy crops would bring a real crisis.
Note the not very subtle criticism of Karzai in this article and note that the U.S. is becoming impatient with him. The real problem with Karzai is that he is not a good enough puppet. He even complains of U.S. bombing that kills civilians. The U.S. is already grooming the next Afghan president Zalmay Khalilzad a faithful servant of the Bush administration.

By Murray Brewster, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Burning poppy crops in southern Afghanistan is not the way to stem the tide of opium and heroin coming out of the war-ravaged region, Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson said Sunday.

Speaking on CTV's "Question Period," Emerson said the solution might be to step up interdiction efforts at the processing and shipment levels as illegal drugs make their way out of the country.

"We all agree with the fundamental need to deal with this problem and I know Canada is prepared to step up and be part of a solution," Emerson said.

"Does it necessarily mean going out burning crops - or whatever the latest technique is - I'm not sure about that."

Canada is facing increasing pressure from the United States to support more determined poppy eradication efforts, specifically chemical spraying from the air.

Behind the scenes the Americans have urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the last two years to accept chemical spraying as a way to reverse the bumper crops of opium-producing poppies.

Taliban militants use profits from the illegal drug to buy weapons and explosives. A recent United Nations report estimated insurgents reap as much as $100 million in profits from trade in illegal narcotics and exports from Afghanistan account almost 90 per cent of the world's heroin.

Emerson says NATO is trying to win over the support of ordinary Afghans, including farmers, and burning the crops of people who aren't able to grow anything else won't make very many friends.

But a senior U.S. State Department official disagreed.

Thomas Schweich, the American co-ordinator for Afghan counternarcotics and justice reform who has been given an ambassador's title, says the notion that destitute farmers would be hurt by more strident eradication efforts is wrong.

"This myth of the poor farmer has been used as an excuse to avoid eradication," he said.

A few years ago the idea might have had some credibility, but the drug trade evolved, Schweich told CTV.

"If you look at the data, it is not the poor farmers in Afghanistan who are growing the poppy," he said.

"The poor farmers have taken advantage of the (alternative crop) programs we've offered and turned away from poppy. The poorest parts of Afghanistan do not cultivate poppy, but the rich parts of Kandahar, the Helmand Valley, a fertile part of Afghanistan; that's where all of the opium is being cultivated."

Karzai has argued that destroying large numbers of poppy fields would drive poor farmers to the arms of the Taliban.

Schweich said wealthy landowners and even corrupt government officials are taking advantage of the poppy trade.

His comments, which were also laid out in a recent New York Times opinion piece, reflect a growing impatience in the U.S. for the Afghan government to take a hard line on corruption.

At a recent international donors conference in Paris, Karzai pledged - at Canada's insistence - to tackle the problem.

But Schweich has his doubts, accusing Karzai of tacitly supporting the drug lords of southern Afghanistan for fear alienating his political power base.

Emerson dismissed the argument, saying Karzai is the elected president and the Canadian government supports him.

One of the people most often cited in U.S. and British claims of corruption is the president's half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is head of the provincial council in Kandahar.

A U.S. report leaked to the media last year accused him of "facilitating" the smuggling of narcotics.

Schweich was careful Sunday not repeat the claim, saying Wali Karzai "has not been charged or indicted."

But he said Canadians, who've seen 88 soldiers die since the beginning of the Afghan mission, should be "hopping mad" about the corruption that's undermining the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

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