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The Poppy Problem

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Posted on Feb 21, 2008

By Marie Cocco

    WASHINGTON—Pakistani elections have reduced to rubble the Bush administration’s policy of supporting strongman Pervez Musharraf as the first, last and only bulwark against the terrorists who flourish under his nose. Neither unstinting political support nor billions in American aid ever resulted in the promised crackdown against the threat. 

    With Pakistan undergoing an uncertain political transition, Afghanistan next door provides an opportunity to make quicker and potentially more dramatic progress against what has been an unrelenting slide into violence, insecurity and corruption. The United States and its allies must rethink their failing effort to stanch the trade in illegal poppies, the Afghan bumper crop that finances the resurgent Taliban and terrorist groups in the region.

    It will not come easily because the Bush administration is convinced the current strategy of eradicating crops—plowing them under before a harvest and trying to convince farmers to grow legitimate products—is working. But there is limited evidence of that.

    Thomas Schweich, the State Department’s coordinator for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan, boasts that the $600,000 a year eradication program has eliminated 8 percent or 9 percent of the Afghan poppy crop. As a measure of success, he points to a new U.N. report that says poppy “cultivation levels will be broadly similar to, perhaps slightly lower than, last year’s record harvest.”

    The same report, however, says the “total amount of opium being harvested remains shockingly high.” And it is increasingly concentrated in the lawless southern provinces, where security is so poor that the Taliban has re-established its control, warlords rule villages with impunity, terrorists infiltrate easily—and where eradication efforts haven’t really begun because of the danger. “This year, they have force protection,” Schweich says. “They will go in to eradicate.”

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    The outlook for what happens after that is cloudy. The U.N. reported in its current survey of Afghan poppy cultivation that of 206 villages that planted opium for harvest this year, 62 percent had done so in spite of eradication measures taken in 2007. “The experience of eradication in 2007 was not a strong factor in influencing the decision at the village level whether or not to grow opium poppy in 2008,” the U.N. says.

    What emerges after two years of pumping money into an effort to eliminate poppy production is, at best, an uneven record. Poppy production has been curtailed in some regions, but seems to have become concentrated precisely where it is most dangerous to American interests. In these insecure regions, there is little, if any, distinction between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    “Southern Afghanistan is commercially Pakistan,” says Norine McDonald, the lead field researcher in Afghanistan for the Senlis Council, an international think tank with three field offices in Afghanistan. “There is no border control. It doesn’t exist. The bad actors from Pakistan are moving clearly back and forth with insurgents, weapons and opium. It’s all one problem.”

    After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States and its allies sought to block the flow of money to terrorists through sweeping new banking requirements and broad surveillance of international financial transactions. Now we leave the equivalent of a pot of cash at the terrorists’ doorstep. 

    The Senlis Council recommends an abrupt change of course. It envisions pilot projects in which farmers could grow poppies for medicinal use—say, for morphine—with the opium immediately refined into pharmaceutical form at small village manufacturing sites so that raw crops don’t get smuggled. McDonald says the United States backed this approach a generation ago, using aid to help convert opium production in both Turkey and India for medical use.

    Schweich scoffs at the idea as “beyond ridiculous,” mostly on economic grounds. Such projects, he says, would produce a “narco-welfare state” that would operate with government subsidy indefinitely.

    Still, the idea has gained tentative interest elsewhere. Both the European Parliament and the Manley Commission, an independent panel that assessed the outlook in Afghanistan for the Canadian government, have said the medicinal approach deserves at least a look.

    More of the same is almost sure to result in more of the same. Schweich says that eradicating poppy crops in the crucial southern provinces may take 10 more years. And that is an awfully long time to leave that pot of cash on the terrorists’ doorstep.   

Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.

    © 2008, Washington Post Writers Group


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By freeyourmind, February 27, 2008 at 11:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The drug trade restored by the US puppet regime!      While oil and oil pipelines out of the Caspian       sea basin were undoubtedly a factor, the bombing     of Afghanistan also served to restore the multi billion drug trade, which is protected by the CIA.              Immediately following the installation of the US puppet government under Prime Minister Hamid Kharzai,  opium production soared, regaining its historic levels.  According to the UNDCP, opium cultivation increased by 657% in 2002(in relation to its 2001 level) In the immediate wake of September 11, the price of opium in Afghanistan increased three-fold. By early 2002, the price was almost ten times higher than in the year 2000. Its called the Afghan Golden Crescent drug trade and it represents approximately one third of the worldwide annual turnover of narcotics. The UN estimates about 500 billion a year.

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By Sang Ze, February 24, 2008 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Poppies are good for you. Poppies will stimulate your economy, among other things.

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By PatrickHenry, February 24, 2008 at 5:16 pm Link to this comment

Of course the west has a major share of blame, however there is a significant and growing demand in Russia, China and even the producing countries themselves.  Opiumated hashish has been smoked in the mideast for millenia.

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By Tony Wicher, February 24, 2008 at 11:51 am Link to this comment

The way to stop narcotics traficing is to supply drugs to users registered in a clinical program as is done in European countries. This approach has been proved to work.

In Afghanistan, the villagers are just trying to make an honest living. The current “war on drugs” approach keeps the price high and makes it profitable to grow opium. That’s fine for the villagers, but it’s not good if al Qaeda is buying a lot of it and making huge profits on it as drug trafficers which they then use to finance their activities. As long as the eradication program is going on, this helps al Qaeda because it then becomes the friend and protector of the villagers. Here is where the U.S. should spend some money wisely and buy the crop.

It is stated at the outset in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” that the greatest general is the one who wins the war without ever firing a shot. That’s the kind of Commander in Chief I hope Obama will be.

There is a 50-billion-plus “war on drugs” industry in this country which profits from the drug trade just as much as al Qaeda. Could a president Obama put his people in charge and put a stop to the whole corrupt business? Or will they kill him first?

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By Bill Blackolive, February 24, 2008 at 9:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Certainly, illicit drugs making more money than anything else in the world, the US governing must keep their fingers in.  At least for a couple decades cocaine brings in more revenue than oil, and pot is the best money crop US of A.  Now we are so international etc.  These and other secrets are old, old secrets kept from the average US citizen.  I am thinking, when the 9/11 coverup gets into main US media, many old histories on many matters will bubble up.

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By A Khokar, February 24, 2008 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

Afghanistan a rugged, mostly inaccessible and arid country grows and maintains its poppy fields as her traditional cash crops since ages. In the absence of civil amenities, the dearth of jobs, tend the inhabitants to resort to such farming practices. Why they grow poppy because they are sure that there is a demand in abundance? Poppy growth is equivalent to weapon trade run by West for the third world for which special covert operations are under taken to create the weapon sales. As long as there is a demand; the supply will be right there. 

They day the demand of drug in the West will diminish the production and trade connected with it will automatically die down. The markets generating the demand of drugs are the western countries; USA markets happen to be in the lead. It is but obvious that needful is to be done to put the House of the West in order to decrease the demand.

It is nice to work out this sort of mechanics etc but we need to see that why after all US and Allied Forces are out there in occupation of Afghanistan and incurring a cost of millions of dollars each month? Certainly they are not there to keep a check or eradicate the poppy growth. Poppy eradication programmes etc are just eyewash. An additional issue floated to create the means to extend and expand the control in the country put under subjugation.

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By cyrena, February 24, 2008 at 4:51 am Link to this comment

You’ve sure got a point here Patrick Henry.

I’d never thought of this. Just buy the whole thing, and actually process and use the stuff. The Afghanis and the Burmese, and the Turks could get their money from their crops, maybe even reinvest it to plant a larger variety of the crops they can EAT, and it would in fact free up all of this other money, and federal government bloat.

That is of course, why it hasn’t been done. That’s why drugs have never been legalized or otherwise properly regulated. Too many people making too much money off of it.

Meantime, I read a piece yesterday, can’t remember where, on the plague of really cheap crack cocaine in Argentina. Same thing. They call it Paco, and it’s destroying the population. Here again, there’s a way to avoid that, but only if criminals aren’t making tons of money on it.

That’s not the ONLY reason it has created a plague, but that’s certainly part of it. As long as the demand is there, and criminals like the US government keep making money on it, they’ll continue to produce these crops.

All of the ‘extermination’ in the world, isn’t gonna make a difference.

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By nefertiti, February 23, 2008 at 4:10 pm Link to this comment

I agree with laughoutloud   the CIA is very much Involved in the Drug world . people who got involved in Digging for Information were found DEAD with a convenient Suicide Note . Both Danny Casolaro and Gary Webb who started asking questions about the CIA paid with their lives . and we wonder how they must be Benefiting right now , along with the Drug Lords in Karzai government while the Afghans die of frost bites and hunger and poverty .

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By Blackspeare, February 22, 2008 at 9:25 am Link to this comment

Paracelsus, you said…..

“You see Gorbachov gave up on Communism in the Soviet Union, because he saw the American System of socialism was much superior to the Soviet form.”

Just a point of correction, The American system of socialism is not socialism at all, but rather fascism.

Since the Russian revolution in 1917, the US has had a paranoid and myopic view of Communism/Socialism.  You have to ask why?——if the US system of government was yet the best to be devised, why fear a totalitarian form of government?  Well the answer is, maybe the US form of government is not the best for all.  The collusion of government and business serves only special interests and eventually creates a large underclass population——sound familiar.  What’s happening in Russia today is essentially fascism——government by big business.

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By laughoutloud, February 22, 2008 at 12:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

one can hope.  the question is will the powers that be allow that to happen? 

the ‘war on drugs’ costs tax payers millions upon millions of dollars per year, and a lot of that money is going to srms manufacturers who are as entrenched in policy making as the policy makers themselves benause they pay a lot of money to be there. 

its going to take, i think, much more than just barack obama to eliminate the ‘war on drugs’, but one can hope.

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By Tony Wicher, February 21, 2008 at 10:49 pm Link to this comment

Everybody knows the “war on drugs” and the drug trade are one and the same.

Will President Obama put a stop to this senseless “war” that has been going on for 70 years and put in place a new set of policies that make sense? Will Obama bring REAL change?

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By Paracelsus, February 21, 2008 at 10:33 pm Link to this comment

I reminded that mendacity is a tactic from the Trojan horse as well as the fake air field in England near some obscure, but unassaulted coast during WWII. British MI frequently broadcasted lies through ciphers they knew to have been broken by the Germans. We have entered a new era where warfare is not so much agianst nation states as it is against civilians. The word “civilians” is a term you will hear a lot. This should alert you that your country is under military occupation by the officials and the authorities. As the media is owned and controled through overfunded pension accounts which are not included in the government budgets, the government will have a lot of control over the media. In fact government funds probably control about 70% of all the share traded on American exchanges. You can look this up by searching for CAFR, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. You see Gorbachov gave up on Communism in the Soviet Union, because he saw the American System of socialism was much superior to the Soviet form.

In conclusion if you accurately feel that you are being lied to, it is because you are the enemy, yes, you, civilian.

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By laughoutloud, February 21, 2008 at 9:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i’m amazed that people haven’t caught on, after decades of the ‘war on drugs’, that the US has been implicit in the global drug trade. 

is it a coincidence that after the US went into afghanistan, their opium went from supplying an estimated 60% of the worlds opium to 90% today?

go pick up a book called ‘the politics of heroin’

wake up people.

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By PatrickHenry, February 21, 2008 at 3:28 pm Link to this comment

If the U.S. government purchased all the Afghan, Burmese and Turkish opium availible for top dollar, we would still be spending pennies on the dollars we spend now.

It would reduce the size of our bloated federal government (DEA), free up the courts and reduce the prison population.

No wonder they don’t do it.

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By Tony Wicher, February 21, 2008 at 10:14 am Link to this comment

I wonder how much it would cost to buy out the villagers’ opium crop? That would definitely put Al Qaeda out of business. The villagers would love us for it, instead of hating us for destroying their crops. Sounds like a great idea.

President Obama is a think-outside-the-box kind of guy. Once he gets out of Iraq and starts concentrating on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Al Qaeda, as he says he intends to, this kind of program could be just the ticket. We could get control of the area PEACEFULLY that way. All he has to do is fire idiots like Thomas Schweich. That shouldn’t be too hard.

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By Expat, February 21, 2008 at 8:41 am Link to this comment

Coco puffs is so far out of her element she has no business even writting one word about this subject.  I’ve had an ongoing problem with her from the get go, but this is too much!!!!!!!

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By Expat, February 21, 2008 at 8:35 am Link to this comment

^ almost laughable because it has been suggested that we “once again” buy the crop to keep it off of the market………gee, just like Kun Sa in Burma 40 years ago; but will we?  no (diminutive).  Why not?  With all of our maimed and wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq and god knows where else; surely we must need an increasingly large amount of morphine (derived from opium) for the pain of our fallen soldiers.  The stupidity is awesome; the intelligence is missing.

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By Expat, February 21, 2008 at 8:16 am Link to this comment

^ problem slowly goes away. 

More than 30 years ago the Dutch implemented a drug program that for the most part decriminalized drug use.  I don’t have the time or patience to lay out the entire program here because it would take too long and this has been well publicized in the past.  Possibly, our Victorian hypocrisy won’t allow us to even look at it (more to it than that).  The most important result was that at the beginning of the program, the average age of a heroin addict in Holland was mid twenties.  After about ten years the average age was driven up to mid forties.  The incidence of new addicts was drastically reduced.  Education and free heroin (decriminalization for those on the program) was very effective in driving down the junkie population in Holland.  How can the illegal drug trade exist if there is no black-market?  The short answer is it can’t. 

History would say there is far more going on here than meets the simple news article.  This leads me to believe there is far more to this than the news would have us blieve; and based on Air Americas operations during the Vietnam War and our refusal to buy Kun Sa’s entire opium crop (offered by him); we must somehow be complicit in this ongoing human rights disaster.  Coupled with Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair I believe “we” are up to our eyeballs in all of it.  So…….don’t believe any of this propagandist rhetoric….it’s all crap!  There is in fact a simple solution:  Legalize all drugs; tax them and use that money for education and treatment.  It would also help if governments like ours would pay attention to domestic issues and infrastructure rather than blowing the shit out of the world for Imperialist dreams.

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By jackpine savage, February 21, 2008 at 5:46 am Link to this comment

While one hand of the US government preaches eradication, the other is probably taking its cut.  We have a long history in the drug trade, and we learned it from our imperial mentors…the British.

In the GWOT, lots of activities need to be done under the radar.  These activities require money; and the worst of them don’t even look good on a black budget.  But the drug money never existed in the first place…it is the perfect financing mechanism.

Would anyone be surprised if we found out that the campaign of paying insurgent groups and arming them in Iraq was paid for by Afghan opium?  I hope not.

Remember, there is no truth in the news and no news in the truth.

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By Sally A. Bridges, February 21, 2008 at 4:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Just like eradicating the illegal drug trade from Mexico to the United States—it AIN"T gonna happen!!
It’s the economy, stupid!  Sometimes, I think the news media is as clueless as the average citizen.  Any thinking person knows that if something is illegal, it brings a higher price.  And, the harder you suppress it, the pricier it becomes.  Besides, how can the idiot warmongers keep the war going without drug money; and how would our domestic economy survive if we stopped the flow of this money.  You think the housing crisis is a problem?  We have allowed the elite money managers, the politicians, and others to get us to this state.  If we started tomorrow, we would could never fix it without rendering them all deceased, and starting from scratch.  You know that won’t happen.

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