Afghanistan's new jihad targets poppy production
A US, European, and Afghan initiative has cleared 80 percent of the opium plants from one province
Last year at this time, the southeastern Afghan province of Nangrahar was covered with pink and white poppies, producing a quarter of the nation's opium crop. This year, after President Hamid Karzai announced a jihad or holy war against drugs, Nangrahar is almost 80 percent free of poppies.Skip to next paragraph
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Doing his small part, one Afghan businessman is selling an antiopium action movie "Black Poison" on DVD in Nangrahar. The locally made film combines romance, gunfire, and a message on the dangers of the drug trade.
Taken as a whole, the province is a model of what can be achieved here. Yet this regional victory in the war on drugs may be short-lived, say experts, if it is not coupled with some longer-term efforts to reform Afghanistan's judicial system, and to provide farmers with a sustainable alternative to opium.
"Nangrahar was a good example that the Afghan government can work through information campaigns to get farmers to change their habits," says a UN official involved in drug control. "But we are doubtful that reductions can be sustained. Now farmers are going to expect some assistance, and if that assistance isn't coming, they will go back to cultivating poppies."
Eradication is just one of the more visible efforts to control the drug trade. With President Karzai's government fully engaged, the international community - with Britain in the lead - has developed a multipronged approach to Afghanistan's pervasive drug industry, including:
• A public affairs campaign to transform attitudes about drug production and use;
• Assistance for rebuilding the judicial system, including the Counternarcotics Prosecution Task Force and counternarcotics detention facilities;
• Creation of alternative livelihoods;
• Enhanced interdiction efforts.
"We now have the basis of all these key elements in place in Afghanistan," says Steve Atkins, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington. "It took 30 years in Thailand, which was a much less complex program. [Afghanistan] is a great challenge and one we don't underestimate."
Britain's efforts so far have focused on an eradication and verification program, and training a crack counternarcotics police force. Germany has concentrated its efforts on training local police, especially border police, capable of intercepting drug shipments.
"So far we have trained more than 30,000 Afghan policemen," says Ursula Müeller, political counselor at the German Embassy in Washington. "Some 3,000 of them are senior officers, but the majority of those trained will work at airports, borders, and as traffic and criminal police."
But she points out that being a policeman in Afghanistan is nearly as tough as it is in Iraq. Some 600 Afghan policemen have been killed on duty since Karzai's election. "They weren't killed because they saw someone speeding," Ms. Müeller says. "They were killed because they are out there doing a difficult job."
Until now, Afghanistan has put much of its energy into a $100 million, US-funded carrot and stick approach. The stick is forcible eradication of poppies in key growing areas. The carrot is cash-for-work on rebuilding irrigation systems and other infrastructure.
Eradication efforts in Nangrahar may have had some success, but elsewhere it has either been delayed by heavy snows, or met with armed resistance. In the Maiwand district of Kandahar gunfire broke out between government forces and local farmers during an abortive eradication effort, led by the country's new counter narcotics task force, the Task Force 333, which is being trained by the American security firm, Dyncorps.
Interdiction efforts have also increased, conducted by the nation's new Counter Narcotics Police, who have destroyed 60 heroin labs in Badakhshan province and seized 100 tons of heroin in the past year. But Afghan officials admit that smugglers have stayed several steps ahead of police, creating mobile heroin labs that are much harder to find.