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Southwest Asia: State Department Says US Afghanistan Drug Policy Will Shift, But Not Much

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #496)
Drug War Issues

In a meeting last week with "a select group of Washington analysts," Thomas Schweich, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, conceded that US efforts to destroy the Afghan opium industry had achieved only "mixed results" and said that the Bush administration would adjust its policies to be more effective. But Schweich's remarks suggested that any changes would be at the margins.

Chronicle editor Phil Smith interviewed former opium-growing Afghan farmers outside Jalalabad in fall 2005
Afghanistan last year produced more than 90% of the world's opium, and increased production by 49% to more than 6,700 metric tons. This year's crop is expected to be even larger. Profits from the opium trade are widely believed to fund the resurgent Taliban insurgency, as well as line the pockets of warlords, governors, and government officials. But the crop is also a mainstay of the nation's economy and a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Afghanistan's farmers struggling to feed their families.

In remarks reported by EurasiaNet, a news and information service for Central Asia and the Caucausus operated by the Open Society Institute, Schweich said that it would take at least five years to bring Afghan opium production "under control," but that completely eliminating it would be "impossible." Alternative crops for opium farmers had not been found and proposals to legalize production for the medicinal market were "impractical," he said.

Eradication had been a disappointment, Schweich said, a not surprising admission given large annual increases in the poppy crop in recent years. Schweich implicitly criticized the Afghan government for its limited success in eradication, saying manual and mechanical eradication techniques can at best eliminate 10% of the crop, while Washington wants to see that figure climb to 25%. Washington is itching to use aerial eradication against the poppy crop, but the Karzai government has so far demurred.

Still, he said, the administration's five-point Afghan anti-drug plan was fundamentally correct:

  1. waging an effective public information campaign;

  2. providing opium farmers with alternative and legal opportunities for earning their livelihood;
  3. enhancing the capacity of Afghan law enforcement agencies to prosecute major narco-traffickers through their imprisonment or extradition;
  4. eradicating opium crops; and
  5. interdicting the flow of narcotics within and beyond Afghanistan.

The program is heavy on law enforcement and eradication, an approach that has so far yielded meager results. Since Schweich has already admitted that there are no good alternative crops, it appears US opium policy in Afghanistan will continue to rely on propaganda, some big sticks, and very few carrots.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

I REALLY wish that we would just get OUT of Afghanistan and leave these people to live their lives as they have been doing for years. We have bigger problems here at home to worry about, than some poor farmers trying to make a living and support their families. There is TOO much innocent blood being spilled. They have NOT found Osama Bin Laden, they have NOT found any W.M.D.s; So WHY are we still there? They obviously are doing NO good; The Taliban is getting bigger and stronger everyday. I don't want to say anything that will make Homeland Security come after me, but, I am really starting to wonder if, maybe, I am living in the wrong country?!?! I am APPALLED at the way this whole War On Terror, as well as the War On Drugs is being handled in the U.S. and I am SERIOUSLY considering moving as far away as possible!

To DRCNet: Keep up the fight and the hard work!! At least there is someone that I feel is out there for my best interest! THANK YOU!!

O.C., CA.

Fri, 08/03/2007 - 4:43pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

You poor fool. If you read anything about Afghanistan, you'd realize that they actually want us there. They NEED us there. Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, is not currently suffering an existential crisis as to the dominance of a certain religious or ethnic group; the central government, though weak and corrupt, is united in its determination to bring peace to Afghanistan. Afghans support this mission. They hated the Taliban, they hate them still, and the United States is essentially the only thing keeping them away. If anything, they want us to do more--keep the Taliban away, provide a security vacuum for good governance to arise, and help develop the economy. That's called nation building, and I personally support that. As to whether it's serving our interests--well, if we left, how quickly do you think the Taliban would take over and invite their Qaeda buddies back in? Your mistake, my friend, is that Iraq has preconditioned you to view any US intervention as inherently evil or untenable. That's a view I simply can't accept.

As to leaving the people to live their lives as they have for years, do you mean: living under the Taliban? Public executions? No education or decent healthcare for women? Fear and intimidation? If you want the Afghans to continue living like they want to, you probably should support the US mission.

Sun, 08/05/2007 - 12:07pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I hear both your sides but its not our job to police the world...The reality is that we are there and the Taliban do hate us, Some of the Afgans like us, but we are creating more taliban loyalist and terrorist by being infadels in their shity fucking country!!! So it would be best to get out of the middle east but then it would not be as easy to attack Iran when the time comes... I would bet thats the main reason we are still in Iraq...Who wants to see any of those guys Jihad-n w/ nukes...

But in a perfect world, we should stay the fuck out of our worldly neighbors business and the goverment and police (Unless we are phisically harming someone) should stay the fuck out of our business!!!

San juan Capistrano CA

Tue, 08/07/2007 - 3:18pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, I agree with the comments, but all I have to say in order to make this world a "better" place we should fucking put more attention to the situations we are going through in the U.S and then give all the help we can give to the other innocents.

Wed, 10/24/2007 - 2:25pm Permalink

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