The May 20 NATO summit in Chicago was dominated by the issue of Afghanistan. Amidst all the talk about withdrawing international combat troops by 2014, funding the Afghan National Security Forces beyond 2014, and a doubtful political settlement with the Taliban, one subject was absent from the formal agenda: drugs.
Yet in few other countries is the drugs trade so entrenched as it is in Afghanistan. Accounting for between one-quarter and one-third of the national economy, it is an integral part of the insecurity blighting Afghan life for the past 30 years.
Debate may continue for years as to whether the Western intervention in Afghanistan has made the world safer or more insecure in the post-9/11 era. But it has not only done nothing to reduce global supplies of illicit opium; rather, it has made the problem worse.
The international drugs-control regime, in place since the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs came into effect, rests on prohibiting use in consumer countries and reducing supply in producer states. In Afghanistan, the source of around 60 per cent of the planet's illicit opium and 85 per cent of heroin, the latter objective may never be achieved to any meaningful degree.
The boom years for Afghan poppy cultivation began in the 1970s, thanks to political instability in Southeast Asia's fertile 'Golden Triangle' and bans on the crop in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan. The Soviet invasion in late 1979 gave local warlords an incentive to plant opium poppies to fund their insurgency against Moscow.
In the three decades since, with few other sources of income, opium production has come to provide for up to half a million Afghan households. The poppy is a hardy, drought-resistant plant, much easier for farmers to grow than saffron and more profitable than wheat. Both have been offered as alternative crops, but with only limited take-up. The criminal networks that have sprung up around the drugs trade provide farmers with seeds, fertiliser and cash loans; in short they offer an alternative welfare system. The principal growing regions, the southern Pashtun-dominated provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, are also Taliban strongholds.
For all these reasons, NATO efforts to eradicate opium - either by aerial spraying or manually- have alienated the population. Indeed, they have often had to be abandoned in the face of popular resistance. Crop disease did more to reduce opium production in 2010 than NATO's counter-narcotics strategy. The United Nations recently reported there had been a 61 percent rebound in opium production in 2011, and prices were soaring. This is a worrying trend, which seems set to continue after NATO troops leave.
Drug seizures, while rising, still account for less than 5% of opium produced. As a general rule, the United Nations estimates, law-enforcement agencies need to interdict about 70% of supplies to make the drugs trade less financially attractive to traffickers and dealers. In any circumstances, this is an extremely challenging objective. In the large swathes of Afghanistan where the central government and security forces wield no control, it is completely unrealistic. Meanwhile, no major trafficker has yet successfully been prosecuted due to a widespread culture of impunity.
Alternative approaches have been proposed. Most recently, in May 2012, Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimov proposed that opium should be purchased directly from Afghan farmers to either be used in the pharmaceutical industry or to be destroyed. He also called on other countries to do the same in a move he deemed essential to fight drug trafficking and narcotics-fuelled terrorism. But this option was tried in 2002 when the United Kingdom had the lead on narcotics reduction, and had to be abandoned in the face of evidence that the purchasing programme constituted a perverse incentive to increase production. Licit production of opium for medical purposes may be a long-term option for Afghanistan, but not while current conditions of high insecurity and pervasive corruption persist.
In the West, the drugs scourge is mostly thought about in terms of the lives lost, opportunities wasted and the social disruption created through addiction. In fragile and impoverished nations such as Afghanistan, drugs create a shadow state, fuelling institutional corruption, instability, violence and human misery. The Taliban, which banned the planting of opium in 2001, was deriving an estimated U.S. $125 million per year from the business by 2009. It has been an equally important revenue stream for former warlords whose inclusion in the administration of President Hamid Karzai NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has done little to oppose. Such individuals have a powerful vested interest in state weakness to the obvious detriment of good governance and institution-building. And all these actors are likely to maximise revenues from opium production in the run-up to the 2014 NATO/ISAF drawdown to hedge against an uncertain future.
A trade in which so many have vested interests will never be unwound simply or swiftly.
What drives it is its huge profitability, a consequence of continuing Western demand. No-one can confidently predict the consequences of changing the drugs prohibition regime. The current approach has not achieved the 1961 Single Convention's objectives. But has had the unintended consequence of perpetuating and increasing corruption and instability in parts of the world least equipped to deal with the consequences. Perhaps our collective experience in Afghanistan should serve as the basis for a serious rethink of global drugs policy? This would involve a cost/benefit analysis of current policies, scenario planning of the impact of alternative approaches and a much greater focus on demand reduction in consumer states. The issue of narcotics needs to be taken out of the silo it currently inhabits and looked at in the wider context of international security and development.
Nigel Inkster is Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He is the author of ‘Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: the Problems of Prohibition.'
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The market has recently been flooded with books about Pakistan by academics, policymakers, and journalists. Many of these have sought to explain - and to some extent apologize for - contemporary Pakistani society to the western world. Pamela Constable's Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself is the rare exception that acknowledges this goal, and then lives up to its appointed task. Western readers could hope for no better guide to present-day Pakistan than Constable, a veteran journalist who has reported extensively from Pakistan for over a decade with The Washington Post. Her new book is a sound introduction to Pakistan's contradictions, inequalities, tumultuous politics, and every fluctuating national identity.
As newspaper headlines about Pakistan policy choices become increasingly shrill, readers seeking context will find much of use in Playing with Fire. The book traces political and security developments across the country, primarily since 2007, that fateful year when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and the army's poor handling of a siege at the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad led to a spate of nationwide suicide bombings. In addition to political upheaval and terrorist attacks, Constable documents new laws, corruption scandals, media trends, civil society movements, and more, making her book one of the few holistic backgrounders on Pakistan.
Indeed, Playing with Fire benefits immensely from its author's journalistic background. The book covers those aspects of Pakistan that are rarely examined in works by political scientists or retired diplomats focused on Pakistan's security issues or regional geopolitics. Constable includes chapters on women and their divergent experiences in different social classes, upper-class Pakistanis, religious minorities, and life in rural Pakistan (in the interests of disclosure, I read an early draft of one of these chapters while Constable and I overlapped as fellows at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC).
Like good journalism, the book also combines faithful documentation with sharp analysis: Constable bookends extensive quotes from Pakistanis - whether brick kiln workers or land-owning politicians - with her own insights into Pakistan's problems. These insights are inevitably the best nuggets in the book; for example, Constable observes that the dynamics of landed feudalism have trickled down into the contemporary industrial sector, where factor workers remain indebted to their employers.
Constable's most profound insight into Pakistan is stated at the outset, in the book's introduction. She argues that Pakistanis are essentially powerless: "they see the trappings of representative democracy around them but little tangible evidence of it working in their lives." The various chapters of Playing with Fire then show how this powerlessness is manifest: in the vestiges of the feudal system, in the failings of the judicial system, in the endless paperwork of a bloated bureaucracy, in the limited circles of dynastic politics, and in the ‘honor' codes of a patriarchal society. Through characters, narratives, statistics, and direct quotes, Constable shows how Pakistanis are denied rights and opportunities in a way that perpetuates the status quo. One only wishes that with each example of a powerless Pakistani she offers, Constable reiterated the theme more explicitly for emphasis.
Interestingly, while acknowledging their powerlessness, Constable allows Pakistanis to speak for themselves in her book. The liberal use of direct quotes provides an insight into Pakistani perceptions of global trends and political issues. Numerous excerpts from newspaper editorials and columns (including one of mine) also give a taste of public discourse within Pakistan. The country is frequently faulted for its head-in-the-sand attitude towards internal security developments, particularly the long-term fallout of cultivating militant groups. But Constable's regular nods to Pakistani opinion-makers show that a spirited, if convoluted debate about Pakistan's future and identity is currently underway in the country.
The most interesting chapter in Playing with Fire documents the slow ‘Talibanization' of Pakistani society. Constable points to the diverse elements that have led many Pakistanis to equate patriotism and religiosity: the content of government-issue textbooks, the successful campaigns of religious political parties, the moralizing rhetoric of student politics, the vitriol of television talk show hosts, and the state's foreign policy. Moreover, she uncovers how Pakistani society has evolved in a matter of years from wearing its religion loosely to developing extremist sympathies. Constable shows how Islam became "hip" among university students who embraced their religious identity as a way to participate in global trends. She also notes that "poor yet pious" Pakistanis use religious fervor as a way to push back against "errant Muslims of a higher class," introducing equality in what is otherwise a highly stratified society.
This nuanced chapter is bolstered by Constable's overview of the origins and ideologies of Pakistan's various militant and sectarian groups. The book also documents major security-related events such as the formation of the anti-state Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the takeover of the Swat Valley in 2009 by TNSM, another extremist organization. With these snapshots of militancy, Playing with Fire becomes a handy user's guide to terrorism and security for those who have not followed regional developments at a granular level.
One argumentative disconnect does however emerge in the book. Constable's chapters on the ‘Talibanization' of society and Pakistan's use of militant groups as ‘strategic assets' emphasize that extremism is a top-down phenomenon in Pakistan, perpetuated as a result of state policies. But in other sections of the book, she suggests that extremist tendencies are organic-the expected fallout of widespread poverty, joblessness, and frustration. For example, Constable quotes the bitter complaint of a young man from Peshawar who graduated from a prestigious engineering school but was unable to find a job. He suggests that the lack of opportunity creates terrorists. Similarly, in a chapter about sectarian tensions and violent discrimination against religious minorities, Constable includes a rant by a butcher who denounces rampant corruption, crime, and poor leadership. The decision to include his viewpoint implies that the failure of state institutions is fostering religious intolerance.
There is an ongoing debate about whether extremism in Pakistan is a product of years of state-sponsored militancy and General Ziaul Haq's Islamization policies in the 1980s, or whether it is a contemporary response to flawed Pakistani and American policies. Given Constable's intimate knowledge of the region, a direct summary of her perceptions on this matter would have given the book even more substance.
Throughout her book, Constable draws out the clashing ideological and political stances of Pakistan's liberals and conservatives. She will be aware then that some liberals may find her book too soft on the Pakistan Army. No doubt, the book maps the fallout of the army's many dalliances with militant groups. But the chapter on the ‘murder of democracy' focuses on corrupt politicians such as President Asif Ali Zardari, dynastic politics, and the inefficient bureaucracy. Meanwhile, Constable's analysis of the Pakistan Army delves into the choices made by military dictators Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf as well as the shenanigans of the intelligence agent Khalid Khawaja. This focus on controversial characters (though compelling to read) makes the army's flaws seem individual rather than institutional. A concise assessment of the impact of military interference in Pakistan's political and economic spheres over the decades would have served the book well.
Ultimately, though, Playing with Fire is an accessible yet comprehensive guide to a country that is constantly evolving and much written about, but little understood by westerners.
Huma Yusuf is a columnist for Pakistan's Dawn Newspaper, and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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President Barack Obama has made his decision, and by the end of this year 10,000 U.S. soldiers will leave Afghanistan. By September 2012, 23,000 more shall do the same. And to ensure that Afghanistan remains secure, some tens of thousands of additional Afghan security forces will be trained by the U.S., with diplomatic efforts will follow. But whether or not the American withdrawal and the likely ensuing deal with the Taliban ends the conflict, it is certain that the consequences will have a major impact on Pakistan.
After the last American exit from Afghanistan following the Soviet war in that country, Arab jihadists took the Afghan mujahideen under their umbrella, and set up shop in Pakistan, an outcome that, given the current climate of instability and militancy, could easily happen again. As the Brookings Institution scholar Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown said about the current conflict, "an unstable Afghanistan will be like an ulcer bleeding into an already extremely unstable, extremely hollowed out-Pakistan and will encourage only the worst tendencies in Pakistan. This will severely compromise our strategic objectives." History shows that the type of substance this ulcer bleeds exacerbates pre-existing problems in parts of the country, something that is especially true in the bustling port city of Karachi.
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Following the incident in January of this year where CIA contractorRaymond Davis shot two Pakistanis in shadowy circumstances, U.S.-Pakistanrelations have remained perched at a critical but precarious impasse. Bilateralengagement surrounding Davis' arrest and controversial release highlighted themany reasons why the relationship remains fractious; the divergent strategicinterests these cautious allies have for the region, the Pakistaniestablishment's ambivalent attitude towards militancy, the public's adamantanti-Americanism, and the civilian government's inability to manage all of theabove issues.
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News agencies reported yesterday that earlier this month a senior figure in the al Qaeda-linked Indonesian militant group Jemaah Islamiyyah (JI), Umar Patek, was arrested in Pakistan, though his location, conditions of his detention, and reasons for being in Pakistan remain unknown (WSJ, BBC, AP, AJE, AFP, Reuters). Indonesia has sent officials to identify and possibly take home Patek, who allegedly spent time in training camps in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s, and is believed to have played an important role in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that left 202 dead, including seven Americans (NYT, AP).
The residents of Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, are no strangers to death and destruction. One of its most popular bazaars was bombed in the 1980s. Its parks have been strewn with human flesh. Its roads have been full of men shooting blindly at anyone and everyone. Its alleyways have been home to bodies in gunny bags.
Over the past few decades, Karachi's battle-weary citizens have grown familiar to the depressing series of headlines, and now, to "targeted killings." Over 1,000 people were killed in the first ten months of 2010, a 15-year high, and 43 people have been killed since March 18.
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The ongoing Cricket World Cup being played out in the Indian Subcontinent has had its share of interesting matches and story lines (for a primer on cricket rules and terms, look here). But none has been more gripping and fascinating than the very unlikely march of Pakistan, who just trounced the West Indies by a record margin, to become the first team to reach the semifinals. They have gotten to this stage in considerable style, having previously beaten the reigning world-champions, Australia, and one of the tournament favorites, Sri Lanka, in the group stages. Pakistan won their quarterfinal without losing a single player out of eleven in what commentators are describing as the most resounding drubbing ever delivered in the World Cup knockout stage.
And yet, as ominous as Pakistan's progress in this World Cup has been, this is a team that emulates its country's ability to generate controversy. In just the last four years alone, Pakistan has lost its best players to a match-fixing scandal last summer, faced an international ban on domestic games that started after the armed terrorist assault on the visiting Sri Lankan team in 2009, suffered the mysterious death of their coach during the previous World Cup in 2007, lost a budding player to death threats from a country-wide gambling mafia, suffered the ignominy during the recent Middle East crises of having their largest stadium named after a certain Libyan despot, and had their best players resort to constant infighting, faking injuries and getting caught for using opium, marijuana and anabolic steroids. With a squad short on superstars, confidence and credibility, Pakistan's cricket team entered this tournament as a freak show of sorts. And yet, as is historically true of the Pakistani cricket team, "the most interesting team in the history of sport" in the words of Guardian writer Rob Smyth, their raw talent has overcome all controversy and surpassed just about every opponent so far.
Pakistan's date with destiny has set up what could be one of the most highly anticipated matches in recent history. If India beats Australia in their quarterfinal tomorrow, which they are favored to do, then these two archrivals will face each other in the semifinals to be played on Mar. 30 in Mohali, India. Pakistan last played on Indian soil in 2007; however, following the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, India's team cancelled their tour of Pakistan, and Pakistani players have been barred from participating in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
Even in the event that Australia defeats India and this potentially epic match does not take place, concerns about Pakistan's semifinal appearance have already been raised. In previous tours, Hindu fundamentalists have dug up pitches where Pakistan was scheduled to play, and threatened to disrupt matches involving Pakistan in India before this tournament even began. Reflective of these concerns, in a press conference held immediately after Pakistan's victory, the chief executive of the International Cricket Committee assured journalists that the venue would not be changed and confirmed Pakistan's match in Mohali.
For a country where cricketers enjoy incredible celebrity status, the current Pakistani cricket team is devoid of many superstars. However, losing a few to match-fixing and a great one to age might well have been a blessing in disguise. Led by a man who embodies all of Pakistan in his boisterous, inconsistent, emotional, and occasionally self-destructive persona - Shahid Khan Afridi - adversity has brought this erratic band together in a way that reminds the nation of the last time this team won the World Cup in 1992. While his brash and haughty celebrations have put off some of the old guard, like Australian Ian Chappel, Afridi brings a rare honesty to play that is devoid of the regimental professionalism of modern cricket.
Cricket is more than a trivial pursuit in Pakistan. It unites Pakistanis in a way that nothing else does. With a mix of players from all provinces, Punjabi, Pashto and Urdu, come together in a way they do at few other forums. With an identity split on religious, lingual, geographical, cultural, political and ideological lines, cricket is the only thing that truly brings out a national identity in Pakistanis.
The story of the 11 players that will take to the coliseum in Mohali on March the 30th mirrors that of the 180 million who await the next twist on their plate. In Pakistan, the absurd and tragic events appearing in the sports pages reflect a grotesque caricature of the problems Pakistan experiences every day. But this evening, by the millions, Pakistanis are hoping that the fortunes of Pakistan, the country, will follow the blossoming ‘taqdeer', of Pakistan - the team.
Haider Warraich, MD, is a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. He is a graduate of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, and the author of the forthcoming novel, Auras of the Jinn.
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Not many women can say that Nawaz Sharif,Pakistan's troubled former prime minister, tried to set her up on a date with aPakistani man. Kim Barker, the author of TheTaliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, can do thatone better: she can say Sharif tried to set her up with Asif Ali Zardari, the presidentof Pakistan.
Barker, appropriately, declined Sharif's kindinvitation; she also had to decline, sometime later, Sharif's invitation to behis latest mistress. Her surreal book is chock full of such ridiculousexperiences, whether the grabby, eve-teasing crowds ofPakistani men in Peshawar or the uncomfortably flirtatious former Afghanattorney general, Abdul Jabar Sabit. Barker, a former Chicago Tribune correspondent now with ProPublica, recounts nearlya decade of soul-wrenching zaniness, perpetrated in equal parts by the Afghans,Pakistanis, and the white people moving amongst them both, with a good sense ofhumor. This is funny stuff, it's true. But it's also very sad.
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Editor's note: This is Part II of a two-part seriesfocusing on aid provision in conflict zones. The first installment can be foundhere.
Ehsan Entezar's Afghanistan101, dryly academic though its language tends to be, is nevertheless anilluminating guide to the Afghanistantoday. As a scholar born, raised, and educated in Afghanistanbefore obtaining his doctorate in the UnitedStates, Entezar lends the insight of a native son inilluminating the realities of Afghan culture and society, and by doing so,providing some sharp clues as to the likely efficacy of the aid programs thatare allegedly "building" Afghanistan.
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Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part seriesfocusing on aid provision in conflict zones, with tomorrow's edition to focuson Afghanistan.
Although the White House was cautiously optimistic in itsrecent strategy review on Afghanistan, even for seasoned AfPak watchers, itcan be difficult to discern exactly what the U.S. strategy istowards Afghanistan. The sound bite summary "clear, hold, build" may besimplistic, but it still offers a useful starting place to evaluate U.S. andNATO efforts. The "clear" and "hold" represent the straightforward ideas (intheory if not execution) of taking and holding ground, operations with whichmilitaries are well-acquainted. The real issue, and the key to success orfailure, is defining what "build" really means, and examining how the United States andNATO are "building" in Afghanistan.
While many factors in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, for thatmatter) are unique, in a larger sense, the challenges faced there are the sameissues, with new faces, that the United States has been long been struggling with inother countries. The U.S. government clearly hopes to "build" the Afghangovernment and military up to the point that it will take the lead in battlingthe Taliban. For decades now, in countries around the world, the tool mostfrequently called on to "build" countries is aid. Sometimes aid comes in theform of humanitarian, short-term assistance, i.e. emergency food, medicine,water, and shelter, aimed at stabilizing crisis situations. In other cases, aidcomes in the form of "official development assistance" or ODA, most often adirect cash transfer from a donor government or donor institution to arecipient country, usually in the form of grants or low-interest loans, andaimed at promoting long-term growth by developing infrastructure, education,and more. In the case of Afghanistan (and Pakistan), aid to the region hasconsisted of a mixture of both humanitarian and strategic (ODA) aid.
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Last Tuesday afternoon, I spoke to a Dawn reporter who hadn't been able to eat breakfast that day because there is no wood-fired stove in his house. He hadn't had a cup of tea or been able to take a shower, and had no heating in below-freezing temperatures. That night he was only able to e-mail in part of his newspaper story because of a severe power outage, eventually giving up and relaying it on the phone after midnight.
He wasn't reporting from a small village in a remote part of Pakistan. He lives in Quetta, a provincial capital and a rare oasis of some development in a largely barren, forgotten Baluchistan. And almost a week later, large sections of his gas-rich province still don't have enough of the fuel to cook properly or heat water and are facing several hours without electricity every day.
Those sections of Baluchistan, that is, that had access to either of these luxuries before a series of attacks on gas and electricity infrastructure brought the province to a standstill. From January 9 through February 13, nearly 25 gas pipelines have been blown up, largely in the eastern districts that are criss-crossed by a network transporting gas found in Baluchistan to other parts of the province and the country. About 7 other gas facilities, mostly wells, 9 electricity pylons and a power plant have also been attacked successfully. The Baluch Republican Army, an ethnic separatist group, has claimed responsibility for a number of these incidents.
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The current session of Afghanistan's lower parliament [Wolesi Jirga] has not gotten off to the most auspicious of starts. After a fraud-ravaged election and last month's showdown with President Hamid Karzai, the country's newly-seated parliament has already ground to a halt in its wrangling over who to elect as speaker. As the system lurches from one crisis to another, many observers have raised concerns that Afghanistan's democratic system is hemorrhaging legitimacy at an unsustainable rate. But how do Afghans describe what a "legitimate democracy" looks like to them?
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ISLAMABAD -- Advocates of the current U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan deploy false choices and flawed assumptions to defend the status quo. Proponents of "staying the course" delegitimize the pursuit of better options for ending this deadly nine-year war by reducing the debate to a dubious binary: maintain a long-term counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign against the Taliban or leave Afghanistan after ignominiously "cutting and running." It is time to reframe this public discourse over the costly status quo and consider a new way forward.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently in Afghanistan and headed to Pakistan shortly, has argued, among others, that a policy of "Counterterrorism Plus" will more effectively secure genuine U.S. security objectives. He's right.
This approach calls for a much smaller deployment of forces that would focus upon al-Qaeda, including continued drone attacks on al-Qaeda and international militants both in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas. Proponents of such a plan argue for continuing the training mission of Afghan National Security Forces with a dedicated focus upon sustainability as well as continued and long-term initiatives to develop civilian capacity in the Afghan government. Obviously, this implies a sustained -- albeit a different and perhaps smaller -- U.S. presence in Afghanistan. This is not "cut and run."
The controversial October 28 joint Russian-U.S.-Afghan counternarcotics raid may be a sign that, after extensive disagreement about drug interdiction policies in Afghanistan, Moscow and NATO have found a way to narrow their differences. The operation marked the first time that Russian agents had joined their Afghan, American, and other NATO counterparts in such an airborne raid, which in this case destroyed four narcotics laboratories in Nangarhar province. The Russian government estimated the street value of the drugs destroyed at $250,000. U.S. officials, however, gave a considerably lower figure.
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has come under considerable criticism in the U.S. for his emotional outbursts and cantankerousness. Foreign Policy managing editor Blake Hounshell mocked Karzai recently for crying over the prospect that his son, Mirwais, might leave the country to live a better life. Bob Woodward’s newest book alleges that Karzai has received treatment for manic depression and smokes marijuana -- leading commentators to speculate that the Afghan president has lost the ability to lead. However, Hamid Karzai remains the only real option for crafting a political and institutional framework that will stabilize the country, and the sooner the U.S. realizes it, and stops wishing for a perfect leader to fix an imperfect war, the better off we’ll be.
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It was bound to create controversy and outrage in a country fixated with Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The sentencing of the Pakistani neuroscientist -- dubbed the ‘Grey Lady of Bagram,' the ‘daughter of Pakistan' and ‘Prisoner 650' by her supporters -- in a New York court on Thursday has riled many in Pakistan, including the government that had campaigned for her release.
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The AfPak Channel is pleased to continue a new weekly feature, AfPak Behind the Lines, where we interview an expert on a hot topic in Afghanistan and Pakistan circles. Today, we speak with Hassan Abbas about the growing threat from militancy in Punjab.
1. Your article in the CTC Sentinel last spring defined the conglomeration of militant groups known collectively as the ‘Punjabi Taliban.' We hear most often, however, about the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan militant groups based in the tribal regions. What are some similarities and differences between the two? How has the ‘Punjabi Taliban' developed since your CTC article?
First, I would prefer to tweak the title of the group to ‘Punjabi militants,' for there are many differences between the band of militants operating in Punjab and those based in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province (previously NWFP). Though this classification may sound purely academic, it has policy implications also. These Punjabi militants, who had drifted away from their parent organizations (such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Sipah-e-Sahaba), had moved towards FATA after 2005 because they considered the area safer to live, train, and operate from. These were called ‘Punjabi' not because they were all ethnically from Punjab province -- in fact, a few Sindhi and Urdu speaking militants were also present in this group. Hence, all non-Pashtuns (with the exception of non-Pakistanis like Uzbeks) came to be called "Punjabi Taliban."
Relations between Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan -- TTP) and these Punjabi militants were complicated. They never merged and the nature of this collaboration remained restricted to distribution of tasks for a limited number of terrorist attacks in Punjab. Of course, they learned from each other, provided useful information and training to each other but their larger goals remained distinct. The Pakistani Taliban are partly a reaction to U.S. and Pakistani policy in Afghanistan and FATA, whereas Punjabi militants are frustrated from Pakistan's policies vis-à-vis Kashmir. Unacknowledged by India as well as the U.S., Pakistan achieved some success in stopping militants from going towards the Kashmir conflict zone in recent years. There are some exceptions here of course, but by and large, Punjabi militants started challenging the state after getting frustrated that they were abandoned.
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Today the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released an alarming report, finding that since 2005 the number of Afghans addicted to opiate drugs like heroin and opium has doubled and that nearly million Afghans are steady users. But the problem of opiate addiction spreads far beyond Afghanistan. Last October, a UNODC report concluded that Afghanistan's poppy crop, refined into hard drugs such as heroin and opium, kills 100,000 people annually around the world. According to Russian authorities 30,000 to 40,000 of those killed are Russian citizens, a higher number than all the Russian soldiers who died during the Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s. These figures make Afghan opiates the most deadly drug in the world, with Russians the leading victims.
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Faisal Shahzad was back in the headlines Tuesday afternoon. During a brief appearance in federal court, the man accused of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square was arraigned on five counts of terrorism-related charges. At the same time, more details were emerging about the roots of Shahzad's radicalization and his suspected connections to individuals in Pakistan, including an army major and members of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Nearly three weeks after Shahzad's failed car bomb, there are at least three important lessons about what it means for U.S. counterterrorism policy.
Law enforcement is a necessary and invaluable component of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. As policymakers sort out the case's international links -- in Pakistan, Yemen, and even Jamaica -- recall that federal, state, and local law-enforcement officials in the United States first defused the threat in Times Square (with help from a few alert New Yorkers) and later apprehended Shazhad, a man with no prior criminal record, within 54 hours of the incident. This sequence of events -- which included what NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly called "seamless" cooperation between his organization and the FBI's local Joint Terrorism Task Force -- demonstrated that the effective use of law enforcement tools is a critical component of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Furthermore, a frequent criticism of the government's response -- that the administration was wrong to charge Shahzad in civilian courts because doing so would hamper intelligence-gathering efforts -- ignores one key point: Shahzad has been cooperating with investigators. In doing so, he joins the numerous other alleged and convicted terrorists -- including Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, David Headley, and Bryant Neal Vinas -- who have provided U.S. officials valuable intelligence when charged in civilian courts.
"Homegrown extremism" is a limited, but still serious, problem. Why would a 30-year-old American citizen, middle-class homeowner, and MBA seemingly abandon his life in the United States for the danger and violence of global terrorism? Last weekend, a lengthy New York Times report provided some clues. Shahzad reportedly disdained U.S. foreign policy, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shahzad had also apparently embraced the rhetoric of radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
If true, these anecdotes support a thesis advanced in a March CSIS report: A small but significant number of typically young, predominantly male, Muslim U.S. legal residents and citizens seem to have become seduced by an al Qaeda-promulgated fringe narrative that the United States and West are at war with Islam. Some have used this narrative to justify traveling abroad to fight with foreign insurgencies or receive terrorist training. If well-trained, these individuals, especially those with overseas connections, may prove particularly dangerous because they possess a sort of "duality" that allows them to flow seamlessly between the United States and foreign countries.
Most of these individuals relied on some sort of intermediary -- like an extremist cleric or terrorist recruiter -- to catalyze their violent turn. Denying these connections requires timely intervention on several levels -- capturing or killing figures like Awlaki, or preventing Internet radicalization. Policymakers need to puncture the narrative by, for instance, highlighting the fact that al Qaeda's terrorism victims are overwhelmingly Muslim.
Pakistan, a central node of global terrorism, must remain a principal focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. In the past year, the Pakistani military launched separate campaigns in Swat Valley and South Waziristan against the TTP. After years of cajoling Islamabad to crack down on militancy, U.S. officials were quick to praise these efforts. But recent allegations that the TTP was behind Shahzad's alleged plot call into question the efficacy of Pakistan's military campaigns.
Indeed, as a recent New America Foundation report noted, some TTP elements fled from South to North Waziristan, where they have grown closer to that region's militant groups, including al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network. This unification of once-disparate groups spells trouble for U.S. and Pakistani officials; as terrorism expert Bruce Riedel remarked, traditionally local outfits like the TTP act as a "force multiplier for al Qaeda" if they come to embrace global terrorism.
Administration officials readily point out that U.S. and Pakistani military pressure has degraded certain terrorist capabilities in areas like North Waziristan. Still, these efforts have been insufficient in truly rolling back militancy in Pakistan's northwest. In addition to expanding military operations against these elements, Pakistan, with continued U.S. support, needs to undertake a more aggressive program of economic, political, and social development in its semigoverned tribal regions. As long as these areas remain outside the umbrella of the Pakistani state, they will continue to foster terrorism and pose a threat to Pakistan, the United States, and the rest of the world.
Rick "Ozzie" Nelson is the director, and Ben Bodurian the research assistant, of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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A mysterious blight is devouring Afghanistan's southern poppy crop, with the United Nations predicting that the 2010 opium yield may be down by as much as one-third.
At first glance, this might seem like good news. An enormous drop in the opium yield means drug traffickers, corrupt officials, and the Taliban, who tax and protect the poppy trade, make less money … right?
Wrong. When supply goes down, prices go up. Farm-gate values for raw opium, which had been dropping after years of overproduction, have shot up more than 60 percent, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which tracks yield and values across Afghanistan.
And that's good news for everyone holding large stockpiles of opium or processed narcotics -- the Taliban, drug traffickers, and other power brokers who smuggle narcotics. The UNODC has estimated that more than 11,000 metric tons are stockpiled around Afghanistan and the region. If opium yields are down this year, those stockpiles will gain in value.
Another problem is that poppy farmers are convinced that NATO is behind the blight, which seems to be linked to an infestation of aphids. It's not enough that the fruit-eating bugs are munching through regular crops, too, or that USAID is trying to help farmers save their orchards. In conspiracy-theory-prone Afghanistan, many suspect a Western plot.
NATO troops in the south are trying to build rapport in local communities as part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's population-centric strategy. This bug infestation could breed mistrust instead.
Perhaps worst of all, such a sharp decline in farm output has the potential to cause widespread economic despair in Afghan farm communities, where most people already scrape by at very slim margins. Poppy farmers who depend on loans from opium traffickers may find themselves buried in debt.
History and experience indicates that shifting poor farm communities off narcotics takes time. A report out this month from an Afghan research center has already questioned the sustainability of current levels of reduction.
That said, there may be an opportunity here -- but only if the international community positions itself swiftly to help Afghan farmers. Antonio Maria Costa, the UNODC's executive director, is in New York this week, hoping to get U.N. members states to pledge emergency funds to subsidize poor farm families through the coming winter, as long as they pledge not to plant opium next season.
"My strong wish is for the international community to support the farmers who give a pledge to not grow opium," he told me.
That won't be at all simple to administer or regulate, as Costa himself admits, and there could be opportunities for deception and corruption, particularly in remote areas.
But not helping the farmers is an even less palatable option because financial desperation could drive them into the arms of the traffickers and the Taliban.
Right now many Afghan farmers suspect the international community has secretly caused this blight. The challenge for NATO and the West is to shift perceptions so that Afghan farmers see them as part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Gretchen Peters is the author of Seeds of Terror, How Drugs, Thugs and Crime are Reshaping the Afghan War.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to better reflect the nuances of the mysterious blight.
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What really happened at the London Conference on Afghanistan? Sadly, not much. There was a real sense of déjà vu -- much the same has been said in Bonn, Tokyo, Kabul, Berlin, London, Rome, Paris, and the Hague -- and these conferences all seem divorced from the real facts on the ground.
These events are, of necessity, political pep rallies for Western domestic audiences who are anxious to see their governments "doing something" about Afghanistan and addressing their concerns about the Karzai "government."
During the conference, President Karzai unveiled a six-point "Action Plan" designed to turn around the situation in Afghanistan. But how much "action" is really behind the political façade of his six-point plan?
1. Peace and Reconciliation
President Karzai announced the Taliban Reintegration Plan, with the stated aim to "offer an honorable place in society" to those insurgents willing to renounce al-Qaeda, abandon violence and pursue their political goals peacefully and in accordance with the Afghan Constitution.
This plan seems hastily pulled together to attempt to give the London Conference a focal point. There was mechanical support for the initiative and very little genuine political enthusiasm from Western leaders: just $140 million has been pledged for the first year.
This is surely a case of "the devil is in the details." There have been mentions of paying Taliban a flat fee to switch sides (later denied by Interior Minister Mohammed Atmar), or offering socio-economic opportunities such as jobs or training. There is no clarity and so far only confusion.
What jobs are these reformist Taliban to be offered? Unemployment levels in Afghanistan run at around 40 percent. Since neither the Afghan government nor the international community have yet been capable of providing enough jobs for law-abiding young men in Afghanistan, how can a Reintegration Fund suddenly create sustainable employment for tens of thousands of former insurgents? Or would they be welcomed where there are job opportunities: in the Afghan National Police or Afghan National Army? Surely, this would be a formula for infiltration of the ANA and ANP by the Taliban, especially given the existing problems with vetting recruits.
As for paying the Taliban to switch, the figures provided so far are not significant: $140 million for the first year will not achieve much. Current U.S. military intelligence estimates indicate that there are around 30,000 Taliban fighters across Afghanistan. Even if the Reintegration Fund was only able to reach half of these insurgents, there would be at most $1,000 paid to each Taliban member who switched. Once administrative costs, are factored in, this figure will drop even further. What is to stop a Taliban fighter from taking the money and then "relapsing," and returning to violence?
Another expected, but still largely aspirational, goal was President Karzai's insistence that Afghan security forces would "lead security of our country within the next five years all over Afghanistan." Unaddressed were the significant desertion and drug addiction rates in the security forces, which are still alarmingly high. In late 2009, it was estimated that 10,000 out of the 94,000 Afghan soldiers who had been trained so far -- 10.6 percent -- had simply disappeared. Fifteen percent of the Afghan army, and up to 60 percent of the Afghan police in Helmand province, are estimated to be drug addicts.
3. Good Governance
Expanding the reach of the central government while reforming its institutions to be accountable and effective is another worthy aim set out in Karzai's speech. However, there is no indication how this will come about. Significant portions of the country have a limited or non-existent government presence, and some areas are completely controlled and governed by the Taliban. The government's reputation for bribery and inefficiency has led many Afghans, and members of the international community, to simply bypass it.
In Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, the Shinwari tribe has agreed to fight against the Taliban but will be paid $1 million, directly from the U.S. government. The aid will avoid the local government, with whom the Shinwari are also furious for their corruption and inability to provide basic services. One of the tribe's elders declared that: "We have absolutely no faith in the Afghan government to do anything for us. We don't trust them at all."
Karzai also stated in his speech that the parliamentary elections now scheduled for September will be "free and fair," calling for the international community's assistance to be "impartial, technical and constructive," a back-handed complaint against the role of Western allies in responding to the fraud in last August's presidential election. Given that the Karzai-appointed head of the Independent Election Commission remains in charge of the election process, we should mark the notion that the parliamentary elections would be of a different sort as aspirational, at best.
Inside Kabul itself we see the dysfunction of the political process. Karzai has not been able to complete his government, as the Parliament has failed to confirm his proposed Cabinet members. Yet the Speaker of the Parliament, Mohammed Qanooni (a member of an opposition political party and a Tajik) was not invited to the London Conference, despite the need for the Karzai Government and the international community to build a functioning political relationship with the Afghan Parliament and opposition party members.
Tackling graft will be the "key focus of my second term in office," according to Karzai. Much has been made of his supposed commitment to fighting corruption, which the UNODC estimates at comprising 25 percent of Afghanistan's GDP. Karzai continues to talk of corruption as if it is being undertaken by someone other than his own government and his own appointees.
Additionally, in an interview with the BBC's John Simpson just a few days before the London Conference, President Karzai insisted that the UNODC report on corruption level was "simply fabricated."
In London, Karzai called for an "end to the culture of impunity" -- again as if this was being carried out by actors outside his government. Yet last July it was Karzai himself who pardoned five senior drug traffickers, one of whom was related to his election manager, and he has supported the mayor of Kabul despite his conviction on corruption charges.
All of this makes his bold declarations on corruption and the rule of law sound incredibly hollow, and merely part of a stage production for the international community.
5: Regional Co-operation
The need for a regional solution to Afghanistan's crisis is another lofty, aspiration. In reality, the interests and the capabilities of Afghanistan's neighbors are too divided to make this a meaningful solution. Iran's last-minute absence from the London conference underlines this point, as does the continuing hostility between Pakistan and India. And are we including Russia and China? What exactly does this " regional co-operation" point mean, how will these regional players be brought in?
6: Economic Development
Pledges to build Afghanistan's private sector and improve the country's infrastructure have been heard again and again over the past eight years. However, Karzai's speech did not mention one of the most central economic issues to Afghanistan -- opium trafficking.
The absence of a new approach to opium production underlines the fundamental problem with the London Conference. The event produced a lot of bold promises and fine words, but there is a concerning lack of detail on all of these points. The Karzai "government" continues to dismiss the problem of corruption as a Western invention; the "international community" insists on the need for reconciliation with the Taliban and then fails to provide the necessary funds.
And what of the grinding poverty of the Afghan people themselves, the lack of food aid in the South, the growing camps of displaced families, and civilian casualties at their highest level ever last year?
This type of "hold hands and hope for the best" conference has happened before, at all of the 10 international conferences on Afghanistan held over the past 9 years. In which capital will we meet next year to re-affirm, once again, our "commitment to Afghanistan"?
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Most discussion of Afghanistan's mammoth opium trade treats the problem as if it were Afghanistan's alone. Pundits blame corruption in the Karzai government. Aid workers want to help poppy farmers grow alternative crops. The military wants to kill or capture 50 traffickers who collaborate with the Taliban.
But too few take note of the fact that the vast majority of profits are actually earned outside Afghanistan. Addiction, Crime and Insurgency, a new report from the United Nation's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), pulls together some eye-popping statistics in an attempt to refocus attention on the broader consequences -- and reach -- of the trade.
The report notes, for example, that Afghan farmers earn an estimated $1 billion annually off the country's 7,000 metric ton opium crop. Sounds like a lot, right? Not really: By the time they reach their final destinations, global sales of Afghan opiates are now believed to top $58 billion, according to the report. "We take three percent of the revenue," President Karzai is quoted as saying, "and 100 percent of the blame."
I'm not letting the Afghan leader off the hook for his reluctance to investigate corruption claims within his government and his own family. But it's fair to say he's not alone in the region. About 40 percent of the opiates produced in Afghanistan get smuggled out through Pakistan, now designated a major trafficking country by the U.S. government, and about one third passes into Iran, which consumes 42 percent of the world's opium. The rest appears to leave through Central Asian states and possibly India, the report says. But there has been little media attention on drug-related corruption in neighboring states, although it's widely known to be a significant problem across the region. There have been no public inquiries.
There is also widening evidence that extremist groups in the wider region -- some of them linked to al Qaeda -- are protecting drug shipments once they leave Afghanistan, precisely the point when they multiply in value. Recent seizures, like the Aug. 23 operation in Karachi that linked the Pakistani extremist group Lashkar e Jhangvi to smuggling heroin, prove that it's not just the Taliban tied to dope. The U.N. reports the problem is heading north as well: "The perfect storm of drugs, crime and insurgency that has swirled around the Afghanistan/Pakistan border for years, is heading for Central Asia," the report says.
But there's a broader issue that often gets ignored about the narcotics trade: The real money isn't in smuggling drugs, it's in laundering the dirty money. As UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa puts it: "The Afghan drug economy generates several hundred million dollars per year into evil hands -- some with black turbans, others with white collars."
This is an issue that remains misunderstood in Washington. Recent reports by the Washington Post and the New York Times indicate that the military and intelligence community continue to label the money flowing to insurgents and extremist groups in the AfPak region as "donations." I'm not suggesting the Taliban and al Qaeda get no money from ideological sympathizers, but it's clear from my research that some of these funds represent balance of payments for drugs shipments and other smuggled commodities. As I argued in my book, Seeds of Terror, insurgents (and corrupt officials) don't just protect and profit off illicit drug shipments leaving Afghanistan, they collect money on all sorts of commodities making their way into the country as well.
And if you compare what's happening in AfPak to Latin America, it becomes clear.
Traffickers don't just smuggle drugs out, they also bring legal commodities back in (providing themselves not only a legal "front" but a way to launder cash). Additionally, large sums of money flow through informal money transfer networks (in Southwest Asia and the Middle East it's called Hawala, in Latin America, the Black Market Peso Exchange). This is how dirty money makes its way back to Colombian and Mexican drug cartels as well as the smugglers in Southwest Asia.
Of course it's incredibly complicated to untangle the good money from the bad, and the problem in Southwest Asia is that law enforcement officials only recently started trying. In the eight years since the war began in Afghanistan, there has been far too little effort to regulate commerce and informal money flows in the region. But doing so will be critical, not just to reducing crime, but also to widening the tax base for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in order to make both countries less dependent on aid.
The U.N. report makes the dramatic claim that as much as 75 percent of the heroin sold in the United States and Canada could now be coming from Afghanistan, extrapolating this figure from the amount of heroin consumed in North America, and subtracting the sum of opiates produced in Latin America. This claim is backed up by recent media reports from Canada, where the Mounties say as much as 60 percent of the dope they are seizing is Afghan in origin. But a spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says that less than 5 percent by weight of the heroin found on U.S. streets is of Southwest Asian origin. More investigation is probably needed.
Meanwhile, it's quite clear that European countries and Russia, which have contributed considerably less to the cause of stemming the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan, consume a stunning 47 percent of the heroin produced globally, the report says. The U.N. report puts the toll in perspective:
By Gretchen Peters
A new report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gives a concise breakdown of the dramatic change, both in terms of U.S. military strategy and counternarcotics policy, toward Afghanistan since the Obama administration took office.
It's worth a read, since it zeroes in on the "fruits of neglect" and the culture of impunity that created the problem, and because it pieces together various new intelligence and policy initiatives taking place to fight it. It also argues, correctly, for a new metric for measuring success in the counternarcotics fight and encourages the kind of rigorous debate the United States needs to be having about Afghanistan:
How much can any amount of effort by the United States and its allies transform the politics and society of Afghanistan? Why is the United States becoming more deeply involved in Afghanistan nearly eight years after the invasion? Does the American public understand and support the sacrifices that will be required to finish the job? Even defining success remains elusive: Is it to build a nation or just to keep the jihadists from using a nation as a sanctuary?
The report examines critical weak points in the new strategy, asking important questions:
Is it possible to slow the flow of drug money to the insurgency, particularly in a country where most transactions are conducted in cash and hidden behind an ancient and secretive money transfer system? Does the U.S. Government have the capacity and the will to provide the hundreds more civilians required to carry out the second step in the counter-narcotics program and transform a poppy-dominated economy into one where legitimate agriculture can thrive?
Can our NATO allies be counted on to step up their contributions on the military and civilian sides at a time when support for the war is waning in most European countries and Canada?
However on one critical issue, the report falls short.
It fails to answer -- nor does it provide policy recommendations to suggest -- how the Obama administration will counter high-level drug corruption among state actors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There's no doubt the narco-insurgency link must be severed, but the flip side of the COIN, not to make a pun, will be cleaning up government on both sides of the Durand Line. Insurgencies exist where good governance does not.
Noting that the vast majority of drug-related arrests in AfPak have been low-level smugglers or drug users, the Senate report says that senior officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul have declared that there is "no red line" for going after senior officials proven to be earning off narcotics.
"Our long-term approach," the report quotes an American military officer as saying, "is to identify the regional drug figures and corrupt government officials and persuade them to choose legitimacy or remove them from the battlefield."
But the Senate report doesn't say how the Obama administration plans to deal with those who resist going clean. Classified rules of engagement (ROE) have been modified to put "drug traffickers with proven links to the insurgency on a kill list," which is now said to include 50 traffickers.
Corrupt state actors won't be targeted by the military under the new ROE, the Senate report says. And the ongoing wrangle over an extradition treaty between Kabul and Washington means senior Afghan officials could face little more threat than having to go through the country's court system, which is itself riddled by graft.
Just this week, the German Magazine Stern reported that elite British troops seized tons of opium on land belonging to Hamid Karzai's half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. He told Reuters that the timing of the story was meant to hurt his brother, coming as it did just a week ahead of the elections. No doubt the timing of the report is politically explosive. But British and American officials have remained curiously circumspect about the alleged drug bust, neither confirming nor denying it.
The Senate report offers no advice for how Congress can support anticorruption efforts and there has been little evidence thus far of political will in Washington to go after the big fish. Unfortunately, until that attitude changes, not much will change in Kabul either.
Gretchen Peters is the author of Seeds of Terror, How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda.
By Gretchen Peters
In June, I met with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to discuss how the drug trade benefits the Afghan Taliban. I urged him to pay close attention to the two history chapters of my book, Seeds of Terror, warning that Washington has a habit of making the same mistakes over and over in Afghanistan.
He assured me the Obama team had consulted with a raft of experts and historians, adding with a laugh: "We plan to make new mistakes."
I am not entirely sure, however.
Broadly speaking, the Obama administration's counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan is a huge step in the right direction. Thousands more western troops have poured into the Taliban-dominated southern poppy belt to provide security, and to train local security forces or replace those who were themselves tied to the drug trade. Efforts have intensified to interdict drug traffickers, destroy opium stockpiles and confiscate precursor chemicals. The Good Performance Initiative, co-funded with the UK, provides development assistance to communities that eliminate or significantly reduce narcotics cultivation. And there is greater focus on helping farmers find viable alternative crops to poppy and cannabis.
There is no doubt the Bush administration's proposal to launch a wide-scale aerial spraying campaign to wipe out Afghanistan's poppy fields was wildly misguided. It would have not only created a humanitarian disaster, and sent tens of thousands of poor villagers running to the arms of the insurgents, it would have actually benefitted the Taliban, drug traffickers and corrupt officials by driving up the farm-gate price of opium poppy.
Recent ground eradication efforts also were a costly flop. As Ambassador Holbrooke himself explained, they were wildly expensive -- estimated to cost as much as $44,000 a hectare -- and dangerous for the local eradicators, who died by the dozens in attacks by the Taliban and traffickers. Meanwhile, wealthy landowners and the politically well connected were able to bribe eradication teams not to cut down their poppy fields, meaning poor farmers became the predominant targets.
Ambassador Holbrooke is wise to phase out the misguided Bush-era eradication policy, however stopping eradication entirely would also be a mistake.
Counternarcotics strategy is like a four-legged table, supported by interdiction, alternative livelihoods, public education and eradication. Just as a table will wobble if its legs are uneven, there must be balance between the four pillars for a counternarcotics strategy to succeed.
It's the basic carrot and stick approach: Raise incentives for people to function within the law, while simultaneously raising the risks of operating outside of it.
If you remove the threat of the stick, the strategy fails. It's not a matter of being tough, but persistent.
I don't expect a need for wide-scale eradication in Afghanistan. According to my research and a separate survey by the Asia Foundation, more than 80 percent of Afghans oppose poppy cultivation, meaning that the majority of poppy farmers will switch to other crops without complaint once security, trade and market conditions allow it.
Ironically, it will probably be large landowners who will be most resistant to change. Those who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year off this lucrative cash crop will likely respond only when the level of risk for doing so is elevated.
The British funded a carrot-only approach in 2002, offering to pay farmers not to harvest opium. It was hastily cancelled a year later, after drug cultivation spread to new regions and thousands more Afghan farmers planted poppy just to get their hands on the easy cash. Now that failed policy is again being promoted in some Washington circles.
U.S. policy has typically swung like a pendulum with regards to the opium trade in Afghanistan, ranging from ignore it, to destroy it, to throw money at it.
But just as there are a variety of circumstances that induce Afghan farmers to plant opium poppy, it will take a blend of policies to get them to stop.
The Obama administration and Ambassador Holbrooke have taken important steps towards a coherent counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan. But if they want to avoid the mistakes of history, they should seek a balanced approach, and avoid the pitfalls of simply doing the opposite of those who came before them.
Gretchen Peters is the author of Seeds of Terror, How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda.
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