A new UN report about the cultivation of drugs in Afghanistan finds a “staggering” increase of 60% compared to last year. The overall volume of production has risen from 4100 tons to 6100 tons, according to the report. The UN anti-drug chief rightly urged the Karzai government to crack down against the warlords and corrupt police and administrative officials warning that a continuity in the trend could threaten democracy in the country.
This increase in the cultivation is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. Since 2001–when the Taliban put a highly successful ban on cultivation–drug production has been steadily increasing. This increase is contrary to the efforts of President Karzai–who has declared a holy war against drugs–and his antinarcotics ministry.
Although the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime appears to be solely attributing the increase to corrupt officials and powerful warlords, there are other equally responsible factors at work as well. Currently, for example, almost half of the provinces in Afghanistan are in a critical condition due to a prevailing drought situation. Many overstretched farmers in the drought-stricken areas cannot earn a living because they cannot cultivate due to a lack of water for irrigation. And, according to a government report, a swarm of deadly insects has hit many of the southern and eastern parts of the country, depriving some farmers–who have managed somehow or the other to cultivate–of their due rewards.
This has resulted in more farmers becoming unemployed and has worsened the already pathetic unemployment rate–40%.
However, in this bleak situation, one thing comes to the rescue of the overstretched farmers: opium poppy. It is something that requires a comparatively lesser amount of water and fares very well in the weather conditions prevalent in the country. This causes many, many farmers to switch to this new and better alternative although their financial gains are not remarkably better. The current increase in the production of opium can primarily be attributed to these factors. Many more farmers may teem in if the condition is not improved.
Drug trade in Afghanistan currently accounts for 35% of the economy. It is the only source of income for thousands of farmers. And merely sending policemen with sticks in their hands to destroy opium fields won’t work in the least bit. In order to see a tangible difference, the government must design and efficiently execute projects which provide solid, practicable cultivation alternatives to opium poppy. A number of alternative cultivation projects have failed in past merely because of poor administration.
The alternative plantation choice can serve as an effective first step. It could be followed by a crackdown against the corrupt officials running the anti-narcotics ministry. And, through the DIAG–Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups–,the warlords patronizing the cultivation of opium poppy could be effectively tackled.
This entry was originally contributed to Publius Pundit.