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Thread: Taliban Raise Poppy Production To A Record Again

  1. #1
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    Taliban Raise Poppy Production To A Record Again

    Taliban Raise Poppy Production to a Record Again

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/wo...in&oref=slogin

    By DAVID ROHDE
    Published: August 26, 2007

    LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, Aug. 25 — Afghanistan produced record levels of opium in 2007 for the second straight year, led by a staggering 45 percent increase in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand Province, according to a new United Nations survey to be released Monday.

    The report is likely to touch off renewed debate about the United States’ $600 million counternarcotics program in Afghanistan, which has been hampered by security challenges and endemic corruption within the Afghan government.

    “I think it is safe to say that we should be looking for a new strategy,” said William B. Wood, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, commenting on the report’s overall findings. “And I think that we are finding one.”

    Mr. Wood said the current American programs for eradication, interdiction and alternative livelihoods should be intensified, but he added that ground spraying poppy crops with herbicide remained “a possibility.” Afghan and British officials have opposed spraying, saying it would drive farmers into the arms of the Taliban.

    While the report found that opium production dropped in northern Afghanistan, Western officials familiar with the assessment said, cultivation rose in the south, where Taliban insurgents urge farmers to grow poppies.

    Although common farmers make comparatively little from the trade, opium is a major source of financing for the Taliban, who gain public support by protecting farmers’ fields from eradication, according to American officials. They also receive a cut of the trade from traffickers they protect.

    In Taliban-controlled areas, traffickers have opened more labs that process raw opium into heroin, vastly increasing its value. The number of drug labs in Helmand rose to roughly 50 from 30 the year before, and about 16 metric tons of chemicals used in heroin production have been confiscated this year.

    The Western officials said countrywide production had increased from 2006 to 2007, but they did not know the final United Nations figure. They estimated a countrywide increase of 10 to 30 percent.

    The new survey showed positive signs as well, officials said.

    The sharp drop in poppy production in the north is likely to make this year’s countrywide increase smaller than the growth in 2006. Last year, a 160 percent increase in Helmand’s opium crop fueled a 50 percent nationwide increase. Afghanistan produced a record 6,100 metric tons of opium poppies last year, 92 percent of the world’s supply.

    Here in Helmand, the breadth of the poppy trade is staggering. A sparsely populated desert province twice the size of Maryland, Helmand produces more narcotics than any country on earth, including Myanmar, Morocco and Colombia. Rampant poverty, corruption among local officials, a Taliban resurgence and spreading lawlessness have turned the province into a narcotics juggernaut.

    Poppy prices that are 10 times higher than those for wheat have so warped the local economy that some farmhands refused to take jobs harvesting legal crops this year, local farmers said. And farmers dismiss the threat of eradication, arguing that so many local officials are involved in the poppy trade that a significant clearing of crops will never be done.

    American and British officials say they have a long-term strategy to curb poppy production. About 7,000 British troops and Afghan security forces are gradually extending the government’s authority in some areas, they said. The British government is spending $60 million to promote legal crops in the province, and the United States Agency for International Development is mounting a $160 million alternative livelihoods program across southern Afghanistan, most of it in Helmand.

    Loren Stoddard, director of the aid agency’s agriculture program in Afghanistan, cited American-financed agricultural fairs, the introduction of high-paying legal crops and the planned construction of a new industrial park and airport as evidence that alternatives were being created.

    Mr. Stoddard, who helped Wal-Mart move into Central America in his previous posting, predicted that poppy production had become so prolific that the opium market was flooded and prices were starting to drop. “It seems likely they’ll have a rough year this year,” he said, referring to the poppy farmers. “Labor prices are up and poppy prices are down. I think they’re going to be looking for new things.”

    On Wednesday, Mr. Stoddard and Rory Donohoe, the director of the American development agency’s Alternative Livelihoods program in southern Afghanistan, attended the first “Helmand Agricultural Festival.” The $300,000 American-financed gathering in Lashkar Gah was an odd cross between a Midwestern county fair and a Central Asian bazaar, devised to show Afghans an alternative to poppies.

    Under a scorching sun, thousands of Afghan men meandered among booths describing fish farms, the dairy business and drip-irrigation systems. A generator, cow and goat were raffled off. Wizened elders sat on carpets and sipped green tea. Some wealthy farmers seemed interested. Others seemed keen to attend what they saw as a picnic.

    When Mr. Stoddard and Mr. Donohoe arrived, they walked through the festival surrounded by a three-man British and Australian security team armed with assault rifles. “Who won the cow? Who won the cow?” shouted Mr. Stoddard, 38, a burly former food broker from Provo, Utah. “Was it a girl or a guy?”

    After Afghans began dancing to traditional drum and flute music, Mr. Donohoe, 29, from San Francisco, briefly joined them.

    Some Afghans praised the fair’s alternatives crops. Others said only the rich could afford them. Haji Abdul Gafar, 28, a wealthy landowner, expressed interest in some of the new ideas.

    Saber Gul, a 40-year-old laborer, said he was too poor to take advantage. “For those who have livestock and land, they can,” he said. “For us, the poor people, there is nothing.”

    Local officials said all the development programs would fail without improved security.

    Assadullah Wafa, Helmand’s governor, said four of Helmand’s 13 districts were under Taliban control. Other officials put the number at six.

    Mr. Wafa, who eradicated far fewer acres than the governor of neighboring Kandahar Province, promised to improve eradication in Helmand next year. He also called for Western countries to decrease the demand for heroin.

    “The world is focusing on the production side, not the buying side,” he said.

    The day after the agricultural fair, Mr. Stoddard and Mr. Donohoe gave a tour of a $3 million American project to clear a former Soviet airbase on the outskirts of town and turn it into an industrial park and civilian airport.

    Standing near rusting Soviet fuel tanks, the two men described how pomegranates, a delicacy in Helmand for centuries, would be flown out to growing markets in India and Dubai. Animal feed would be produced from a local mill, marble cut and polished for construction.

    “Once we get this air cargo thing going,” Mr. Stoddard said, “it will open up the whole south.”

    That afternoon, they showed off a pilot program for growing chili peppers on contract for a company in Dubai. “These kinds of partnerships with private companies are what we want here,” said Mr. Donohoe, who has a Master’s in Business Administration from Georgetown University. “We’ll let the market drive it.”

    As the Americans toured the farm, they were guarded by eight Afghans and three British and Australian guards. The farm itself had received guards after local villagers began sneaking in at night and stealing produce. Twenty-four hours a day, 24 Afghan men with assault rifles staff six guard posts that ring the farm, safeguarding chili peppers and other produce.

    “Some people would say that security is so bad that you can’t do anything,” Mr. Donohoe said. “But we do it.”

    Mr. Wafa, though, called the American reconstruction effort too small and “low quality.”

    “There is a proverb in Afghanistan,” he said. “By one flower we cannot mark spring.”
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


  2. #2
    simuvac Guest
    I like how the headline puts all the agency for this rise in poppy production with the Taliban.

    Oh, for the pre-9/11 press, which told us the Taliban believed opium crops to be un-Islamic and banned their production:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3071809/

    Afghanistan’s cash crop wilts

    Taliban ban on opium yields impressive results

    By Preston Mendenhall
    MSNBC

    WAZIRAN, Afghanistan, May 23, 2001 - There are few signs of wealth in Afghanistan, but farmer Mohammed Hasan’s shiny late-model Toyota is a dead giveaway. Hasan once grew Afghanistan’s premier cash crop, poppies from which opium is produced. This year is different. He may have to sell his car just to survive.

    Last year, Afghanistan was the world’s largest opium producer, with 75 percent of the world’s crop, a staggering output of some 3,500 tons of one of the most addictive drugs on earth. The opium, a key ingredient in heroin, is smuggled into Europe and Asia, where it commands a fortune on international markets.

    So stunning was Afghanistan’s opium production last year that the CIA estimates 39 percent of the world’s supply came from just a single province.

    For years the ruling Taliban government relied on lucrative opium sales to fuel its war with opposition forces in the north. Farmers like Hasan earned thousands of dollars a year from their crops a true fortune in a country where the average monthly income isonly a few dollars.Drug growing deemed un-Islamic
    But last July, the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, issued an extraordinary edict. It banned poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, calling drug production un-Islamic. Few in international law enforcement took Omar’s edict seriously — until now.

    Earlier this month, an international delegation led by the United Nations Drug Control Program — which included two U.S. government narcotics experts —visited Afghanistan to study the impact of Omar’s ban.

    Delegates told MSNBC.com that during the 10-day visit they found no evidence of poppy crops anywhere in the survey area, which concentrated on the biggest poppy-growing region of Afghanistan.

    “There are no poppies,” said Bernard Frahi, the head of the U.N. program’s Afghanistan project. “It’s amazing.”

    Ban cripples economy
    That in less than a year Afghanistan has gone from being the biggest opium producer in the world to providing a trickle of the global supply may be the single-most successful drug moratorium in modern history.

    But relief officials and former poppy farmers interviewed by MSNBC.com said the Taliban’s uncompromising approach to the opium ban, rather than a phased reduction in the crop, is having a devastating effect on the country’s economy.

    “It was not a good year to ban poppies,” said one senior aid official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They are drought resistant, labor intensive — that’s to say, a sector that employed large numbers of people — and the farmers used every part of the poppy, for fuel and fodder.”

    Farmers try wheat
    In Waziran, 15 miles north of Kandahar, lie some of the 90,000 acres of former poppy fields that flourished in Afghanistan. Much of the land has been replanted with wheat.

    Before the Taliban outlawed growing poppies, fields like this one in Nangarhar province, shown three months before the July 2000 ban, were filled with the crop.
    “From a farming point of view, poppy cultivation is much better than any crop,” said Hasan, who owns 25 acres in Waziran. “We could plant and harvest twice a year, and then plant fast-growing crops like watermelons after that. With wheat, we can’t break even.”

    A 2-year-old drought — and high fuel costs to power irrigation pumps even when water is available — spells doom for the farm and its workers, Hasan said.

    “Most of my workers left to find jobs in the city. They didn’t, so they came back. But I can’t pay them.”

    Hasan said he never considered violating the ban, although he admits to keeping some of last year’s opium crop hidden in case the situation becomes dire. But even small infractions have consequences. A neighbor who grew a small patch of poppies spent a month in jail until Hasan bailed him out.

    Taliban furious over world silence
    The international community has shunned Afghanistan’s Islamic rulers over their human rights violations and their harboring of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile Washington blames for masterminding bombing attacks on U.S. interests. It also has remained silent about Afghanistan’s drug ban, outraging the Taliban.

    Afghanistan’s ambassador at large, Rehmatullah Aga, told MSNBC.com that the failure of the West to praise the poppy ban in any way has made Afghanistan’s leaders more suspicious of the overall intentions of the international community.

    U.S. may be ready to help farmers
    But the United States, which has preached its anti-drug message around the globe and praised the eradication efforts of other countries, may break the silence soon.

    The U.N. poppy report, to be issued at the end of May, will conclude that “the ban was very effective,” says James Callahan of the State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

    The Taliban's ban on opium production is backed up by a public information campaign that includes signs like this one, posted in Kandahar.
    “I would be surprised if there were more than a few (acres) of poppies in Taliban-controlled areas this year,” Callahan, a member of the delegation that visited Afghanistan, told MSNBC.com in an interview. “We hope to both increase U.S. assistance and to try to rally international opinion and other donors to increase humanitarian assistance to these farmers.”

    Yearning for the good old days
    But with farmers facing an unending drought and a poor wheat harvest this year, Callahan said it’s too early to tell whether the Taliban can keep the country from returning to the lucrative poppy crop.

    Many farmers are already yearning for the good old days.

    “We want to grow poppies again,” said 55-year-old Sardar Mohammed, an out-of-work field laborer, pointing to barren land once filled with Afghanistan’s cash crop. “Poppies were our survival.”

    Preston Mendenhall is MSNBC.com’s international editor. NBC’s Robert Windrem contributed to this report.

  3. #3
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    I think it's apparent that our only purpose in Afghanistan was to install a Government that would write policy favorable of America. Hence the reason so few troops were sent there. You mean to tell me that the Taliban could eradicate opium production, but the almighty USA can't? PUHLEEESE.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


  4. #4
    simuvac Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Gold9472
    I think it's apparent that our only purpose in Afghanistan was to install a Government that would write policy favorable of America. Hence the reason so few troops were sent there. You mean to tell me that the Taliban could eradicate opium production, but the almighty USA can't? PUHLEEESE.
    Notice how the msm frames the current situation as one in which America seemingly must allow poppy production because otherwise the farmers will support the Taliban. Simultaneously, the media tell us that it is that very poppy production that funds the Taliban.

    Classic doublespeak.

  5. #5
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    Yea... people ask me, "If the U.S. supports the drug trade, then why do they spend x-amount of $$$$ trying to fight it?"

    I say, "You have to spend money to make money." That's an easy way of saying that the U.S. spends that money for appearances essentially.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG


  6. #6
    MrDark71 Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Gold9472
    Yea... people ask me, "If the U.S. supports the drug trade, then why do they spend x-amount of $$$$ trying to fight it?"

    I say, "You have to spend money to make money." That's an easy way of saying that the U.S. spends that money for appearances essentially.
    Those funds are used to fight methamphetamine and marijuana production here in the states .....the two drugs are beyond easy to produce in a garage or basement .....and little chance of "controlling" the manufcaturing leads the DEA to focus on them ...as opposed to heroin and cocaine that are much harder to produce by Joe Average American.

    So...if one wanted complete narcotic control over it's people ...they would control production ....distribution .....and the financial returns of the trade. If not ....$300 billion leaves this country unfettered and untaxed because everyone knows it's not about stopping drugs but controlling drugs.

  7. #7
    beltman713 Guest
    Yeah, when you first posted this story my first thought was, "I thought the Taliban eradicated the opium crop in Afghanistan?" "If the Taliban were essentially on the run, how could they grow record opium crops?"

  8. #8
    amman254 Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by beltman713
    Yeah, when you first posted this story my first thought was, "I thought the Taliban eradicated the opium crop in Afghanistan?" "If the Taliban were essentially on the run, how could they grow record opium crops?"
    this was exactly my thought by reading the story....and the average opium farmer, that had been lucrative for so many years, and then more or less put out of business, through the changes in taliban politics, was glad as they were out of the way, and the americans had things in control, the crops flurished again...

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