What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From 'cocaine country' to 'opium country'?

The MStFB Poppy Series No. 3. and Some News Update
I have written a couple of days ago of how Colombia has sent counter-narcotics agents to provide their Afghan colleagues with training, with the hope on the part of U.S. officials, as the New York Times very aptly put it, "that Afghanistan’s drug problem will someday be only as bad as that of Colombia". Now, I'm sure there are a lot of bloggers out there who could come up with volumes of ironic comment on this even sleep-blogging, but apparently one still has only seen the tip of the Colombian iceberg that Afghanistan's Titanic has just run into.
Sorry for that sentence. Sincerely, that was stupid. Rephrasing it: while the situation in Afghanistan in general is actually not like that of the Titanic before she hit the iceberg, the magnitude of the poppy challenge is certainly nearing a titanic scale with production this year potentially surpassing last year's harvest by 20 percent (already too much for the world market to take, leading UNODC officials to conclude that all that stuff probably has to be kept somewhere for rainy days).
So what have I missed that was of importance lately? I have mentioned on this blog that Robert E. Neumann, former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, has left his post by now. I just failed to do a background check on his successor, William Wood, so it took an MSNBC article to bring it home to me where he is coming from (the link will lead you to his still not updated biography on the U.S. State Department's site). If you're not the opening-one-link-after-the-other-in-new-windows type, I'll spare you of the effort: Wood was ambassador to Colombia up till now.
The U.S. apparently had enough of the opium problem, and now is even considering the aerial spraying of poppy fields with herbicides (following the similar Colombian anti-coca strategy). Or, rather, they may have already decided on the need for that, actually, and they are now likely just putting pressure on Karzai and the Afghan government to accept that - I conclude that from the fact that the latter are accepting now (unlike earlier) the idea of spraying, but they'd like to do it from the ground, probably to keep ownership of the process. Well, aerial spraying is quite a harsh measure, but at least then there is more of a likelihood that not only the poorest peasants' fields will be hit, since the internationals will be doing it (though even they will not be able to ignore the factor of relations on the ground entirely, either).
To give you a measure of the opium challenge, this article here is saying that in the provincial capital of Uruzgan Province, in Tarin Khowt (sometimes spelled Tirin Kot, or Tarin Kowt), where the Dutch-led PRT has its main base, Kamp Holland, even there, in town, there is poppy being grown. Uruzgan is expected to be among the provinces with most of the increase in poppy cultivation from last year to this one, when the final results come in. To again give you something to see the complexity of the issue, though, here's a post to check out from the Year in Afghanistan blog: on Uruzgan's only bank. If you work in a bank in a Western country, you might feel shocked by some of what you can read there - be warned. So, there is instead the informal banking system for the locals, where you have to show a positive attitude towards growing opium poppies to get financing. One of the reasons why Dutch minister for development cooperation Bert Koenders has talked in the past of the need to develop and make widely available micro-finance schemes for Afghan farmers, as part of the war on drugs. That might have much effect, too.

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