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

Friday, May 18, 2007

A golden bullet against poppy cultivation?

The MStFB Poppy Series No.2.
I've started a series on the poppy issue a couple of weeks ago, and I haven't come up with new posts on the subject ever since. In that previous post I presented the following thesis: in insurgency-hit areas there should be no forced poppy eradication taking place. Villagers with small farms are hurt by such measures the most anyway, partly because with the sorry state of rural and agricultural infrastructure in Afghanistan they are the least likely to be able to cultivate anything more needy than poppy, and partly because eradication teams most often hit the poorest farmers' fields and not your ordinary warlords' fields (an empirical law, it seems). And moving against such farmers' ultimate cash crop is especially unfair if the security situation tells those villagers anything but to stop cultivating poppy.
I also argued that alternative means of poppy eradication should be considered in the more peaceful areas, too. Turning it around, that also means, however, that forced poppy eradication* cannot be ruled out entirely in those areas. As a deterrent, for example.
Now, before I will, some time in the future, continue with this 'poppy series' by entering the heated debate over alternative means and ways of eradication, I'll first of all reflect here on the sentence often heard from official sources, that there is no 'silver bullet' against the opium poppy problem. So is there a golden bullet then? Just kidding, but I'll make a very simple point here, based on two articles I'll refer to, that may be regarded as part of any golden bullet to emerge.
On May 11, DPA reported on the day of an Afghan eradication team, recently trained in Egypt. (Another weird source of counter-narcotics training, though arguably not as weird as Colombia. From the latter, officials do go to Afghanistan to deliver their experiences to their Afghan colleagues; probably to make them feel utterly depressed, I suppose - no kidding, the New York Times has just reported this, although there's no confirmation of a depressed reaction on the Afghan side.) At the time the DPA report was prepared, the eradication team in question has gone to the village of Zorabi, 40 km south of Pul-i-Khumri (the latter is where the Hungarian PRT's base is by the way). So did they go to Zorabi by car? Wrong guess. They had to walk there, for there's no road leading there. Check this map, to see that this is the case (in pdf). Does this make it a bit more difficult to local farmers to market their agricultural products? Sure. And how did the day end? With the expression of pride on the Afghan eradication officials' face. And 'with the look of dismay' on at least one local farmer's face, which even the DPA reporter had to note, even while his/her report was eventually published with the victorious title 'Afghan police strip drug barons of their flower power'. Notice the pun in there? It's nearly as funny as saying things like 'gulag for the kulaks' or 'forget poppies, harness globalisation instead'.
The other article is from 2003, and is based on reporting by the UN on the poppy situation in Badakhshan. Badakhshan Province is right up there in the top rankings on the list of poppy-producing provinces (PPPs I shall say later on, to give food for thought to PRTs), along with ones like Helmand and Nangarhar. Now Helmand is very much insurgency-hit, so my original thesis, if correct, should apply there. Nangarhar in the east is arguably quite problematic, too. Badakhshan is a bit different. It's a place where during the anti-Soviet jihad poppy cultivation was even forbidden by clerics in some areas, like for example in Argu district, which today is a significant source of opium within Badakhshan. And poppy isn't cultivated only because of droughts and a lack of proper irrigation in the province. Poppy pops up in quite rain-fed areas, too. "Last year I cultivated six jiribs [30 ha] of wheat and two jiribs of poppy. This year, it is the other way round", says one Badakhshan farmer quoted in the report.
Arguably that is the other end of the spectrum - where it would be just too naive to use the poor-farmers-can't-do-anything-else narrative as an overall explanation. So where's the golden bullet then? Well, in the details, as always. Areas of poppy cultivation have to be divided into very small units of analysis, and circumstances examined in each of those very carefully. A village like Zorabi should get a road first, instead of locals seeing their crop eradicated without someone even saying 'hello' to them. In other places eradication could be used as a deterrent. So the golden bullet is a different bullet on every single occasion.
* I originally wrote 'forced poppy cultivation' there in the text. And originally I even had the title messed up a little, although that may not have been so obvious... I'll force myself to get some sleep the next time before I post something.