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

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Those major Afghan NSEs...

MStFB Poppy Series Update
Joshua Foust has left a comment to my previous post, and I encourage you to read it. My purpose with writing about a poppy strategy was partly just that: to get exactly people like Joshua to argue about it.
Now, one further reason beside my natural curiosity was the observation that is in my focus given my interest in the discourse on state failure. I have come up with a bit of a novelty in the latter, in tying my conceptualisation of state failure to the concept of negative spill-over effects (NSEs). But while that itself is a novelty, I also elected that strategy and perspective in my search for an operationalisable definition, because most people writing the literature on 'failed states' and 'state failure', especially since 9-11, tend to point to the negative external consequences of the usually vaguely defined symptom they are concerned about. And, listing such consequences - let's call them simply NSEs from here on, using my term - they tend to come up with a very similar bunch of items. You know, terrorists finding bases for themselves in the areas of concern, organised criminal groups doing the same, the latter turning to lucrative activities for which they have an ideal setting there, like e.g. drug production etc. I'll stop there, because we already have there the major NSEs supposedly of concern to the West when it comes to Afghanistan. Terrorism and drug production.
Well, now the West is in there. A great opportunity to tackle both issues. Or not? Yes, it seems that for now at least, we have to ignore the second to be able to deal with the first (that's the observation mentioned, that I'm focusing on). A really comprehensive, successful counter-narcotics effort would antagonise too many people now, and that would deprive ISAF/OEF forces of valuable intelligence, and calm areas in the back, in facing the insurgency (and so it wouldn't be successful in the end). I'm not saying that I'm abandoning my strategy yet. I have built into it a number of elements that may make taking on locally powerful players in such an effort less risky a venture, and I still think they may be sufficient. But. 1) More troops would be needed, and that's not coming any time soon, as we agreed with Joshua on that. 2) Waiting with such a strategy could possibly give it more of a chance of succeeding.
Joshua's point on how e.g. aerial spraying might appear in Afghan political rhetoric is, I have in the past seen indications in that direction, a correct one. There'd be resistance, and it could be handled easier if the two conditions mentioned above would be met. So wait for a better moment, and get more resources in every possible sense. For now, try to get some development really going.
(Just to make the picture more complex though, not in denial of the previous sentences' content, here's a quote from the IHT with words from General Khodaidad, the deputy minister for counter-narcotics in the Afghan gov't:
Khodaidad said the Afghan government may permit ground-based spraying next year and is even considering aerial spraying. Afghan officials have not talked publicly about aerial spraying before, out of fear of public opposition.
"We have left the option open," he said. Any decision to start ground-based or aerial spraying would have to come from Karzai, Western officials say
Getting back to NSEs, one may see a bit of a contradiction in that while the Afghan budget every year includes a huge 'external' element, which actually only tries to take account of the volume of money spent by foreigners on various, at times unknown goals in Afghanistan (as it may be described from the perspective of the Afghan government), and even that what is spent by the Afghan government is usually quite closely watched over by the internationals, that then it's exactly poppy eradication that Afghans are trusted with. One of the issues that are particularly important to the West. But then that's borne out of a, hopefully, correctly recognised necessity. One has to add 'hopefully', because the production of drugs as well as the trade itself is quite interconnected with the insurgency. Helmand province is a hub for all of these activities. Even the opium from Badakhshan (the northernmost corner of Afghanistan) comes to Helmand first, rather amazingly I would say.
Here's another piece from IHT, talking about what an Afghan smuggler had to say:
"From Mazar-i-Sharif, in northern Afghanistan, he brings opium in the form of a gooey paste, packaged in bricks. From Badakhshan in the northeast, he brings crystal - a sugary substance made from heroin. And from Jalalabad, in the east on the road to Peshawar, he brings pure heroin. All of this goes through Baramcha, an unmanned border town in Helmand near Pakistan."
As to Badakhshan, I'll have to indicate to Joshua, that in the last decade it hasn't really been insignificant in terms of poppy cultivation. The times during the anti-Soviet jihad were different there (clerics banned production), but shortly after that, the province has been in the league of Helmand and Kandahar. It was last year which saw Helmand pop out with poppy, leaving every other area behind in the top ranks. Look at the opium cultivation graphic in this NYT article to see how the Helmand bubble literally is all over the map by now. (Kandahar caught up with Badakhshan only by 2006, with now some 10% decrease in production expected in the latter, for 2007.)
It's arguably the 'Helmand effect' which got military forces, especially the U.S. military, more irritated, to now push for some action with the Afghan government. And what has transpired for me from the discussion I launched seeing that development, that we had with Joshua, is that they had better wait still.
Update: I should add, since I have written a lot on Uruzgan and the Dutch strategy there lately, that Uruzgan is, along with Nangarhar, one of the places where "50 percent or more" of an increase in production is expected (so indicates the NYT graphic I already cited). As to the latter province, if the above expectation is well-founded, it seems like the relative success of the quite insensitive Nangarhar eradication campaign of 2004-2005 is now set to be reversed there.

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