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

Monday, July 9, 2007

Some more background to Mr Anderson's Uruzgan experiences

MStFB update (to the earlier Uruzgan Series/Poppy Series update)
On Friday I have pointed to Jon Lee Anderson's very interesting article on poppy eradication in Uruzgan - he was embedded with an AEF (Afghan Eradication Force)/Dyncorp team that eventually managed to wipe out only less than two hundred acres of poppy grown in Uruzgan, having to retreat out of one of the villages where they attempted to do their job under heavy fire. In this current post of mine I'll update my comments on Anderson's article in several ways with some new info.
I was curious as to when exactly this incident could have taken place. The days of the opium poppy harvest in Uruzgan are gone by now, so while Anderson's article appeared in the July 9 issue of the New Yorker, he must have been writing of his experiences from months before there. Well, the only incident mentioning of which I've found so far (and since eradication runs into all too obvious obstacles in Uruzgan, and is thus not really attempted that often, I presume that this must be that same one that is described by Anderson), is written of here. If I'm correct with my presumptions, then the fight occurred on April 29 (Sunday). (Just for the historian-minded.)
Another piece of information to serve as an update: you may wonder, when reading an article like Anderson's on PMFs (Private Military Firms) involved in fighting, about where the casualty toll stands for PMFs after several years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which saw them being relied on heavily by companies and governments as well.
Well, Reuters has just published some comprehensive data on U.S. government contractors (this obviously doesn't give us the entire picture, but only a major segment of it), using statistics provided by the Department of Labor (which is where one can find such stats). According to this, 73 contractors were killed and 2,428 wounded in Afghanistan, between September, 2001 and March, 2007, while 917 were killed in Iraq and 10,569 wounded, between March 1, 2003 and March 31, 2007 (I have to use the data in the form that it was provided in by the Reuters piece; so since they don't give us the exact starting and finishing date for the Afghanistan count, I'm not going to make guesses about that). Since the end of March, the total tally (together for Afghanistan and Iraq) has climbed to above a thousand - in fact that seems to have been the occasion for Reuters to come out with this report. They also provide a figure for contractors currently working in Iraq (an estimate of 130,000); unfortunately there is no such estimate regarding Afghanistan. Now, of course you shouldn't think of 130,000 ex-special ops heavily armed with hi-tech weaponry serving private firms in Iraq - some of these people are, as pointed out by Reuters, too, just cooks or toilet-cleaners, whoever was needed. Major source countries include El Salvador, Chile, Nepal, Colombia, India, the Philippines, and Fiji (not to mention that locals are hired in significant numbers as well, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq). There is sufficient supply on the labour market at this point, so it seems, given how pay has apparently gone down for these jobs in latter times.
A third point then, again to serve as an update, is what I've just found: this short press statement at TNI, the Transnational Institute. I was very glad to have found it, because it contains several things that seem to show I was right about concluding some important things in my earlier pieces on the issue of poppy eradication. The statement comes from TNI, and a network of Dutch NGOs. The latter have come up in the past with statements that I didn't really fancy as realistic, but this case is different. I'll include here a lengthy excerpt - this is a press statement meant to get round the world after all.
Dutch support to the Afghan Eradication Force (EAF) in destroying poppies in Uruzgan is a mistake. The two conditions the Netherlands had placed on its co-operation – saving the small opium farmers and a proportional ‘targeting’ of different tribes – are practically unattainable. The destruction of a harvest without there being any alternatives borders the inhuman and works counterproductive in winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, says the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the members of the Dutch NGO Network for Afghanistan (DNNA). “The two conditions the Netherlands placed cannot be implemented”, says Martin Jelsma, co-ordinator of the Drugs & Democracy programme of the TNI research institute. Jelsma has just returned from a two and a half weeks visit to the northern and eastern provinces of Badakhshan and Nangarhar respectively. “There is no social-economic map of Uruzgan as a baseline for preventing small farmers from being hit. And if one did exist, chances are high that the AEF did not use it in its planning. Our research shows that the planning in the north and east was not based on the expensive social map the British had developed.’ Also, the second condition – the proportional attack on the poppy fields of the different tribes in Uruzgan – is not feasible, according to Jelsma. ‘The destruction can only happen where the Dutch ISAF troups have some control: right inside the ink stain on the map, especially around Tarin Kowt.” (Highlighting by me - P.M.)
So, the points I've made before that I see reappear here. 1) In my take on Anderson's article I concluded that eradication doesn't function as a deterrent if some tribes are targeted, while others aren't. TNI and the Dutch NGOs do make the same point. 2) The other thing I'd remark is that apparently I've been banging, to a degree, on open doors with my demanding a comprehensive social survey to precede any eradication, so that hitting small farmers, who really lack alternative opportunites, be avoided. Those smart Brits have already come up with the idea and even acted on it as much as they could. Why is it always they are the brains behind all these Western operations? OK, take this as a bit of irony, but still their institutional structure/culture seems to somehow better fit handling the sort of challenges that we see coming.
Now, I'd just point to one more sentence in the TNI/Dutch NGO statement: "Last Sunday shots were fired at the AEF". The statement is from May 2, so this is reference to the April 29 incident... If only those people wording the press statement could have read Anderson's article via some time teleport system, and learned how it wasn't in fact merely just a few shots that were fired, they probably would have felt their warnings got more than enough vindication.


Romesh said...

As you are quite analytical in your approach and also have a sensible and humanitarian approach, I think you owuld benefit by reading the The Senlis Council's "Poppies for Medicine" report released recently. They have forcefully suggested the only solution- Legalise the opium crop in Afghanistan.

Perhaps we could discuss this. My email ID is rbhatto@gmail.com

fm said...

Hello Peter. Excellent work, may I say -- I pop by often.

One question: I understand that the South, in general, grow as more of the poppy crop than the North. If true, how then does a southern farmer deprived of his opium crop suffer any further than the regular farmers in the northern part of Afghanistan? And is it fair to create "gentle" schemes to favour these farmers in the South when the Northern farmers are already more comprehensively obeying the law?

It might be a question with a false premise (the North-South poppy growing thing) -- I wonder if you have better information.

Péter MARTON said...

Well, that's surely an important question, and I'm always ready to see my position debated on this, just like on anything else.
Here are the points I would make.
1) In the insurgency-hit areas infrastructure (roads, irrigation etc. - irrigation is especially important in the south) is even worse than in insurgency-free areas of Afghanistan. Basic market access is difficult. Farmers are impoverished and a lot of them are deeply indebted. The only way to get credit to buy seeds and tools is by growing poppy. If one doesn't do that, logically that person will not be regarded as 'economically viable', and will thus not get the money.
Also, about the only way to stay employed with a decent pay is by working with the insurgents. Working on the poppy harvest in the spring both at home on one's own community's fields, and in fields elsewhere, indirectly contributing to insurgents' fight, and then joining the Taliban or any militia for the guerrilla season. Which is dangerous, and the family back home might lose the bread-earner, but still it brings enough money to make people opt for this.
In some places farmers don't even seemingly have a choice as to what to grow. They might be informally taxed, and so they have to produce.
So, in general, not doing eradication in areas that aren't firmly secured seems to be well-justifiable on humanitarian grounds.
But then it's also justifiable by other considerations. That's why e.g. the UK ignores poppy in Helmand often times. They don't want to create masses that would be too devotedly joining the insurgents, and would do so in bigger numbers than currently seen.
2) As to the other half of the question. Without infrastructure and basic opportunities to make a living, eradication does no more justice in the north, either.
It's a shame there's not really major improvement in conditions in the north, given how, seemingly at least, the circumstances seem more favourable there for the delivery of any kind of assistance to the people there. But that's what one gets when some countries there just go through the motions, and when others there are simply not able to mobilise more significant resources. A couple of days ago I said the Netherlands spent only some 14 million euros on reconstruction and aid so far in Uruzgan. Well, that's actually a lot more than what some PRTs manage in the north.
Oops, I just realise I've written quite a lot. But then this is an important issue, and you're right to raise it.

fm said...

Thanks Peter. Those are good points. (I had no idea that the aid levels were so low. It's actually pretty shocking.)