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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Opium roads

"In the green zone, everything is irrigated, and everywhere there's a field. That's a problem, because the Taliban, instead of wanting to fight with us, they plant mines, so we have to drive in the fields. Now, what the talking was about - it was about - we've been driving on the fields, we try to drive on poppy, but sometimes we also have to drive on their wheat. If we can establish that the claim is valid, we have a CIMIC team who can pay compensation for it."

Quote from Jon, a Danish army interpreter, who speaks about half a dozen languages. In: "Complex Working Environment" - video available at the NATO Channel TV. Direct URL cannot be provided, as the website does not work that way; you will see.

The Ministry is not able to say that much, for now, about what Jon's company could do about this. Force protection is important to them, especially to their political leaders back home, and they won't give up on armour when they enter the "green zone" (which ironically means the opposite of what it used to mean in Iraq, in terms of security).

The interesting thing to note is the contrast. When the look of this website was changed a while ago, at the time when the Ministry took over running this place, an incident was mentioned here where U.S. Marines paid compensation to an opium poppy farmer for having a C-17 airdrop land on his field, crushing some plants. Back in December last year, another incident was covered at this site, whereby a U.S.-led police team, there with an escort of Canadian soldiers, thought it the best approach to winning the hearts and minds of an outlying village in Kandahar province, to destroy all the marijuana plants that were found there. We have written of Polish soldiers participating in destroying opium poppies hashish plants in Ghazni, and of Dutch forces only reluctantly helping an Afghan Eradication Force/Dyncorp team once they got into trouble back in 2007 (originally covered by Mr. Anderson for the New Yorker). I know of countries that would not care a bit if somebody would grow poppies beside their main base, mainly not to get into trouble because of that, and now I learned that for the Danes, theoretically, it is cheaper to drive on poppies than it is on wheat (provided they are really not ready to pay compensation on occasions when they drove on somebody's poppies, if that is really what Jon may be implying).

Trying to deal with a rural insurgency, why would it be important to have a coherent approach to these issues... like, what to do about farmers' crops and all that...

Pat Porter, discussing the proposition that more Pashto speakers would be needed by Western armies in Afghanistan, ironically asks: "How do you say ‘we are destroying your opium crop’ in Pashto?" Jon, quoted above, knows that, and Pat Porter is right, it probably doesn't help all that much. Otherwise, the Ministry's position is still rather that it would be mighty good to have a thousand Jons out there.

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