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The War On Sense
We're destroying some Afghanis only livelihood -- selling opium poppies -- and as we do, we're helping the Taliban. Johann Hari writes, originally in the LA Times:

This summer, Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of the Senlis Council, an independent, Brussels, Belgium-based think tank, commissioned more than 30 researchers to ask why so many southern Afghans were turning to the Taliban when they had cheered their defeat just five years ago. He found that “the Taliban revival is directly, intimately related to the (poppy) crop eradication program. It could not have happened if the U.S. was not aggressively destroying crops. This is the single biggest reason Afghans turned against the foreigners.”

The Afghan people are rebelling because the U.S. government is currently committed to destroying 60 percent of their economy. In the name of the “war on drugs,” a U.S. corporation, Dyncorp, is being paid to barge into the fields of some of the poorest people in the world and systematically destroy their only livelihood.

These Afghans are growing poppies — from which heroin is derived — out of need, not greed. One-quarter of all Afghan babies die before age 5. The Senlis Council warns that if Western governments continue this program of economic destruction — and the negative propaganda bonanza it creates — the Taliban may be sufficiently rejuvenated to march on Kabul, depose President Hamid Karzai and pin up a “Welcome home, Mr. bin Laden” banner.

There is an alternative to this disastrous spiral. The world is suffering from a shortage of legal opiates. The World Health Organization describes it as “an unprecedented global pain crisis.” About 80 percent of the world’s population has almost no access to these painkillers. Even in developed countries, for cancer care alone there is an unmet annual need for 550 metric tons more opium to make morphine.

Afghan farmers continue to produce the stuff, only to be made into criminals because of it. At the same time, in a Kabul hospital, half the patients who need opiates are thrashing about in agony because they can’t get them, while in fields only a few miles away opium crops are being hacked to pieces.

The solution is simple. Instead of destroying Afghanistan’s most valuable resource, Western governments should buy it outright and resell it to producers of legal opiate-based painkillers on the global market. Instead of confronting Afghan farmers about their crop, our representatives should be approaching them with hard cash.

This has been successfully tried before. In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration began to demand that the opium farmers of southern Turkey destroy their crops. Every attempt at destruction — carried out by reluctant Turkish prime ministers coerced with threats of cuts in U.S. military aid — failed. Eventually, Turkey was considered to be such a crucial Cold War ally that the United States granted an exception. So Turkey joined India as a legal supplier of opiates for pain-control purposes, and it remains so today. Isn’t Afghanistan even more important today than Turkey was in the 1970s?

It is a strange truth that if President Bush really wants to live up to his rhetoric about saving Afghanistan, he must urgently launch the biggest drug deal in history.

Posted by aalkon at November 12, 2006 10:23 AM

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A couple of year ago, I met someone from Johns Hopkins who did some research along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. She said that one unintended effect of the opium crackdown was that users were responding to the decrease in supply by injecting, instead of smoking ("chasing the dragon") -- because when you inject it, nothing gets wasted. Unfortunately, injecting carries risks of HIV and hepatitis infection, which has supposedly also been increasing along Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Posted by: Lena at November 12, 2006 9:15 AM

Amy, the people of Afghanistan are known as Afghans. Their money is called Afghanis. The article you cite gets it right. The difference might seem slight to us but it drives Afghans crazy and fuels the notions that Americans know and care little about other cultures, even ones vital to our national interest.

Posted by: AAA at November 12, 2006 2:41 PM

Hey, I cared enough to put it on my blog.

But, I see plenty of references to Afghanis as people -- including one I found in the dictionary -- several dictionaries:

Here's Al Jazeera doing it:

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 12, 2006 3:21 PM

Donald Rumsfeld is briefing George Bush in the Oval Office.
"And finally sir, three Brazilian soldiers were killed in Iraq today."

Bush goes pale, his jaw hanging open in stunned disbelief. He buries his face in his hands, muttering "My God…my God."

"Mr. President," says Cheney, "We lose soldiers all the time, and it’s terrible. But I’ve never seen you so upset. What’s the matter?"

Bush looks up and asks… "How many is a Brazilian?"

Posted by: Patrick at November 12, 2006 3:55 PM

Another success of the war on drugs! GAAAAHHHH. I find it almost macabrely interesting that one of the few issues on which the majority of left-wing and right-wing think tanks/opinion journals agree is the drug war - i.e. it should be modified or ended outright - is ALSO one of the few issues on which Democratic and Republican politicians serving in national representative bodies agree - i.e. it must be prosecuted with all our might. Sigh. Anyone think this will change with the Democrats in charge of the House and Senate? Anyone? Bueller?

I think I've come to the conclusion that the only way to bring any sanity to the drug war is to elect a President who's never even smoked a cigarette, so anti-drug is he/she, and have him/her use those impeccable credentials to say, "enough, I'm not wasting any more tax dollars jailing people for decades for nonviolent crimes." Only Nixon could go to China, only Clinton could end welfare as we know it, and only some future mood-altering substance puritan will be able to change our drug policy. Until then...

Posted by: marion at November 12, 2006 7:25 PM

For the record: opiate addiction fucks people up!

Just sayin'.

Isn't there some kind of beet or cabbage that will grow in the same climate as poppies?

Posted by: Crid at November 12, 2006 8:02 PM

"Paaaah-pies...poppies will put them to sleep."

I wonder how much of a burden drug addiction is to the welfare roles. They tend to be a lazy, unmotivated bunch, only roused from torpor when looking for their next fix.

Posted by: Patrick at November 12, 2006 10:50 PM

Good for you for including Afghanistan issues on your blog. And, yes, others have also misused the term Afghani. That doesn't make you right. No Afghan I know (and I know quite a few) would ever refer to himself/herself as an Afghani.

Posted by: AAA at November 12, 2006 11:55 PM

Your point has been noted, AAA. I'm going to a film on Afghanistan tonight, and I'll be sure not to use the word Afghani during the Q & A, unless we're talking about money.

And Patrick: Poppies sound good to me right about now. I smoked opium once at a party back in the 70s. After we left, I fell face down in a snow drift. No pain. Just laughter.

Posted by: Lena at November 13, 2006 3:21 AM

Cabbage doesn't bring in as much money as opium does, Cridster. No surprise there. Opium makes you high. Cabbage just makes you fart.

Posted by: Lena at November 14, 2006 9:09 PM

Plus there's no mexicans over there to pick the cabbage.

Posted by: chicknlady at November 20, 2006 1:01 AM

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