West Makes Afghanistan Safe...for Growing Opium

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 11/17/2013 11:33:00 AM
Say what you will about the original premise that the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan was to force Osama bin Laden out of hiding from his Taliban protectors, but the aftermath of all that has not been very positive. Afghanistan remains a very poor nation, and the persistence of the Taliban threat speaks volumes about the West's inability to provide a superior vision of the country's future. That is the political aspect of it.

Meanwhile, the economic aspect is not promising, either: despite untold millions spent on eradicating opium over more than a decade, 2013 will be a bumper crop:
Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan rose 36 per cent in 2013, a record high, according to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey released today in Kabul by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UNODC. Meanwhile, opium production amounted to 5,500 tons, up by almost a half since 2012.

Calling the news "sobering", Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, stressed that this situation poses a threat to health, stability and development in Afghanistan and beyond:  "What is needed is an integrated, comprehensive response to the drug problem. Counter-narcotics efforts must be an integral part of the security, development and institution-building agenda".

The area under cultivation rose to 209,000 ha from the previous year's total of 154,000 ha, higher than the peak of 193,000 hectares reached in 2007. Also, two provinces, Balkh and Faryab, lost their poppy-free status, leaving 15 provinces poppy-free this year compared with 17 last year.
While respect is due to the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for taking on drugs and crime in such a difficult situation, I honestly believe that the West has largely given up on Afghan security, let alone the country's development. After sinking billions into the place with little to show for, Western publics have signaled their armed forces to head for the exit. UNODC's diagnosis is sound, but how exactly do you reconcile so many rival warlords? Moreover, what livelihoods are possible other than this one at the current time?
The link between insecurity and opium cultivation observed in the country since 2007 was still evident in 2013; almost 90 per cent of opium poppy cultivation in 2013 remained confined to nine provinces in the southern and western regions, which include the most insurgency-ridden provinces in the country. Hilmand, Afghanistan's principal poppy-producer since 2004 and responsible for nearly half of all cultivation, expanded the area under cultivation by 34 per cent, followed by Kandahar, which saw a 16 per cent rise.

Across the country, governor-led eradication decreased by 24 per cent to some 7,300 hectares. Badakhshan, the only poppy-growing province in the north-east, witnessed a 25 per cent increase in cultivation despite the eradication of almost 2,800 ha. During the 2013 eradication campaigns, the number of casualties rose significantly, with 143 people killed this year compared with 102 fatalities in 2012.
It's a sad situation (full report here), but the time is at hand when Afghans themselves will need to deal with the insecurity, fragmentation, and lack of the development on their own. Perhaps only when they realize that no one will be left to blame for their situation can progress really be made. Then again, the Taliban would welcome retaking the reins of power.