Fighting Afghan Poppy Cultivation

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 8/12/2007 10:04:00 AM
Above is a map using UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) data that depicts trends in the area devoted (by square hectares) to opium cultivation in various Afghan provinces (click for larger image). White provinces are poppy-free; blue provinces have seen a decrease of more than 50%; teal provinces have seen a decrease between 10 and 50%; green provinces an increase between 0 and 10%; yellow provinces an increase between 10 and 50% and red provinces an increase greater than 50%.

8/13 UPDATE: Today's International Herald Tribune has a related feature on how the "good war" in Afghanistan turned out for the worse.

To say US efforts to eradicate poppy cultivation in Afghanistan are not going well is a huge understatement. I previously noted that Afghanistan is going to have another record opium harvest in 2007 by exploiting its "comparative advantage" in poppy cultivation. As long as other viable sources of livelihood are not developed in the country, there is little chance that this trend can be reversed. Here we have yet another US counternarcotics strategy. Unfortunately, it suffers from two key defects IMHO: First, it emphasizes "stick" measures (monitoring and punishment) over "carrot" measures. Second, the "carrot" measures it does promote are short-term in nature designed to bribe poppy growers into temporarily ceasing their activities as opposed to being any sort of long-term developmental strategy that could lead to productive activities outside of the drug trade. While some lip service is given to long-term solutions such as "growing fruits and nuts," you will see that the amount of text devoted to this possibility is infinitesimal compared to that devoted to "stick" measures. Below is the executive summary, and there's also an accompanying interview of various drug control officials:
This paper evaluates the current counternarcotics strategy for Afghanistan, examines issues, obstacles, and lessons learned, and presents a way forward on key elements of the strategy, including public information, alternative development, poppy elimination/eradication, interdiction, and justice reform.

The drug trade has undermined virtually every aspect of the Government of Afghanistan's (GOA) drive to build political stability, economic growth, and rule of law and its capacity to address internal security problems. While the last two years have seen only localized progress in the struggle to contain the drug trade, the consensus among U.S. policymakers is that the current "Five Pillar" plan (Public Information, Alternative Development, Eradication, Interdiction, Justice Reform) provides the appropriate balance of incentives and disincentives. However, changing trends in poppy cultivation and trafficking, the security situation, the political climate, and economic development require significant and, in some cases, dramatic changes in the way Afghanistan and the international community implement the counternarcotics strategy.

For example, while there appears to be a trend of reduced poppy cultivation in the northern half of Afghanistan that could make it close to poppy-free by 2009, poppy cultivation in Helmand and the rest of southern Afghanistan is increasing at a rate that more than offsets the successes in the north. Although Governor Led Eradication (GLE) figures are greater this year than they were last year, political obstacles have closed the door on opportunities for much greater success in eradication.

The north-south security dynamic greatly impacts the efficacy and reach of the Five Pillar strategy. While the permissive [is this the right adjective?] security environment in the north permitted a robust person-to-person community outreach campaign, instability in the south hindered a parallel public information effort in the areas of greatest poppy cultivation that need it the most. While USAID support for farmers has secured long-term contracts for Afghan fruit and vegetable exports in poppy cultivation areas and developed a wide ranging rural credit system, the Taliban has improved its own system of lending money to poppy farmers and taxing their crops.

With respect to law enforcement, Operation Containment has seized more than 26 metric tons of Afghan heroin in the last two years - compared to only 407 kilograms in years prior-and resulted in the arrest of heads of major Afghan drug trafficking organizations. At the same time, vast networks of traffickers operate virtually untouched in Afghanistan's rugged terrain, capacity to build evidence against major traffickers remains limited, and the nexus between drug traffickers and insurgents continues to increase.

While justice sector reforms to date have been noteworthy, including the passage of a Counternarcotics Law, construction of over 40 courthouses and justice facilities, and the training of professionals from throughout the justice sector, the continued absence of rule of law in Afghanistan, particularly in the provinces, has had a crippling effect on security, governance, and economic development. Finally, although over 71,000 Afghan police officers have been provided basic training, the police force still lacks a sufficient presence in rural districts and is often perceived by the Afghan public as corrupt and lacking discipline.

This paper improves implementation of the counternarcotics effort in Afghanistan. Strategy elements are based on input from an interagency group of experts representing the Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture, Department of the Treasury, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The basic strategy shift outlined below involves three main elements: 1: dramatically increasing development assistance to incentivize licit development while simultaneously amplifying the scope and intensity of both interdiction and eradication operations; 2: coordinating counternarcotics (CN) and counterinsurgency (COIN) planning and operations in a manner not previously accomplished, with a particular emphasis on integrating drug interdiction into the counterinsurgency mission; and 3: encouraging consistent, sustained political will for the counternarcotics effort among the Afghan government, our allies, and international civilian and military organizations.