Overdue Wisdom in Afghanistan

Overdue Wisdom in Afghanistan

FINANCIAL TIMES 01/17/08
By Michael Shank

Sir, At long last, US strategy in Afghanistan is wising up (“From poppies to pomegranates”, January 14). Putting crop eradication on the back burner, a move aided by concern from the government in Kabul, the US is pursuing ways in which high-value produce can replace poppy crops.

The US finally recognised that the average Afghan farmer, eager to feed his family, turns to poppy primarily because the opium market and the crop are extremely reliable. An arid climate and deteriorated irrigation systems position the resilient poppy with a premium price. And with poverty soaring in the southern provinces – in the poppy-rich Helmand province, only two hospitals exist for 700,000 people – sustainable business is hard to come by.

Poppy comes with another price, one less attractive to farmers: vulnerability to Taliban and drug-smugglers. The former offers crop protection from eradication, while the latter coerce farmers to ensure supply chain consistency. Provide viable crop alternatives, however, and the farmers may be inclined to switch allegiances.

The push for pomegranate and other produce, then, is a strategy worth pursuing in all counter-terrorism efforts, not just in Afghanistan. Meeting the locals’ needs at the most basic level is how one undermines Taliban recruitment. Good for the US on this one; it might just work.

Michael Shank,
Government Relations Adviser,
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution,
George Mason University,
Arlington, VA 22201

**US EMBASSY IN AFGHANISTAN’S RESPONSE TO THIS LETTER, SENT VIA EMAIL ON JANUARY 21, 2008: READ LETTER