By Michael Shank

Sir, With reference to your report, “US seeks Afghan heroin action” (April 5/6): the American proclivity for short-term, high-visibility gains precludes, yet again, sound strategy. Aerial spraying does not constitute an effective poppy eradication programme.

Critically, this counter-narcotics strategy ignores the demand side. If not Afghanistan, new suppliers will invariably emerge elsewhere. It also fails to find alternative livelihoods for farmers.

The farmer, left to feed his 11-strong family, now must seek other mechanisms, often violent, to make ends meet.

Secondarily, but of equal importance, the American strategy does not target the most culpable entity, the drug trafficker, and fails to fortify Afghan institutional capacity (courts, police) to crack down effectively on the opium trade.

This leaves the trafficker in the clear while leaving Kabul in the lurch.

If the US is keen to rid Afghanistan of its opium, it must think 10 to 15 years ahead. Amid insecure and arid environments (Afghanistan has plenty), poppy is the farmer’s best bet.

Providing viable alternatives requires irrigation systems, new business wherewithal, and secure transit to the marketplace.

The United States must keep in mind that there is competition for the hearts and minds of the Afghan farmer. Destroy their crops and farmers will seek quick remedy from the Taliban, who stand ready to finance the poor farmer in need.

Instead do what is right by building sustainable alternatives and the US meets two objectives in one fell swoop by undermining the growth of both opium and the Taliban.

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