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The current opium irradiation program in Afghanistan is failing to address the long-term challenges impacting the country (i.e. poverty, a lack of economic opportunities and corruption). This is resulting in the Taliban and organized crime utilizing it as an avenue to create greater amounts of instability. In the ten years, seizures of opium and heroin have declined by 57 and 77% respectively. This is problematic, as it is making it difficult for the country to move forward beyond the decades of civil war. (Ackerman, 2014)
To address these issues, a new approach must be used that are showing the way forward. This will be accomplished by providing policy recommendations and suggesting a future course of action which can reverse key trends. Together, these insights will enhance stability and decrease the influence of the Taliban / organized crime elements.
The opium trade and poverty are directly related to each other. This is because most farmers in rural areas have no choice other than to grow these crops based upon the lucrative profits. At the same time, the corruption and fighting keep their standards of living low, by failing to look at the root causes of the problem. The result is that the Taliban and organized crime will utilize this as an avenue for their own benefits. (Khan, 2012)
These practices date back to the 1980s. This is when the Soviet Union destroyed the agricultural base to force the population to move from rural areas into the cities. The problem is that opium is the one crop they could grow which did not require tremendous amounts of water, fertilizer or transportation. These practices became an avenue for farmers to support themselves. (Khan, 2012)
Once the Taliban came to power in the 1990s, they banned the production of opium at first. However, they reversed course in 1996 and began to tax it. Although they did not like it, the Taliban felt that it was justifiable under the Koran. According to Khan (2012), they embraced the following logic with him saying, "They did not have enough coercive power to alienate the population to this extent. So they said that while the use of hashish or opium was still prohibited, we understand that we cannot starve you. They said the Quran says you are not supposed eat pork, but if you are to die of hunger, you can eat pork. They used the same logic to say that we understand that you would be starving without opium poppy, so you can cultivate opium." (Khan, 2012) This is showing how farmers are reliant on the production of opium to sustain themselves.
In the late 1990s, the Taliban reversed course and banned production. This was enforced by brutal tactics and through the use of death squads roaming the countryside. The result is that production declined by 90%. However, the economy went into an economic depression, which continued to become worse. These insights are illustrating how opium production is an important crop that helps to sustain Afghan farmers. To deal with these challenges in the long-term, requires the ISAF moving away from eradication and fight it at its core. (Khan, 2012)
At the same time, the U.S. military and CIA are looking the other way when it comes to eradication. This is because it will create tremendous amounts of instability and destroy support for the central government in Afghanistan. Evidence of this can be seen with a report from Global Research which says, "It is well documented that the U.S. government has -- at least at some times in some parts of the world protected drug operations. The U.S. military has openly said that it is protecting Afghani poppy fields. The U.S. military has allowed poppy cultivation to continue in order to appease farmers and government officials involved with the drug trade who might otherwise turn against the Afghan Karzai government in Kabul. Fueling both sides, in fact, the opium and heroin industry is both a product of the war and an essential source for continued conflict. We have published a series of photographs showing American and U.S.-trained Afghan -- troops patrolling poppy fields in Afghanistan. All of the photos are in the public domain. These photos and the accompanying descriptions are posted without further comment."
Moreover, Martin (2014) found that the CIA was actively involved in the transportation of opium going back decades with him saying, "Back in the fifties, the CIA turned a blind eye to drug trafficking through the Golden Triangle while training Taiwanese troops against Communist China. The CIA flew the drugs all over Southeast Asia, to sites where the opium was processed into heroin, and to trans-shipment points on the route to Western customers. These are far from isolated incidents. During the eighties, the CIA financially and logistically backed anti-communist contras in Nicaragua who also happened to be international drug traffickers. There is no conclusive proof that the CIA is physically running opium out of Afghanistan. However, it's hard to believe that a region under full U.S. military occupation -- with guard posts and surveillance drones monitoring the mountains of Tora Bora -- aren't able to track supply routes of opium exported from the country's various poppy farms. The U.S.' goal of sustained warfare to oversee the world's opium trade has been alleged by many, including foreign military officials. Americans themselves admit that drugs are often transported out of Afghanistan on American planes. Drug trafficking in Afghanistan brings them about 50 billion dollars a year -- which fully covers the expenses tied to keeping their troops there. The U.S. military doesn't have any planned military action to eliminate the Taliban." (Martin, 2014) These insights are showing how the U.S. government is taking an approach which is contradicting each other. These practices are subverting the current policies in Afghanistan.
Addressing the Issues in the Long-Term
To address these issues in the long-term requires, going after the root causes of the problem on different levels. This means utilizing a more radical approach that will augment the current strategy with new ideas (which are controversial). At the heart of this strategy, is requires utilizing the forces of supply and demand to control the marketplace. To achieve these objectives, an international task force will be created. These are units that will go into specific areas and have the power to protect local famers. ("National Drug Policy," 2001)
They will work with them through regulating the growth and production of opium. This means having them register with the task force and paying a certain amount of taxes on what they are producing. Illegal traffickers could become legitimate transporters of the product from local farmers. The basic idea is not to eradicate production. Instead, it is designed to control and regulate it. Anyone who does not pay taxes or register with officials will have their crops destroyed. The funds which are generated from the tax can be spent in the local economy and utilized to diversify these farmers away from opium. At the same time, it can help to develop infrastructure and enhance stability. This will deal with part of the problem by managing supply and taking the organized crime elements out of the marketplace. ("National Drug Policy," 2001)
The most effective avenue to deal with the demand side; requires focusing on the end markets in the United States and Europe. This can be achieved by legalizing the sale of opium under specific conditions. For instance, addicts could receive a certain amount at specific designated locations which are tightly controlled by the government. They could offer them with a weekly stipend and help to deal with the demand problem. At the same time, they could heavily tax it and use a percentage of the money to combat illegal sales and focus on treatment. They could also introduce alternative products, which may encourage these users to slowly move away from taking heroine and opium. This would effectively give Western governments control of the markets, and it undermines the activities of organized drug cartels. This is accomplished using the free enterprise system to destroy their customer base. ("National Drug Policy," 2001)
This is following a similar model in contrast with Netherlands. In this case, the use of hard drugs is often limited to users and it is designed to discourage consumption in the long-term. The result is that they have lower rates of heroine and opium addiction. This is because users have access to and can seek out help to address the underlying consequences for taking the drug. Part of the reason why it is successful, is they are dealing with the problem on multiple fronts vs. making it illegal. These objectives are achieved through controlling it and helping addicts to reintegrate into society. The money that would be earned off it will help to steer users away from addiction and towards avenues that will help them deal with the challenges they are facing. In many ways, this is the key for tackling the problem in the…[continue]
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