Vice Squad
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Eradication in Afghanistan

My English-language reading material is pretty restricted here in Tbilisi, but this means that the two New Yorker magazines I have with me are, uncharacteristically, being devoured rather thoroughly. In the July 9&16 edition, Jon Lee Anderson has a lengthy (well, New Yorker length) piece entitled “The Taliban’s Opium War.” The article is not about drug policy; it chronicles one eradication effort, without questioning whether keeping opium illegal is such a great idea in the first place, or even mentioning the Senlis alternative of legalizing the Afghan crop for pharmaceutical use. The relative lack of interest of the Dutch and other Europeans serving in Afghanistan to the US-led eradication campaign is mentioned (though not explicitly endorsed or opposed.)

Whatever the merits of eradication in Afghanistan as drug policy, as a military policy, it is leaving a lot to be desired. The farm families whose crops are destroyed do not become enamored of the US as a result – rather the reverse. (Anderson writes: “the only American a farmer ever meets might be the one who is destroying his harvest, rather than someone who is building a school or a clinic.”) The fact that eradication is sure to be quite partial also means that a decision of whom to target is also seen as being made in a partial manner. And as the areas in which Taliban influence is most intense are also the hardest for the US and allies to operate in, eradication efforts might even be partial towards the Taliban. An unsavory business all around.

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