Poppy Eradication in Afghanistan

The US is shifting its emphasis from poppy crop eradication to drug interdiction in Afghanistan.  Poppy seeds are the basic component of heroin and opium, and the drug trade accounts for 50 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP and is the largest source of funding for the Taliban insurgency.  Thus far, the eradication programs have failed because they alienated poor farmers who must sell their poppy crops to subsist, and thereby made those farmers hostile towards the Afghan government (and its American allies) and supportive of the Taliban; the programs have also failed to put a major dent in the Taliban’s income. 

In the long term, US officials hope to persuade Afghan farmers to stop growing poppy seeds.  One proposal is to encourage them to grow wheat and flowers.  Another is to pay them not to grow poppy seeds much like the US government pays some tobacco farmers not to grow tobacco.

It is doubtful that officials will be able to convince Afghan farmers to cease growing poppy seeds because the commodity is relatively lucrative vis-a-vis their other economic opportunities.  Moreover, the plan would make one of the poorest countries in the world even poorer and hinder economic development, which Afghan and Western officials believe is critical to defeating the insurgency and creating political stability.

It is also unlikely that drug interdiction programs will be successful if the miserable failure of American efforts to reduce the flow of cocaine from Colombia to the US is any indicator.

The best way for American forces to defeat the Taliban insurgency is to protect the population from the militants and increase the size and competency of the Afghan security forces.  Hopefully, the Afghan army and police will be able to bear the full burden of defending their country within the next decade.

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