Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Buy the Poppy Crop

Today's New York Times has an article about the difficulty the United States and its NATO allies are having in stopping the poppy trade that funds insurgency in Afghanistan. Some NATO nations are balking at the notion of having their troops participate in counternarcotics activities.
As the United States and its allies strive to devise a better strategy to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, American policy makers and military officers say it is critical to choke off the drug money that sustains the insurgency....
The real issue is not the fine line between counterterror and counternarcotics operations. As stated above, the problem is, "how to choke off the drug money that sustains the insurgency". Equally important, is how to get the Afghan people to buy into the concepts of democracy, the rule-of-law and the activities of nation building.

I would argue that the answer is obvious: buy the poppy crop. We should overcome our knee jerk aversion to anything related to "the drug trade". This would eliminate it. Let the United States and its allies chip in to purchase the yearly crop.
United Nations figures show that Afghan insurgents reap at least $100 million a year from the drug trade, although some estimates put the figure at five times as much.
Few would argue, even using the higher figure of $500 million, that this is not a cost effective solution compared to military operations. By directing payments as far down the chain, to the individual farmer if possible, such a purchase would have a remarkable effect. It would turn a large part of the rural population from borderline enemy combatants into grass roots (dare I say, "poppy roots") allies. By providing a legitimate market to the farmers, they would no longer have to sell at gunpoint-driven prices to the enemy. They would automatically be incented to resist lower, albeit more violent, offers. Local forces (and temporarily their foreign allies) would be welcome in an appropriate role of defending the populace. The insurgency would quickly find itself without product to sell.

Some of the money would be used, inevitably, to build infrastructure, roads, rails, silos (?), ports, etc. to deliver the product more effectively. Eventually, the United States and its allies could shift to the purchase of other crops, such as food crops, thereby slowly weaning the agricultural marketplace from flowers to grasses and grains. Seems like a road to sustainable nationhood to me.

PS: What would we do with all that poppy? Well, low cost morphine and related drug products, for one. Perhaps with local production? Could that be the start of a legitimate pharmaceutical industry?