According to the latest reports on poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, there has been 15% drop in the crop in Helmand province, which alone produces more than 50% of opium production in the country. However, it makes no difference on opium statistics countrywide as there is an increase of similar percentage in Northern Afghanistan due to the rise in prices.
The decrease in Helmand is credited to Governor Mangal's "food zone program", according to this program farmers are supported with alternative crops. I call this "bribing the farmers". Though the Government is getting stricter on the poppy growing, but there needs to be more than that. Reportedly, in some cases, authorities had also arrested some farmers for growing poppy. Then the families are given choice to destroy the crop and get the farmer released, or he will be taken to court. This stricter approach is working. Earlier this year, there were predictions of huge increase in poppy production because of the 59 percent hike in prices.
For me, most part of this approach in the last couple of years has been a Mickey-Mouse game of blackmailing. The most common fear is that farmers could turn back to poppy as there are no alternatives for them. What has been causing the ultimate failure of millions of dollars being spent on the war against poppy? The reason they talk about for farmers to grow poppy is all ridiculous and nonsense.
The Government has been very soft. There has never been a real war against poppy. How could the Government be serious and honest in the fight against poppy? How long will the international community need to bribe our farmers so that they don't grow poppy to produce drugs which kill millions of people every year around the world?
The Government must not make it a game of cat and mouse with farmers. There should be some strict regulations implemented on poppy growing. Anyone found with poppy fields should be dealt with law, not bribery to urge him to stop the cultivation. If the current policy of bribing the poppy-growing farmers continues, which benefits the drug mafia and opium business tycoons who make the real deal from all this, it will keep Afghanistan the biggest producer of drugs in the world.
It's very nonsense to say that the farmers will turn up to the poppy; therefore we need to keep giving them cash for the fields. It has not worked so far during the last couple of years. On the other hand, those who have given up production voluntarily remain without any incentive, while the professional ones keep growing every year and getting the bribery from the Government. It has to stop!
There is a common misunderstanding about Taliban and opium production in public opinion. People think Taliban are not involved in the drugs business. For such a myth, the references of drug production amount during the last years of Taliban rule are very common examples. That's true. Taliban did stop drug production during their last years of rule. It was an effort to gain an international recognition of their government in Kabul. But the fact is that the initial financiers and supporters of Taliban movement when it started from Kandahar were drug smugglers.
Even during the first years of Taliban rule, Mullah Omer had a decree that after taking out the Zakat and other religious taxes, poppy production had nothing to do with any sin in Islam. So the false myth that poppy production was lowest under Taliban is a misunderstanding. Though it's true to some extent, but Taliban did encourage production of opium when it came at par with their interests. Otherwise, if opium production is not Islamic, why all the production and cultivation comes from the areas with Taliban control?
In case of Helmand, local population is reportedly dependent 60 to 70% on opium production for livelihood. Therefore the US forces did not destroy the fields, rather safeguarded them. Is this a reason enough to let people grow poppy? According to UN, Oxfam and other international organizations, the poorest of Afghanistan live in Daikundi and Badakhshan provinces. If its all about livelihood and poverty, why people don't grow poppy in those provinces?
According to statistics, Taliban receives over 63% of its financial assistance from the $ 4billion opium industry—53% of the GDP of Afghanistan. NATO forces have been trying to eradicate the financial supply line of Taliban, the drug trade.
The US policy against drug eradication has been a total failure. Despite millions of dollars spent on efforts to eradicate the illicit drugs, still the drug production is high. There have been different approaches by the US and Afghan Government. The Afghan Government had opposed the US plans to spray herbicides on poppy fields. Under the new strategy, the US will not support poppy eradication, but its movement and interception of chemicals and drug transportation while going after drug lords. Though Afghan Government had welcomed the new strategy, but British officials said they would continue eradication efforts. It shows a split which is concerning.
The most effective way of eradicating poppy is aerial-spray of herbicides, which yet so far, has never been tried. On the other hand, the fight against the $4 billion opium industry of Afghanistan is being badly affected by the extreme corruption on administrative level. The Government has never been honest with the anti-narcotics fight, otherwise President Karzai would not have opposed the spray strategy some years ago.