Sun Feb 10th, 2008 at 06:29:28 PM EST
One of the latest cartoon commentaries by Peter Brookes of The Times illustrates what goes on in the 'killing fields' of Afghanistan ...
A friend-member of NATO-ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) who's just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan is adamant and says it's a myth that Afghans want to grow poppy... He says it's not your ordinary Afghan farmer who wants poppy fields in Afghanistan. He insists the Afghan farmer would prefer to plant other crops because he's convinced that he could make more money planting another crop; however, even if poppy harvests don't bring him enough income to feed his family, he has no other recourse but to plant poppy because if he doesn't plant the blasted poppy, your ordinary Taleban warrior or terrorist comes and shoots him.
In other words, the Afghan farmer is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Diary rescue by Migeru
[editor's note, by Migeru] Fold inserted
In November 2006, a senior European parliamentarian had already reported that NATO's mission in Afghanistan could end in failure unless member states honoured commitments they had already made to ensure its success.
The said European parliamentarian also reported that Afghanistan's poppy harvest in 2006 alone had reached a staggering 92 percent of the total world supply destined for opium conversion to some 2.9 million users. (I have not read a more recent report todate.) The European parliamentarian vigourously upped the ante insisting that the Alliance can and must succeed. "If we do not, we would seriously fail the people of Afghanistan and undermine our unity of purpose," he warned.
There is no doubt that in order to achieve that, there is a need to do more in the areas of of irrigation, roads and energy supplies. The nations are spending huge amounts on military forces and operations and using the military to build roads, schools, health care centers, etc.
Unfortunately, we do know that all these efforts do not not translate, in the eyes of the Afghani people, into nation building. Why efforts are failing is not only due to the miscomprehension by most Afghans in many areas in the country as to why there is a strong foreign military presence in their midst (to fight the Talebans who also happen to be the scourge of your ordinary Afghans) but also because they do not see progress in economic terms in their daily lives. And difficult to blame them!
Frankly, if I were an Afghan and I assessed the last 5 years I would only see the presence of NATO troops as just another foreign occupation of my country. I would not see enough progress on the alternative economy to give me confidence that this mess of international soldiers that was fighting in my country really had my interests at heart. My history and culture would make me seriously consider whether we would not be better off on our own.
There is a need to put much more emphasis on the non-military issues. It needs to be 10:1 non-military to military. In my book, as well as building infrastructure, which will make any commercial enterprise easier, including poppy growing, we need to consider creating a genuine alternative agricultural market to give the peasant/farmer population a realistic alternative to growing poppies.
We need to invest heavily in GIVING them the wherewithal to maintain their standard of living without the poppy. Simply put, this means we must consider giving them the seed, trees or other plants to produce suitable alternatives to the poppy; give them the tools and fertilisers to ensure these crops grow; guarantee a price for their produce at least for a certain time (and I mean several years). If we do not, they will continue to grow the easy plant because like it or not, there is an easy market for their poppies.
I know many NGOs in situ are trying to achieve this, but it is not enough and it is too slow. The pace needs to speed up dramatically, and this means a lot more investment aid from nations. Somehow this aid must be seen to be coming from Afghan authorities in order to rally or reinforce people's support for their own government. The question is, how far can we trust the current members of the Afghan government?
Sadly, these sorts of issues are not being put on the table. What is apparent is there's a lot of talk about mission failure but hardly any input on how to make that mission succeed.