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December 1, 2004 - The Palm Beach Post (FL)

Too Many Poppies Bloom

Palm Beach Post Editorial

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

"Afghanistan, the narco-state," is not how the White House would advertise the country it touts as a major success in the war on terrorism.

Yet poppies are flourishing more than democracy in the country that produces nearly 90 percent of the world's opium, which is then turned into heroin.

Cultivation levels equate to a "239 percent increase in the poppy crop and a 73 percent increase in potential opium production over 2003 estimates," the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy announced Friday.

That's a sixfold increase since the United States invaded in October 2001 to oust the Taliban, which had sheltered Al-Qaeda.

Worse, the sharp rise in production last year reached the highest levels in the country's history and in the world. Only drought and disease prevented yet another record crop.

In another alarming sign, the United Nations reported Thursday that poppy growing has spread to every province of Afghanistan.

The wildfire spread of cultivation "could ultimately incinerate everything: democracy, reconstruction and stability," said Antonio Maria Costa, director of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime.

These reports offer more evidence of the Bush administration's failure to follow up invasion with timely rebuilding. President Hamid Karzai, for all practical purposes, is only mayor of Kabul, the capital city.

Competing provincial warlords run the countryside and everything that goes on there, including the opium trade. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban still are profiting from the illicit sale of drugs.

There are signs of increasingly sophisticated ties between the country's drug industry and international organized crime.

In an attempt to counter the $2.8 billion opium trade that accounts for more than 60 percent of the country's economy, the U.S. has announced a $780 million "Plan Afghanistan."

John P. Walters, director of the drug policy office, said the program will include a public-affairs campaign designed to discourage poppy cultivation, the subsidizing of alternative crops, eradication by using defoliants, and interdiction.

To have any chance of success, the plan must properly balance those elements and must be long-term.

The Bush administration also must be willing to recognize, for example, where it leaves farmers at the mercy of warlords, and that interdiction is a particular area in which the Europeans, who get most of the harvest delivered to their streets, should be asked to offer major help.

NATO already is doing most of the peacekeeping work in Afghanistan.

Though American forces continue to hunt terrorists, Afghanistan has become a comparative afterthought to Iraq. By neglecting the country, we are making the mistakes the Soviets made two decades ago.

The 8 million Afghans who voted in October want more than a facade of a plan.

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