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USIPeace Briefing  No Silver Bullets for Afghanistan’s Drug Crisis

http://www.usip.org/pubs/usipeace_briefings/2007/0702_afghanistan_drug.html

The Number-One Problem in Afghanistan

The Pillar Approaches

Security and Political Will: The Backbone

Interdiction: A Solid Approach

Alternative Livelihoods: Need Sustainability

The Eradication Debate

A Fluctuating Industry

No Silver Bullets: Continued Political Will and Finding Multiple Solutions is Key

Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s opium. Despite concerted efforts to tackle the drug problem in Afghanistan, the industry continues to grow at an alarming rate, particularly in the south, where reconstruction efforts lag amidst poor security. Afghanistan’s opium crop grew 59 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to UN reports, and officials expect a crop equal to if not greater than the 2006 crop in 2007. Overall, the industry accounts for nearly one-third of the country's economy and remains one of the chief threats to Afghanistan's security and development, as it becomes increasingly linked to corrupt Afghan officials and the Taliban.

Because of its impact on development and security, Afghan, American, and international officials are struggling to implement effective, multi-pronged solutions to tackle the problem. On May 15, 2007, the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Afghanistan Working Group held a session with William Byrd, former head of the World Bank mission in Afghanistan; M. Ashraf Haidari, political counselor at the Embassy of Afghanistan; and Ambassador Thomas A. Schweich, the U.S. Coordinator for Counter-narcotics and Justice Reform in Afghanistan. The meeting was moderated by the Institute’s Beth Cole, coordinator of the Afghanistan Working Group.

The Number-One Problem in Afghanistan

"Narcotics trafficking is the number one problem in Afghanistan," Schweich noted. "All good efforts of Afghan people to build democracy are undermined by narcotics trafficking," he said. The drug trade is increasingly linked to the Taliban, other anti-government forces, and corrupt government officials. Official estimates of the Taliban’s exact take from poppy cultivation range from tens of millions of dollars to $140 million. It is increasingly apparent that solving the drug problem in Afghanistan is a prerequisite for solving the security and development dilemmas in the country.

 

The Pillar Approaches

With the help of the international community, the Afghan government has initiated an eight-pillar approach to fighting the illicit drug trade, said Haidari. The pillars include: demand reduction, alternative livelihoods, eradication, law enforcement and criminal justice, international and regional cooperation, public awareness, and institutional capacity building. While the United States contributes to all of them, it focuses mostly on five of its own pillars, including: alternative livelihoods, eradication, the enhancing of political will, the strengthening of the justice sector, and cooperation with the military.

While both Schweich and Haidari firmly believe that these combined pillars represent the correct approach, Schweich observed that as the nature of the drug industry shifts, so too must the strategies.

 

Security and Political Will: The Backbone

"Security and political will are the central part of a strategy for success," according to Schweich, who said that if you "combine political will with security, you can eliminate poppies in almost any area." Strategies need to incorporate a more "coordinated effort between civilian operations and military operations" in order to bring about that greater security, and a larger effort on the part of Afghan political officials.

 

Interdiction: A Solid Approach

According to UNODC, 86.6 tons of opium and 7.7 tons of heroin were seized in 2005. This represented about 3.4 percent of the country’s opium output, up from 0.4 percent in 2003. Schweich said that such numbers indicate that interdiction appears to be the most reliable means to attack the drug problem. He discussed the need to work more closely with the Afghan authorities to build up the justice sector in order to expand interdiction efforts. So far, "the criminal justice task force in Kabul has been very successful," he said. One thousand cases have gone through the system since 2001, with a 70 percent conviction rate. Many drug-related criminals in the country are still at-large, however, and need to be brought to justice.

 

Alternative Livelihoods: Need Sustainability

Schweich pointed to the need to execute "a better delivery of alternative development." There are two big problems with the alternative livelihood approach as taken in Afghanistan so far, according to Byrd. First, many alternative livelihood projects are generally of a short-term nature and focused on a single sector; as a result they generally do not do much good in the long run. In addition, alternative livelihood projects have promised far more than they delivered, raising expectations and then bringing disappointment to farmers when they do not deliver as much as expected. All three speakers agreed that counter-narcotics officials have to work on making fewer promises and on keeping the promises they do make.

 

The Eradication Debate

Eradication prompted the most debate. Mr. Haidari noted that despite the fact that it is one of the Afghan government’s eight pillars, Afghan officials have "avoided the eradication strategy, because they are keenly aware of the nexus between extreme poverty and drugs." Eradication, by itself, mainly hurts poor farmers. Furthermore, Haidari pointed out, it alienates them, making them more susceptible to alignment with the Taliban who assure them steady payments for their work.

In 2006, about 10 percent of Afghanistan’s poppy crop was eradicated. The goal was to increase farmers’ fears about loss of their annual crop and push them to choose a more reliable alternative. While there has been an increase in eradication efforts in the past year, there has also been an increase in poppy fields in new areas as drug traffickers move their business to less policed areas.

The United States, however, holds firmly to the concept of eradication despite it being "the most controversial part of the strategy." According to Schweich, "there is a perception that we want to go out and harm people" by eradicating their fields and livelihoods. But "if a farmer has been offered an alternative and declines the alternative, there has to be a coercive element to that." Schweich believes that "if you can eradicate 20-25 percent of the opium crop in a particular area where alternatives have been offered, then farmers will think twice about planting poppy the next year."

William Byrd, on the other hand, sees eradication as a blunt, unwieldy instrument being used against a nimble, dynamic, and powerful drug industry with ample financial and other resources it can bring bear. Attempting eradication, he said, is like "chasing a moving target" as the annual poppy crop can easily be shifted from one province to another. Building on Haidari’s case, Byrd believes that in many cases eradication, contrary to its purpose, actually increases farmers’ dependence on opium as it increases their debts (towards drug traffickers, land owners, and so on), which can be paid off only by another season of poppy growing and harvesting.

Byrd noted, however, that eradication (defined broadly to also include efforts to persuade farmers not to cultivate opium poppy in the first place under threat of law enforcement) can play a useful role if used appropriately, and when it is not considered the primary instrument against drugs. Experience has demonstrated that eradication efforts can be effective in new opium poppy cultivating areas that are not yet dependent on the crop and areas where viable alternative livelihoods are available, he said. However, in the targeted localities where it is pursued, eradication should be as complete as possible, as allowing partial eradication or numerous exceptions opens the door wide for corruption. Schweich jointly concluded that we have to be willing to contribute a little more than we currently have to achieve any substantial results in the field of eradication.

 

A Fluctuating Industry

"Poppy production and cultivation fluctuates enormously from year to year," said Byrd. Once a field is cleared of poppies, there is no guarantee that poppy production will not re-emerge the next year in that same field. In 2001, after the Taliban prohibited poppy production in the country, the cultivated area declined from 82,272 hectares in 2000 to a mere 7,606 hectares. In 2004 the cultivated area reached 131,000 hectares, a record high. It decreased to 104,000 in 2005, and then increased to 171,303 hectares in 2006. These statistics, drawn from UNODC reports, illustrate the extreme fluctuation in the poppy industry.

In addition, the poppy crop fluctuates a great deal from area to area. Counter-narcotics efforts may lower poppy cultivation in a particular area one year but then the cultivation shifts to another area the following year. For the farmers, "crop rotation makes sense," Byrd said, and in any case, "the drug industry is dynamic in responding to eradication efforts." Looking at the opium poppy cultivation statistics over one or two years and using them as evidence of improvement is not very productive. In order to fully understand the scope and the direction of the drug industry, one must look at the statistics over a period of five to ten years.

 

No Silver Bullets: Continued Political Will and Finding Multiple Solutions is Key

Both Haidari and Byrd suggested that conquering the drug industry, or at least reducing it to more manageable levels, would take at least five or six more years. To be fully free of its drug problem, Byrd suggested that Afghanistan would need at least another 20 years.

Schweich stressed the impossibility of estimating how long counter-narcotics efforts need to continue before poppy cultivation is at a controllable level, because the efforts depend on two factors: political will and funding. Currently, the counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan are extremely under-funded. All the speakers agreed that there are "no silver bullets" to attack this problem. Sustained, multi-pronged development and law enforcement strategies are required for a long period of time.

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