THE BLOG

Afghan Poppy Power

10/08/2007 05:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The United Nations released a report in August stating that this year's poppy crop in Afghanistan has risen 64 percent. In light of this the U.S. is, again, compartmentalizing its problem solving strategy into one basket. It just wants to nuke -- or sorry, I mean -- drench the yield with pesticides.

These pesticides may spread poisons, destroy legal food crops and eradicate people's livelihoods, but who cares, the opium is the bad guy. There is no strategy and, again, no comprehensive approach to foreign policy.

Americans are not listening, they are reacting and the only "hearts and minds" U.S. policy proponents of this idea are winning are their own. Let's get 'em. Sooner or later those crops will be gone and the Taliban guys they are supporting will give in!

A recent New York Times article, "U.S. Renews Bid to Destroy Opium Poppies in Afghanistan," quotes an adamant U.S. official. "We are working to convince the key ministers and President Karzai to accept this strategy," said the official, who supports spraying but asked not to be identified because of the issue's political delicacy. Delicacy? In my opinion, this administration is anything but delicate. He continues by saying, 'We want to convince them to show some power. The government has to show its power in the remote provinces."

The government should also show some power by telling these "advisors" that pure poppy eradication has never cut it and it is just not going to cut it now. This of course should be followed by getting better advisors and by doing the work themselves.

It is high time that U.S. foreign policy people stop telling others what is best for them and start engaging in what works. There is another way. However, much to their dismay any alternative to inhalation takes time.

Afghanistan actually has poppy eradication success. In the small northern province of Balkh, the governor there has effectively eliminated the opium plant. It was not easy and there is no indication that it will last especially if we sit on our backsides and keep trying to fix things piecemeal.

To do this the province of Balkh created a provincial development plan (PDP) to outline what is needed for the province to develop comprehensively. It makes extensive suggestions on how the traditional must work with the modern to move forward in governance.

The plan also explains just how many schools, hospitals and roads must be built to start moving toward contemporary systems of the West. Additionally, this PDP outlines exactly how much money it will take to make progress and replace those pesky poppies.

To do this something must be created in exchange for an alternative livelihood.

Note, too, that the governor himself participated directly in the removal of the crop and wrote extensively on how they succeeded. So, to support further efforts there is also something to reference internally.

The process has begun but it is far from finished. The Afghans now need financial help and assistance in problem solving so the plan can continue to work and the poppies don't pop back up. The governor's team is well aware of this probability and it worries them, but alas they still wait for help.

The Karzai government is informed of Balkh's success. In response, Karzai's Ministry of Economy made it mandatory for all provinces to create a development plan. Unfortunately they too have jumped the gun. They want the plans done by 2008, which means again the work to produce one will be neglected. It took Balkh eight months and to my knowledge no other province has even begun theirs.

Afghanistan itself has its own ANDS (Afghanistan National Development Strategy), which should be linked to each provincial (Balkh did this as well) plan. Working together on the many problems is the only way they will make headway on any proposed eradication project. Of course it is daunting; if it were easy we wouldn't call it complex.

It is effortless to run around poisoning plants with no endgame, but replacing a $6 billion industry takes more time. During my trip there this past summer, I saw a lot of brilliant assessing with too many expatriates not eliciting collaboration from the Afghans or adhering to the ANDS.

Outsiders can not make this change alone, nor can they defeat the Taliban or Al Qaeda unaided. The change must come from within, which means Afghans and the rest of us can only help through cooperation. Balkh is a perfect example of how Afghans know best. We, in turn need to realize this and instead of dictating stand beside them to lend a dollar or a hand when they most need it.

Simply vaporizing a crop, or even the Taliban, will by no means guarantee a reduction. There must be goals stated and strategies generated to work toward systematically changing the landscape. Otherwise any effort will merely be in vain and the poppy and its owners will sprout up all over again.