This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bred And Cultivated In The Bone

"[There is] zero tolerance [for corruption in Afghanistan]."
"The president has been decisive in acting on information that indicates involvement of government officials in illegal acts, including taxation of opium."
Sayed Zafar Hashemi, government spokesman

"I have seen the central government, the local government and the foreigners all talk very seriously about poppy."
"In practice, they do nothing, and behind the scenes, the government makes secret deals to enrich themselves."
Hakim Angar (former) police chief, Helmand Province

"Of course it happens here. But the police chief, the local police commander, they don't take the money directly. They do it through influential figures."
Baz Gul, police commander, Marja, Afghanistan
An American soldier greets local children in a poppy field in Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 8, 2011 (ISAF)
An American soldier greets local children in a poppy field in Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 8, 2011 (ISAF)

When NATO troops and the United States' military were in Afghanistan helping the government fend off attacks by the Taliban, and attempting to help the country pull itself into the 20th century from its feudal Islamist roots in which the country was mired, humanitarian groups and foreign civic volunteers from prison authorities to experts in civil infrastructure, guided the country and its government, its military and its national police toward the manner in which the country could best be benefited.

To do that, they were faced with the necessity of attempting to wean all those basic sources away from ingrained corruption. And while the focus was on corruption, effort was expended, along with treasury, to try to convince farmers to grow edible or cash crops other than opium poppies. The impression was that it was the Taliban that was forcing poor farmers to cultivate poppies, but the truth was rural dwellers were happy to grow poppies since the return, even when 'taxed' by the Taliban was far more generous than growing grains.

It was well enough known that some members of the Afghan parliament who were in their previous incarnation war lords with questionable backgrounds in illegal criminal enterprises including murder, were involved as well, with a sizeable stake in the worldwide sale and circulation of opium, courtesy of Afghanistan, the major source of opium, worldwide. Tens of billions of foreign treasury went into attempts to stem corruption and the growth of opium poppies, to little avail.

Poppy cultivation is a major source of funding that local governments depend on, where officials impose taxes on farmers reflective of the method used by the Taliban in areas that they control. Some of the collected revenue reaches beyond the provinces to enrich elite officials in the capital, Kabul. Afghan government officials have become discreet drug lords, in competition with the Taliban, each struggling for control of opium revenue.

The theory was that once security had been achieved, with the Taliban finally routed for good, the country would settle into its new, Western-inspired, Islamic-style democracy, and Afghanistan would flourish. For the drug trade to stop and farmers to incline toward growing the necessities of life, security would lead the way. This is a scenario that has proven elusive to impossible to navigate in a society for which corruption expresses a way of life, and growing poppies a basic livelihood

In the last year of the NATO mission, 2014, more poppies were cultivated than at any other time since records were kept. Representatives of the government operate behind the scenes. Responsible for seeing that the poppies are duly produced, refined and smuggled as opium or heroin in their black market export, taxation is unofficially official.

An elder in Marja in Helmand Province explained that poppy presented a crop that no one had any wish to abandon. Even with the imposition of the tax, profits were far beyond anything that could be realized with any other crops. "Most other crops would have earned about $20,000", remarked the elder -- in comparison to the $59,000 that his group in his village realized from 18 hectares planted with poppy.

The area under cultivation for poppies is rising as Afghan farmers can get up to 12 times more for the crop than they can for growing cereals or vegetables AFP/Get

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