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Abstract

Afghanistan’s opium production has soared despite eradication efforts. This is partly due to a prolonged drought linked to climate change. But it is also due to the collapses of traditional irrigation systems and the social cohesion upon which the maintenance of those systems depend. This crisis, in turn, raises deeper questions about prevailing notions of the “natural” and the “social” as dichotomous and distinct.

For twenty years, Afghanistan has produced the majority of the world’s illicit opium supply.1 For most of this time, poppy eradication has been underway, supported by ample international funding, technical support, and personnel. Yet, by any measure, eradication has been a total failure. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that the amount of Afghan land planted with poppy has more than doubled since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. The 2013 crop was estimated at a value of nearly $3 billion, up from $2 billion the previous year.2

Why this paradox of increasing poppy cultivation even as there has been a robust eradication effort? The answer involves interactions between social structures and environmental dynamics; and most crucially, water availability. Several facts are central: Afghanistan is an arid and semiarid country, yet two-thirds of Afghans work in agriculture. Afghan agriculture is highly dependent on irrigation, but the irrigation system is badly dilapidated. Afghanistan has suffered a decade-long drought, coinciding with most of the US-led military occupation, and opium poppy is very drought resistant, requiring only one-fifth or one-sixth the water needed by traditional crops like wheat. Furthermore, the drought fits the pattern predicted by various climate models that study anthropogenic climate change.3

I first stumbled upon the link between poppy and drought—and, by extension, climate change—in 2004, while interviewing poppy growing farmers in Afghanistan’s Wardak province and again a few years later doing the same in Nangarhar province. Repeatedly, farmers explained that they needed to grow poppy because of its drought resistance. “All it really needs is a little water early on,” said a Nangarhar farmer named Mohammed. [End Page 183]

American military and diplomatic personnel on the ground have noted this vexing link. A typical report from a Provincial Reconstruction Team states, “Although a mostly dry and barren region suffering from years of drought, Farah is mainly an agricultural society. Fruits and vegetables, predominantly wheat and corn, are the province’s staples. However, due to current water shortages, poppy now dominates agricultural production.”4

Creeping environmental crisis forces many Afghan farmers to plant poppy, even though it is illegal and thus invites state repression. In taking up poppy, farmers inevitably move closer to illegal armed actors, particularly the insurgents—the Quetta-based Taliban, the so-called Haqqani Network, and that branch of Hezb-e Islami led by the infamous Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—all of whom protect and tax the poppy crop.

Political Ecology

Thus, poppy is a plant, a crop, a drug, and a socio-environmental factor linking climate change and conflict in Afghanistan. Or perhaps it does not link “the environmental” with “the social” so much as it reveals how conflict, like all human activity, is inherently environmental, as in always already bound up within ecological processes. War is the product of and, in turn, produces socio-ecological patterns.

The sociologist Jason Moore urges us to go beyond what he calls the Cartesian dualism that sees society and nature as distinct. He calls for a unified thinking that posits civilization as a specific iteration of the endless accretion of organism-environment interactions that make up the web of life. In place of “nature” and “society” Moore calls for a unified conception—the Oikeios. That is, seeing the metabolism of the planet, including human activity, as a whole: “This is nature as us, as inside us, as around us. This is nature as a flow of flows. Put simply, humans make environments and environments make humans. And human organization.” For Moore, the social and the natural can only be separated by “the violence of abstraction.”5

Before Moore called for abolishing this Cartesian distinction, the late Neil Smith had made similar connections, though in a less systematized and concentrated form. In Uneven Development, Smith argued that humans interacting with the rest of biophysical reality, quite literally produce nature. By that he meant the actual physical conjuring and transformation of biological systems, not merely the “social construction” of their meanings.6

Drawing on Cicero, Smith introduces the idea of “first nature,” or “nonhuman nature,” and a human-made “second nature.” Or as Cicero put it in De Natura Deorum: “We have also taken possession of all the fruits of the earth. Ours to enjoy are the mountains and the plains. Ours are the rivers and the lakes. We sow corn and plant trees. We fertilize the soil by irrigation. We dam the rivers, to guide them where we will. One may say that we seek with our human hands to create a second nature in the natural world.” Finally, Smith [End Page 184] superseded both “first nature” and “second nature” with the concept of “social nature,” which, very much like the Oikieos, posits human life and economic activity as always already part of the biophysical exchanges that we reify as “nature.”7

Many others besides Smith and Moore have tackled these questions, but space does not allow for a full discussion of this literature.8 Suffice to say, this variegated tradition of dialectic green social thought, often called “political ecology” or “world ecology,” provides a holistic framework to think about poppy in Afghanistan.

If we accept this reframing and try to rethink history through the concepts of social nature, or the Oikeios, then understanding armed conflict demands that we look beyond unidirectional causality—as in “environmental causes” and “environmental effects”—to instead understand conflict as a dialectic process that is social, yet always bound up with organic, biophysical flows—producing them and being produced by them.

Climate and Food Security

Although scientists are generally unwilling to attribute discrete weather events to climate change, the observed pattern of increasing drought punctuated by more intense and ill-timed flooding in Central Asia matches that which has been predicted by the world’s major climate models. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summary described projected impacts for “The Middle East and Arid Asia” as follows: “Soil moisture is projected to decrease in most parts of the region because projected precipitation increases are small and evaporation will increase with rising temperatures.”9 The next IPCC assessment confirmed the pattern: “Increasing annual mean temperature trends at the country scale in East and South Asia have been observed during the 20th century.”10

Afghanistan, as most people know, is a mountainous, arid, and semi-arid country and a large proportion of its lower altitude farmland is dependent on faraway melt runoff from high mountain snowpack and glaciers. This means irrigation—as infrastructure and social process—is central to the nation’s political economy. I will address this in more detail below.

Historic climate data for Afghanistan is limited.11 Despite this, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has Afghanistan meteorological data that runs from 1939 through 1984. The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) has used this data to calculate that, since 1960, rainfall in Afghanistan has decreased 2 percent per decade, with the spring season [End Page 185] becoming drier and summer and autumn growing wetter.12 While that overall decrease may be small, the change in timing is also important. Dry spring plantings and wetter autumn harvests can negatively affect yields by stressing young plants and molding mature crops.

Since the late 1990s, a pattern of more or less persistent drought has set in. As SEI explains: “Severe drought conditions prevailed between 1998 and 2001 and are believed to relate partly to La Niña conditions in the Pacific. The droughts were the most severe of the last 50 years.”13 This in turn translated into rising food insecurity. The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University found that in 2000, the Afghan “cereal deficit exceeded 2.3 million tons” while livestock herds had been depleted by 40 percent in just two years.14

A decade later, conditions having remained fairly similar, the SEI found that in 2009 Afghanistan was suffering “the most severe drought in living memory.”15 And in 2011, Oxfam reported three million people threatened by hunger and drought “affecting 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.” This meant massive failure of the wheat crop, increased hunger, rising rural unemployment, and the spread of illness, as people and animals were forced to share the same dwindling water sources.16

Market dynamics amplified the crisis. In 2011, Oxfam described desiccated pastures causing a quadrupling of fodder prices and a sell-off of about half of the animals in drought-affected areas. This, in turn, glutted markets and drove down livestock prices by 40 to 50 percent. According to Oxfam, “At the same time, food prices have skyrocketed putting basic food items out of reach of poor families—cereal prices in affected areas have increased by 80 percent.” Soon there were reports of people “trekking nine hours to get clean water and going into debt to ensure their children have food.”17

In 2012, heavy snows finally brought some relief and there were heavy snows again in 2015. But climate projections for the rest of the century look bad. Oxfam warns that “drought is likely to be regarded as the norm by 2030, rather than as a temporary or cyclical event.”18 Under such conditions it is only reasonable to assume that Afghanistan’s farmers will remain dependent on the one crop that can resist drought, is easy to process and transport, commands a high price, and always finds a ready international market: the ever-reliable Papaver somniferu.19

How Poppy Came to Rule

Alexander the Great is said to have brought opium with him to Afghanistan, but it was a minor crop that was not exported. Wholesale opium smuggling began with the British East India Company’s promotion of cultivation in British India for export east via middlemen to otherwise difficult to crack Chinese markets. Nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century opium consumption in Europe was sourced primarily from Turkey and Iran. World War II disrupted many of these established trade links. The post-1945 world saw a new set of production regions and smuggling routes emerge. At the heart of this vortex were the French and American wars in Indochina. By the 1960s and 1970s, Southeast Asia had become the epicenter of global opium cultivation.20 [End Page 186]

Prior to the 1980s, Afghanistan had little commercial opium smuggling. Both the Daud government, which came to power in the 1973 coup, and the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) government that came to power in the 1978 coup had strict anti-narcotics regimes coupled with fairly robust state-led development programs. According to press accounts from the 1970s, US State Department cables, and the recollections of Afghans and travelers I have spoken with, the drug-scene in those years was smalltime and mostly linked to the flow of internationals traversing Afghanistan as part of the so-called “hippie trail.”21

Drug production surged in the 1980s as warfare spread lawlessness, desperation, and corruption. Most importantly, the anti-communist Mujahedeen used opium smuggling as a source of funding and profit. “How else can we get money?” asked one rebel supporter quoted in a New York Times story filed from Musa Qala, Helmand, in 1986. “We must grow and sell opium to fight our holy war against the Russian nonbelievers.”22 Gretchen Peters of the United States Institute of Peace has described how Mullah Mohammad Nasim Akhundzada, a Helmand-based Mujahedeen commander in the 1980s, drove the spread of poppy when he “set production quotas, implemented a predatory loan service to small poppy farmers,” and “reportedly threatened farmers who failed to plant poppy with castration or death.”23

Facilitating such field-level “incentives” was the fast-developing clandestine infrastructure of cross-border smuggling that was the Mujahedeen supply lines. American and Saudi financial support for the religious rebels (an estimated $8 billion in total) was managed by Pakistan’s now rapidly expanding spy agency the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI.24 The same smuggling routes and networks that moved weapons, ammunition, medicine, food, and reinforcements across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border also moved opium and cash.

In 1992, Russia, under the control of Boris Yeltsin, cut off aid to the government of Mohamed Najibullha and his (now nationalist rather than communist) Watan party. Fuel and ammunition resupply stopped and Najibullha was forced to transfer power to a Mujahedeen “coalition government” which quickly collapsed into a Kabul-based, multi-sided civil war.25 Half the city was destroyed, an estimated one hundred thousand people were killed, the economy fragmented, and mass out migration of refugees accelerated.26 Amid this hell on Earth, all the factors encouraging poppy cultivation increased. Today, most heroin passes via Central Asia across networks of Russian mafias established during the anti-Soviet jihad and its horrific aftermath.27

Thus, the war has been an environment-making process. Poppy is only one entrance point to this “flow of flows,” which links Afghan river valley soil to smuggling networks, bank accounts, religious and ethnic prejudices; and all of this with grand geo-strategy, the climatological consequences of the Industrial Revolution; and even in an attenuated fashion, bears upon the brains of living drug users like a nightmare. [End Page 187]

Irrigation and Food Security

Just as famine is not merely an absolute shortage of food, but rather a crisis of distribution, so too is drought not simply an absolute lack of precipitation. Rather, social relations and the built environment interact with precipitation and landscape features such as glaciers, snow, streams, rivers, and aquifers to produce water availability and access to it. The same web of interactions produces the social impacts of drought, like crop failure, food insecurity, indebtedness, migration, and possibly violence.

At the global scale we are “producing” drought by loading greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, which trap heat and disrupt the planet’s climate system. This is the unintentional production of a literally “new” climate. At the local level, human agency is also a huge part of the nominally “natural.” Central to the question in Afghanistan is the issue of irrigation as a socio-ecological process. In many ways, the relationship between irrigation and drought illustrates well both Smith’s concept of social nature and Moore’s concept of the Oikeios. It is socially and historically produced through human and environment interactions; or, as Moore put it, “nature as us, as inside us, as around us. This is nature as a flow of flows,” in which, “humans make environments and environments make humans.”28

Afghanistan has an estimated population of almost thirty-two million people and an estimated 78 percent of the workforce toil in agriculture.29 And, more than 70 percent of total crop production depends on irrigation.30 That is, if nothing else, a significant indication of Afghanistan’s desiccation. To make matters worse, Afghanistan’s irrigation system is in shambolic disrepair. In 1979, Afghanistan “had 2.5 million hectares of irrigated land,” but thirty-five years of war have reduced that to “about 1.5 million hectares.”31 The condition of the irrigation infrastructure is the product of several factors: inadequate investment, relative state failure, corruption, and the disintegration and fragmentation of the social relations and institutions upon which the physical infrastructure of irrigation depends.

Rising food insecurity is another result of Afghanistan’s dilapidated irrigation system. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), through the mid-1970s Afghanistan was mostly food self-sufficient. But the country has not produced enough grain to meet national demand “since 1976, when production peaked at 4.5 million tons.” The nadir of production was 1990 when cereal output was a mere “60 percent of the 1976 production level.”32 By 2006, total grain production in Afghanistan was back to 1976 levels and has since increased steadily to the point where it is now about one-third greater than in 1976.33 The meaning of this production trend should be considered in relation to the country’s steadily growing population—now more than thirty million—and its rising inequality. Thus, the FAO calculates current food insecurity in Afghanistan as “high,” impacting an estimated 24.7 percent of the population.34 [End Page 188]

Political Ecology of Irrigation

Afghanistan has numerous combinations of traditional, modern, formal, and informal irrigation systems. Modern irrigation systems were developed with considerable state support and were generally publicly owned, though they often watered a mixture of private and state farms. These systems tend to involve damming and channeling surface water in open canals. Most famous of these was the Tennessee Valley Authority inspired Helmand and Arghandab Valley Authority (HAVA), which was centered on the large Helmand Dam, its canals, and the suburban-style town—the so called “Little America” of Lashkar Gar—that was planned around it. As Nick Cullather explained in a classic essay, the initial project was really a vast complex of dams. “Two large dams—the 200-foot-high Arghandab dam and the 320-foot-high Kajakai dam—for storage and hydropower were supplemented by diversion dams, drainage works, and irrigation canals. Reaching out from the reservoirs were 300 hundred miles of concrete-lined canals.”35 This project, like so much of high modernism, was incompatible with the environment; rapid evaporation caused rapid soil salinization. Further downstream the project prepared the way for the complete destruction of the once vast and fecund Hamoun Wetlands.

On the border with Iran, Hamoun was a vast in land delta that fluctuated in size from two thousand to four thousand square kilometers of marshes and shallow lakes. Its thriving ecosystem teamed with fish and migratory foul, as well as fauna such as otters, fox, deer, and jaguars. Amidst this developed a distinct way of life based on fishing, hunting, and farming. But with the oasis’ desiccation, more than a hundred villages and towns have been abandoned.36

For farmers in the better-watered mountains and high remote valleys of Afghanistan where springs and streams of snowmelt run-off are adequate, small-scale informal surface water systems of irrigation are common. Stream flow is diverted by temporary weirs and water rights are managed at the village level. Traditional shallow wells, called “arhad” lift ground water from shallow wells using “Persian wheels.” By one estimate there are 8,595 of these traditional shallow wells.37 Above the plains in the mountains one finds springs and spring-fed streams, the flows of which are diverted to individual fields and village systems.

Further down, on plains and major river valleys one finds larger surface water systems. These typically serve multiple villages and thus involve delicate forms of social coordination to function.

The most intriguing and socially complex of the irrigation systems are the karez in Pashto or qanat (an Arabic word used by Dara speakers)—long, ancient, hand-dug tunnels and galleries that tap groundwater from the aquifers of alluvial fans. The gently sloping tunnels allow water to flow from underground sources to far away and desiccated planes. Afghanistan’s karez range from only few hundred meters long, up to twenty kilometers long. Along the way, these underground tunnels are intersected by vertical shafts that act as wells, air vents, light sources for maintenance, and it thought that because they are cool inside, the vertical shafts act to trigger and catch condensation and direct the moisture down to the streambed. [End Page 189]

Some karez are thought to be thousands of years old and are found continuously in a geography stretching from arid western China down into India, across central Asia, through out the Middle East and up into Europe. Examples are found in Spain, Luxembourg, and Italy—much of Palermo still depends on system built when Sicily was under Arab occupation. The systems are even found in parts of Mexico, Chile, and Peru where they were introduced by the Spaniards. They are called galleria in Europe, khettara in Morocco, foggara in Libya and Algeria, and qanat in much of the Arab world.38

The area studies doyen of Afghanistan, Louis Dupree, described the appearance of the tunnels vertical shaft from above: “From the air, the qanat of Iran, Afghanistan, and West Pakistan look like neat lines of anthills leading from the foothills across the desert zones to the greenery of the villages and towns. Actually a line of ‘wells’ (shafts) connected by tunnels to intercept the water table. … Only the highest shaft leading up the hillside intercepts the water table. Then, guided by the tunnels, the water spills out onto the irrigation ditches and fields.”39

Social Solidarity and Water Management

The karez systems, like surface level canal systems, are beyond the physical and financial capacity of an individual farmer to manage. Thus, even when a karez is privately owned, as they sometimes are, it must be managed as common property. Construction and maintenance of the karez, and surface canals, require significant amounts of routine maintenance labor. This, in turn, compels community cooperation and mobilization. In short, the seeming “natural” element of water is actually an animating force within the nominally “social” world of Afghan farming villages. Water management requires, and over the centuries helped build, social solidarity that is operationalized as community water management and collective labor. As a recent study found, “In many of the villages, particularly in the Pashtun areas, people had pooled and spent funds… to rehabilitate their karez. One of the main reasons that [surveyed farmers] cited for continued interest in rehabilitating karez instead of abandoning them and going for tubewell irrigation was communal harmony.”40

Dupree described karez maintenance as conducted by “part-time specialists”—men who are “farmers first” but have considerable skill in subterranean excavation. Into the 1960s they dug “the wells and tunnels, using lighted candles or lanterns to [light] up the excavators as they dig toward the next well. Excavators use hard ceramic hoops to reinforce weak strata. The qanat system must be cleaned annually because of silt accumulation. Goatskin buckets attached to a windless contraption haul the originally excavated dirt and the later accumulated silts to the surface.” The vertical shafts can be thirty to one hundred feet deep and gallery or canal tunnels can stretch for up to twenty kilometers. Maintenance is dangerous [End Page 190] and tunnel collapse a constant risk.41 All these factors—the complexity, the danger, and the regularity of the work—require social solidarity to function and, to the extent that they function, build social solidarity. Thus, to function well (let alone under the stress of drought), Afghanistan’s irrigation requires security and social cohesion.

The central character in this communal drama are: the mirab or the “water guardian.” This man is the day-to-day manager of an irrigation system. Then there is the karez-kan, who is in charge of running the underground maintenance on systems where required. Water disputes among farmers that cannot be managed by the mirab are referred to a vakil, or water judge. This pattern, of course, plays out differently in different places and changes over time. In some case studies all these roles are performed by the mirab.42

Accounts differ on how a mirab is chosen: sometimes they are appointed and paid by the landowners in their management area; sometimes they are elected; and, according to some accounts, there are places where the mirab is a position passed down from father to son. Nor are the mirab a social feature of traditional irrigation only. Government built irrigation canals use local mirabs as well. This positive role for government is important because the academic literature on the karez or qanat system can lapse into romanticism about ancient systems of community solidarity as always and inherently opposed to participation by the modern state. But as Vincent Thomas and Mujeeb Ahmad of the excellent Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) have shown, the modern Afghan state has actually helped reproduce, maintain, and expand the mirab system.43

Regardless of who owns or built an irrigation system, each mirab is rooted in the community they serve and their function is “to effectively organize the distribution of water, enforce water rights, resolve arising water related disputes, and organize the cleaning and maintenance of the irrigation system… [the] mirab also has knowledge about local water rights and they have the capacity to enforce these rights with the social pressures they command.”44

According to a case study of a the karez system over the border in Baluchistan, a farmer’s allocation of water is set by either to the amount of land they own and/or the amount of labor and money they contribute to a systems creation or maintenance. “This equitable sharing of benefits and costs is a unique feature of karez system that is a defining feature of social organization and power relations in a community.”45 Tragically, thirty-five years of war have badly undermined the socio-ecological balance of irrigation. Violence and state collapse have exacerbated ethnic, religious, and class tensions; facilitated land-grabbing; and spurred mass out-migration to Afghan cities, Pakistan, Iran, and the Gulf. Under such conditions, the labor-intensive maintenance of the karez breaks down.

A detailed study by the AREU describes the breakdown of the mirab system on the government-built Jangharoq Canal in Baghlan Province, north of Kabul and southeast of Mazari Sharif. In the early 1980s this (primarily Tajik) area fell to the control of rival Mujahedeen commanders and the original mirab fled to Pakistan. Relations between the warlords deteriorated and soon the upstream commander was diverting as much water as possible so as to deprive [End Page 191] his downstream rivals. Thus, Mujahedeen lawlessness “drastically affected the elements of trust, cooperation and social cohesion” upon which the Jangharoq Canal system’s maintenance and operation depended, “leading to a complete collapse of collective actions and cooperation for water management.”46 In 1992, a warlord named Bashir took control of the area and appointed a new mirab, but also staged fixed elections that essentially sold the position to the highest bidder. Now, to receive water farmers had to pay the mirab.

When the region fell to the Taliban, canal maintenance improved. Relying on the mirab for information the local Taliban officials begin their tenure by summing allegedly freeloading farmers to their local office where they were relieved of all cash, severely beaten, and then sent straight to the canal to desilt. “After that event, there was much better participation and 150 to 200 people helped with the maintenance instead of the 60 to 90 people there had been before.” The mirab, though his power was enhanced by the Taliban, was also afraid of the zealots and seems to have largely stopped demanding bribes. The arrival of the Karzai government, which was essentially a return of the Mujahedeen, meant the mirab on the Jangharoq Canal system quickly reverted to wholesale corruption; 87.5 percent of farmers interviewed had to pay bribes to get water.47

Another study of several karez systems in Wardak found a total breakdown of the mirab-based management system. This was due to in part to “the lack of payment capacity” among the farmers. According to one informant “they cannot afford a mirab.” With no mirab, there was no water management and in much of the study area the karez had “almost dried out,” were useless for irrigation, and could “only be used as a source of drinking water.”48 No wonder they grow a lot of poppy in Wardak.

Amidst the breakdown of collectively managed irrigation we find the proliferation of modern gasoline and diesel-powered bore wells. Often privately owned and drilled, these modern wells proliferate on the farms of wealthier families. They both respond to and produce rising anomie and a fraying social fabric.

Irrigation as Battlefield

The war has also directly damaged the physical infrastructure of irrigation and thus directly compelled more poppy cultivation. Just as the karez are crucial parts of the social landscape of production so too are they part of the social and tactical terrain of warfare. As far back as the Mongol invasion of the 1219-1221, Afghan farmers were known to escape from marauding forces by hiding in their karez tunnels.49 Though never as extensive as US operations during the Vietnam War, during the civil war of the 1980s, Soviets and PDPA government forces engaged in some subterranean combat.50 Eventually Soviet and Afghan army methods of tunnel clearing evolved into an elaborate concatenation of explosive charges known as “stereophonic” and “quadrophonic” blasting—that is, setting charges up and down a string of vertical shafts. This blasting not only damaged tunnels, it would fully collapse whole sections.51

Afghan insurgents still use karez tunnels.52 And along with clearing explosives from karez tunnels there have been several documented cases of the [End Page 192] American military inadvertently damaging the karez, even building bases atop them. These are, as one journalist put it, the “accidental clash of infrastructure technologies separated by a few yards of dirt and 3,000 years.”53 And more than a few counterinsurgency experts have latched on to repairing karez as a path to winning hearts and minds.54

Ultimately, the greater problem is not physical damage but the social damage to the mirab system and the physical decline that has allowed. As the FAO has put it, “The irrigation systems had suffered over the past three decades, not only because of a lack of investment, but also because people were moving away from the rural areas, leaving no one to maintain the systems or transfer indigenous skills to the younger generation.”55 One can see a vicious circle here: a worse economy causes worse irrigation, leading to worse economy.56 And that drives farmers toward poppy cultivation.

Eradication versus Reality in the Poppy Fields

Initially the US military did not concern itself with poppy. However, rightwing political pressure in the United States forced the issue. It began in 2003, when Republican congressman Henry Hyde sent a letter to then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expressing “concerns about Afghanistan and the impact of illicit drugs on the fight against global terrorism.” Then, on a surprise visit to Kabul in August 2004, Rumsfeld announced that drugs were a problem “too serious to be ignored.”57 Thus began poppy eradication and its steady alienation of Afghan farmers. Perversely, poppy eradication strengthens major criminals and weakens small farmers.58 Richard Holbrooke described eradication as “the most wasteful and ineffective program I have seen in 40 years in and out of government.”59

The political impact of eradication has been disastrous. The government threatens to destroy the crop, but in reality many government eradication efforts have been little more that bribery expeditions. As farmers grow alienated, they turn to the Taliban who offer protection for the poppy crop, which they, in turn, tax.60

Infamously, narco-corruption permeates the whole Afghan state. Although the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, appears to be far more competent and somewhat less criminal than former president Hamid Karzai, he nonetheless inherits a government and political culture riddled with corruption. Recall just the most extreme symptoms: Karzai’s anticorruption chief, Izzatullah Wasifi, had been convicted of selling heroin in the United States during the 1980s.61 Meanwhile, Karzai’s now-deceased brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was so blatantly criminal that American officials came very close to prosecuting him.62 So far, the biggest problem for the new president, in this regard, has been his [End Page 193] nominee for agriculture minister, Mohammad Yaqub Haidari, who was on INTERPOL’s most-wanted list as wanted in Estonia for large-scale tax evasion dating back to 2003.63

Why hasn’t the US-led occupation targeted the warlords or jangsalarang who are the chief executives of the drug trade? Because they are the main allies of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).64 And so, the Afghan “war on drugs” has focused on small farmers via eradication, which merely breeds corruption because poor tenant farmers are willing pay bribes to save their crops and impoverished police, commanded by corrupt officers, need and want those bribes.

A diplomatic cable from several years ago described the corrosive narcotics-corruption nexus situation as follows: “The narcotics industry dominates Afghanistan’s economy; it is the most significant source of funding for the insurgency, undercuts licit development, and undermines governance.”65 Another cable, written for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, put it this way: “Karzai’s state and government suffer from an inability to deliver essential services, compounded by endemic corruption, political intimidation, poverty, criminality, insurgency and ethno-tribal politics.”66 The soft approach—building up alternative livelihoods—has largely failed. Between $30 and $40 million was invested in an anti-poppy economic development or “alternative livelihoods” program, but there is little to show for it.67

Conclusion: In Praise of Poppy

And what about the future? In 2008, the British government issued a report describing what climate change will likely do to Afghanistan, stating that “drought is likely to be regarded as the norm by 2030.”68 In other words, the boom of poppy and its attendant corruption are part of the specific “social nature” that a century of imperial struggle has produced in a buffer state that is now on the front lines of anthropogenic climate change.

This raises larger questions about the role of poppy and Afghanistan’s future. It is time to start thinking the unthinkable: Could poppy be part of the solution rather than just part of the problem?

Not only is poppy drought resistant, but it offers the common classes of Afghanistan many economic benefits, which the international reconstruction effort has largely failed to deliver. Opium income has delivered farmers from onerous debts and allowed them to keep land that they would otherwise have been forced to sell off to local “commanders.” As a farmer in Wardak told me, “In the last three years many farms have got out of debt because of poppy. No other crop compares to it. And with the drought we only have 10 percent of our apples and wheat. These crops use so much water compared to poppy. And the wheat is almost worthless.”69 [End Page 194]

In most parts of Afghanistan, a farmer can milk each seedcase up to seven times. Eventually, it is tapped out and left to dry, before being harvested for the next planting. The seeds are also used to make edible oil. The labor-intensive harvest provides good wages for young, mostly male farm workers who have on occasion used the opium harvest to stage informal work actions that successfully bid up their wages. As one US embassy cable from 2007 reported, “evidence of disagreements between landowners (or simply poppy growers, as many use government land) and laborers regarding wages.” A disagreement between landowners and laborers in Lashkar Gah on April 10, 2007, saw landowners telling workers the pay would be only “a quarter of the opium harvested (instead of a daily wage), while the workers have been demanding from a third or even half of the harvest.” The pushback from laborers so incensed some opium planters that a group of them complained to provincial government officials, who the cable reports, “had enough sense not to get involved.” In the end, it seems that some men were forced to work by the local police commander while others, “agreeing to work reportedly may be receiving more than double the typical wage of ten dollars a day (plus room and board).”70

Women have also found work opportunities in the poppy fields. As a US embassy cable noted, “monitors report seeing an unprecedented number of women and children working in the fields.”71 Lest one misunderstand the meaning of this observation, many people in Afghanistan are so poor and work is so scarce that these opportunities mean a higher standard of living for populations that might otherwise face actual malnutrition and hunger. (Relatedly, in the hashish sector, women find work beating marijuana plants against carpets to extract the THC and cannabinoid rich resin that comprises hashish.)

The Afghan poppy boom has been linked to a decline in rural indebtedness and an improvement in the status and standard of living for many women. Because opium harvesting is both labor intensive and lucrative, it provides economic opportunities for the women who either cultivate poppy on their own land or work for others. The average wage for gathering opium can be as high as seven to ten dollars a day. In Kabul, a day laborer on a construction site can expect to make three dollars a day. Without poppy, many Afghan farmers would starve, or be forced to migrate.

Poppy is part of Afghanistan’s “social nature,” it is the form “the oikeios” takes after decades of war and the onset of anthropogenic climate change. Poppy cultivation is how Afghan farmers are adapting to the climate crisis. Trying to stamp it out or wish it away has failed, to continue on with such a fantasy will only make life worse for Afghan farmers and spread instability.

Christian Parenti

Christian Parenti teaches in New York University’s Global Liberal Studies program. His latest book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011), explores the link between climate change and violence. As a journalist, he has reported extensively from Afghanistan, Iraq, and various parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He has a PhD in Sociology and Geography from the London School of Economics.

Notes

1. “Afghanistan opium harvest at record high-UNODC,” BBC News, November 13, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24919056; “Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, November 2013, http://www.unodc.org/documents/crop-monitoring/Afghanistan/Afghan_report_Summary_Findings_2013.pdf.

2. A.J. Vicens, “We Spent $7.6 Billion to Crush the Afghan Opium Trade—and It’s Doing Better Than Ever,” Mother Jones, October 21, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/afghanistan-opium-poppy-heroin-record-levels. [End Page 195]

3. For more detailed discussion with deeper history, see chapter 9 in Christian Parenti, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (New York: Nation Books, 2012).

4. “PRT FARAH: Economic Snapshot—Poppy and Iran Dominate, Economy and Taxes Struggling,” January 22, 2007, 11:37; canonical ID: 07KABUL216_a (10STATE7531).

5. Jason W. Moore, “Introduction” in Capitalism in the Web of Life Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (New York: Verso, 2015); manuscript forthcoming.

6. Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space, 3rd ed. (Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 2008). For classic discussion of the social construction of nature, see William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. William Cronon (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995), 69-90.

7. Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space, 3rd ed. (Atlanta: University of Georgia Press, 2008). It should be pointed out that human beings are not alone in having a dialectical relationship with their environment. Plenty of species do the same. Beavers need beaver ponds, but they do not find them ready-made, they create them. The creative tension that is the organism environment relationship is at the heart of Aldo Leopold’s concept of the “trophic cascade.” Remove apex predators like wolves and watch all the reciprocal relationships in the food web, that is a local ecosystem, begin to transform. Even the oxygen-rich atmosphere that allowed our development as a species is itself the product of organism environment interactions that occurred 2.4 billion years ago when methane consuming “exhaled” so much oxygen that they transform their environment in what is now known as the Oxygen Catastrophe or Great Oxygen Event.

8. Among those who have built this emerging field are: Alfred Crosby, William Cronon, Donald Worester, Susanna Hecht, Cindi Katz, Carolyn Merchant, John Bellamy Foster, David Harvey, James O’ Connor, Richard Peet, Michael Watts, Michael Perelman, and many others. But this is not the time or place to discuss their contributions.

9. “The Regional Impacts of Climate Change,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 1996, WG I, Figure 6.12), https://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/regional/157.htm.

10. IPCC Working Group II, Chapter 24 in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 1333.

11. For much of the twentieth century, meteorological monitoring systems were sparse as the Government of Afghanistan was never a very robust institution even at the height of its power. Kabul University’s faculty of science was established in 1942; in 1961 a section of meteorology was founded and remained active until 1965 when it “was disqualified on governmental order.” The study of meteorology was revived in 1979. But with the escalation of civil war in the 1980s, weather monitoring contracted. With the collapse of the Najibullha government in 1992, Kabul was consumed by the Mujahadeen’s vicious, multisided, internecine civil war; functional government stopped, libraries and laboratories were sacked. That the university was not completely destroyed is all the more remarkable given that it is situated on the side of Kabul that was most heavily damaged. The Taliban took Kabul in late 1996, but meteorological monitoring did not resume. For more information about the University of Kabul, see: “History of Faculty,” Kabul University, http://ku.edu.af/en/page/753/885/8330.

12. Matthew Savage, Dr. Bill Dougherty, Dr. Mohammed Hamza, Dr. Ruth Butterfield, and Dr. Sukaina Bharwani, “Socio-Economic Impacts of Climate Change in Afghanistan,” Department of International Development & Stockholm Environment Institute, DFID CNTR 08 8507, Executive Summary, 2.

13. Savage et al., 3.

14. Shardul Agrawala, Mathew Barlow, Heidi Cullen and Bradfield Lyon, “The Drought and Humanitarian Crisis in Central and Southwest Asia: A Climate Perspective,” The International Research Institute for Climate Prediction, Special Report No. 01-11, 8.

15. Savage et al., 2. The drought in Nangarhar finally broke in 2010 when the colossal Arabian Ocean Monsoon that flooded some 20 percent of Pakistan brushed along the Durand Line. In Pakistan, the UN estimated that two thousand people died; fourteen million were in need of humanitarian aid; 2.4 million hectares of crops were lost; 1.9 million homes were destroyed or damaged; and over seven million people were homeless. “Floods in Pakistan,” United Nations Humanitarian Communication Group (HCG), October 4, 2010. [End Page 196]

16. “Oxfam warns of looming food crisis in Afghanistan,” Oxfam, September 20, 2011, http://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2011-09-20/oxfam-warns-looming-food-crisis-afghanistan.

17. “Oxfam warns of looming food crisis in Afghanistan,” Oxfam.

18. “Oxfam warns of looming food crisis in Afghanistan,” Oxfam, vi.

19. “Oxfam warns of looming food crisis in Afghanistan,” Oxfam, viii. The Stockholm Environment Institute put it thus: “Crop failure due to water shortages and the amount of potentially productive land left uncultivated will likely both increase. More water intensive staple crops will become less attractive to farmers, with a likely increase in the attractiveness of those that are more drought hardy, including opium poppy.”

20. Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2003).

21. From at least the early seventies until the Communist coup in 1978, the US Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs—the precursor to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)—was in Afghanistan working with the government to create a comprehensive antinarcotics strategy. Below is a section from a fairly typical diplomatic cable from 1973 addressing the subject of drug smuggling. Declassified in 2005, this is available in the WikiLeaks archives and can be found by doing a Google search of its ID number: “NO NEW CASES DEVELOPED BY BNDD WITH AFGHAN OFFICIALS. PRESS REPORTS 15 ARREST MADE IN CONNECTION DRUGS. ALL INVOLVED HASHISH WITH EXCEPTION FOUR WHICH INCOUDED INDI-VIDUALLY MORPHINE, OPIUM (6 KGS), LIQUID HASHISH AND MORPHINE HYDROCHLORIDE. INDIAN NATIONAL ARRESTING [sic] TRYING SMUGGLE OUT 100,000 TABLETS MORPHINE (ON BASIS PRELIMINARY TEST INGREDIENTS). NINE COURT DECISIONS HANDED DOWN, ALL INVOLVING HASHISH. ONE AFGHAN SENTENCED 30,000 AFGHANIS FINE AND FOUR MONTHS JAIL. OTHER DECISIONS INVOLVED FOREIGNERS (3 AMERICANS, 2 AUSTRIANS, 2 FRENCH, 2 ITALIAN, 1 CANADIAN AND 1 ENGLISH) WITH SENTENCES RANGING FROM 55,000 AFGHANIS TO 2000 AFGHANIS. NO PRISON SENTENCES BEYOND TIME ALREADY SPENT IN JAIL. See “NARCOTICS - RECENT DEVELOPMENTS” (PERIODIC REPORT NO. 2, 1973) 1973 March 12; ID: 1973KABUL01672_b. A friend of mine who runs a jazz festival in Kathmandu provides an anecdotal snapshot from those years. My friend’s parents met when his high-caste Nepalese mother was traveling in Afghanistan. Among the European hippies of Kabul, she met and fell love with a Danish Hells Angel who on occasion smuggled opium and heroine from Afghanistan back to Europe by means of (yes, of course) a VW bus.

22. Arthur Bonner, “Afghan Rebel’s Victory Garden: Opium,” New York Times, June 18, 1986.

23. Gretchen Peters, “How opium profits the Taliban,” Peaceworks 62 (August 2009): 8.

24. For the most detailed account of the CIA effort, see: Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin Books, 2004). The best history of how the Afghan War transformed Pakistan’s ISI is found in the numerous books by Ahmed Rashid. In particular, see: Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (New York: Penguin Books, 2009).

25. For accounts of the war from the Soviet and Afghan government side, see: Raja Anwar, The Tragedy of Afghanistan (London: Verso, 1988); Raja Anwar, The Terrorist Prince: The Life and Death of Murtaza Bhutto (London: Verso, 1997); Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Jonathan Steele, Ghosts of Afghanistan: The Haunted Battleground (New York: Counterpoint, 2011); Artemy M. Kalinovsky, A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal From Afghanistan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

26. Khalid Koser, “The Migration-Displacement Nexus in Afghanistan,” Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, May 4, 2009.

27. Jerome Starkey, “Drugs for guns: how the Afghan heroin trade is fuelling the Taliban insurgency,” The Indipendant, April 29, 2008.

28. Jason W. Moore, “Introduction” in Capitalism in the Web of Life Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (New York: Verso, 2015); manuscript forthcoming.

29. The World Factbook (Washington, DC: US Government, 2014). [End Page 197]

30. Bob Rout, “How the Water Flows: A Typology of Irrigation Systems in Afghanistan,” Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit Issue Paper Series, June 2008, vii.

31. “Afghanistan: Tremendous potential for food self-sufficiency - FAO expert,” IRIN, April 17, 2008, http://www.irinnews.org/report/77814/afghanistan-tremendous-potential-for-food-self-sufficiency-fao-expert.

32. Abdur Rashid and J. Cheng-Hopkins, “FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Afghanistan,” FAO Special Report, August 7, 1997, http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/w6059e/w6059e00.htm.

33. Data from 1961 to 2013 are available on the FAO website: http://faostat.fao.org/site/612/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=612#ancor.

34. See the FAO interactive map: http://www.fao.org/hunger/en/.

35. Nick Cullather, “Damming Afghanistan: Modernization in a Buffer State,” Journal of American History 89, no. 2 (September 2002): 512-537. For a journalistic account of Helmand’s modern dilapidation see, David Rohde, “Little America: An Afghan town, an American dream and the folly of for-profit war,” Reuters, June 1, 2012.

36. Michon Scott, “From Wetland to Wasteland: The destruction of the Hamoun oasis,” Earth Observatory (NASA), December 13, 2002, http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/hamoun/.

37. Bob Rout, “How the Water Flows: A Typology of Irrigation Systems in Afghanistan,” Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit Issue Paper Series, June 2008, tables 4 and 8.

38. For description and diagram, see: Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 40-42.

39. Dupree, 40.

40. D. Mustafa and M. U. Qazi, “Transition from Karez to Tubewell Irrigation: Development, Modernization, and Social Capital in Balochistan, Pakistan,” World Development 35, no. 10 (2007): 1796-1913.

41. Dupree, 40.

42. Vincent Thomas and Mujeeb Ahmad, “A Historical Perspective on the Mirab System: A Case Study of the Jangharoq Canal, Baghlan,” (Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, 2009), 36.

43. J.L. Lee, “Water Management, Livestock and the Opium Economy: The Performance of Community Water Management Systems” (Kabul: Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, 2007). Thomas and Ahmad take issue with their AREU colleague J.L. Lee who had described the mirab system somewhat romantically, as totally independent from, and somehow inherently opposed, to the state. “However,” write Thomas and Ahmad, “policy documents such as the 1981 and 1991 Water Laws challenge perceptions about the pre-eminence solely of long traditions and customary practices when it discusses the role of the mirab. The 1981 Water Law highlights the role of the Ministry of Water and Electricity as well as Agriculture and Land Reform in defining water rights for agricultural use at local level (Article 17). Article 28 of the 1991 Water Law portrays a mirab working under the guidance of irrigation and agriculture departments regarding maintenance and water distribution. Article 31 even legitimates payment of bonus and rewards to mirabs for their effective work. In Article 33, the participation of the water management and agriculture departments in water users’ general meetings is prescribed in order to participate in the evaluation and approval of the mirab, as well as other water management related decisions. Thus, it appears very clearly that the mirab had defined linkages with the government. The inescapable conclusion is that the mirab system seems to be far from being solely community based or divorced from events and forces swirling around it. However, policy documents do not always reflect reality on the ground.”

44. Thomas and Ahmad, 32.

45. H. Jamali and M. Hufty, “Transformation or degradation: transition from karez to tubewell irrigation and its implications for power relations and social structure in Balochistan, Pakistan,” Draft Paper Presented at the 13th IASC Biennial International Conference “Sustaining Commons: Sustaining Our Future,” January 10-14, 2011, https://dlc.dlib.indiana.edu/dlc/bitstream/handle/10535/7134/801.pdf?sequence=1. Another study of the system in a different, Pashtun dominated part of Pakistan found that village land owned by fifty families share water on a seven-day cycle. “The cycle (daur) consists of seven shabana-ros, which in turn consists of eight ‘sayas’ of three hours duration. Each family gets its share of water once a week. The minimum [End Page 198] share is of a ‘saya’ and the maximum of a ‘shabana-ros’ depending upon one’s investment and land holdings. Every villager knows his time and the day and diverts the water to his land. When the water is surplus for a farmer, he can sell it to others in the village.” See, M. Rahman, “Ecology of Karez Irrigation: A Case of Pakistan,” GeoJournal 5, no. 1 (1981): 7-15.

46. Thomas and Ahmad, 28.

47. Thomas and Ahmed, 42.

48. “Social Realities of the Karez System Case Study from Wardak,” (Kabul: Cooperation for Peace and Unity, 2011), 5 and 10.

49. Paul Kelso, “Taliban Secret Weapon: Ancient Irrigation Trenches,” The Guardian, November 5, 2001.

50. Lester W. Grau and Ali Ahmad Jalali, “Underground Combat: Stereophonic Blasting, Tunnel Rats and the Soviet-Afghan War,” Engineer (November 1998), http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/undrgrnd/undrgrnd.htm.

51. “Change of season poses Afghan threat,” Washington Times, April 20, 2002, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2002/apr/20/20020420-042104-7887r/#ixzz3S1aIHZLT.

52. “ISAF concludes Operation Medusa in Southern Afghanistan,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, September 17, 2006, http://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/isaf-concludes-operation-medusa-southern-afghanistan. Here is a typical jargon laced report from the field filed in 2009, available from WikiLeaks: “CIED [Counter Improvised Explosive Device unit] received notification of a cache find by Bushwhacker 2-6 while searching a Karezz [sic] tunnel system near a previous Improvised Explosive Device strike. When CIED arrived on scene, B Co [Company B] units reported that they had cleared the tunnels for approximately 1km and located what appeared to be dynamite. Two EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal] entered the tunnels with 1 x CEXC [Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell], 1 x TET [Technical Evaluation Team] and 1 x Infantry Scout to clear and exploit the cache.” (FRIENDLY ACTION) CACHE FOUND/CLEARED Report B Commanding Officer 2-2 IN: 0 INJ/DAM, 2009-02-09; https://wardiaries.wikileaks.org/id/DCB00B43-1517-911C-C583C112F5AB1D77/.

53. Michael Phillips, “Learning a Hard History Lesson in ‘Talibanistan’: To Accommodate New Troops, the U.S. Military Expanded a Base and Inadvertently Disrupted Ancient Afghan Canals,” Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2009; “UNCE to help National Guard help Afghan farmers,” University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, June 18, 2010, http://www.unce.unr.edu/news/article.asp?ID=1487.

54. Sgt. Lori Bilyou, “Ancient aqueducts receive cleaning,” 117th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, January 5, 2013, http://www.rs.nato.int/article/news/ancient-aqueducts-receive-cleaning.html.

55. Quoted in: “Afghanistan’s Traditional Irrigation Network Gets Green Upgrade,” Green Prophet, February 26, 2012. For some statistics, see: Asad Sarwar Qureshi, “Water Resources Management in Afghanistan: The Issues and Options,” International Water Management Institute, Working Paper 49, Pakistan Country Series No. 14 (June 2002): 11. Qureshi writes: “Karezes [sic] are usually small in dimensions but may be many kilometers in length. On average, their discharge varies between 10 l/s to 200 l/s but can in some cases reach up to 500 l/s. Karez water is used for irrigation purposes (irrigated area ranges from 10 ha to 200 ha) as well as for drinking water supply. … It is one of the most economical methods of tapping groundwater for irrigation purposes. It is environmentally safe and water is drawn by use of gravity. There are 6,741 Karezes in the country. These karezes irrigate about 163,000 ha of land. Karez irrigation is common in the south and southwest of the country and less in the north of the country. One of the disadvantages of the karezes is that there is no mechanism to stop water from flowing during winter or when there is no need for irrigation. In each Karez about 25% of total annual volume of water is wasted.”

56. Kerry Hutchinson, “The other Afghan conflict,” Geographical (January 2013), http://livegeo.www2.solvention.de/Magazine/Afghanistan_water_-_Jan_13.html.

57. Quoted in: Christian Parenti, “Diary: the opium farmers of Afghanistan,” London Review of Books, January 20, 2005. Afghanistan’s political reconstruction, as laid out at the Bonn Confer-ence of December 2001, allotted each of the main occupying powers a set of tasks. Counter-narcotics fell to the United Kingdom, which by all accounts, including US diplomatic cables, very sensibly did not support an aggressive poppy eradication program. For later examples of US Congressional grandstanding on the issue of poppy cultivation see: “Codel Hoekstra Sees [End Page 199] Poppy Problem First Hand,” March 23, 2006, 14:26; canonical ID: 06KABUL1277_a (available from WikiLeaks).

58. David Mansfield and Adam Pain, “Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan: The Failure of Success?” Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, Briefing Paper Series, December 2008.

59. Cited in: Christopher Blanchard, Afghanistan: Narcotics and US Policy, Congressional Research Service 7-5700, RL32686 (Washington, DC: CRS, 2009), i.

60. Peters, “How opium profits the Taliban.”

61. “Afghan Anticorruption Chief Sold Heroin in Las Vegas in ‘87,” New York Times, March 10, 2007. A diplomatic cable related to the same issue reads: “The Ambassador raised with President Karzai February 6 the unsuitability of former governor Wasifi as head of the Corruption Council. Karzai well knows that Wasifi was convicted of drug-dealing in the US and accused of corruption when he was governor of Farah. Karzai seemed mildly surprised, saying that the council is a complete non-entity now that the Attorney General is going full-force after corruption. The Ambassador reviewed the negative symbolism of the appointment. Karzai said he would look at possibly moving Wasifi to a different government job.” Source: “Corrupt Head of Corruption Council Wasifi,” February 8, 2007; ID: 07KABUL427_a. (available from WikiLeaks).

62. Daniel Schulman, “WikiLeaks: US Considered Prosecuting President Karzai’s Brother,” Mother Jones, December 3, 2010.

63. Hamid Shalizi, “Afghan cabinet nominee wanted by Interpol for tax evasion,” Reuters, January 17, 2015.

64. Christian Parenti, “Who Rules Afghanistan: Behind the democratic façade,” The Nation, November 15, 2004.

65. “Implementing a Comprehensive Counter-Narcotics Strategy,” April 28, 2009, 04:16; ID: 09KABUL1064_a; also ID: 09KABUL1208 (available from WikiLeaks).

66. “Welcome to Afghanistan,” November 16, 2009, 12:15; canonical ID: 09KABUL3677_a (available from WikiLeaks).

67. Christian Parenti, “Afghan Poppies Bloom,” The Nation, January 11, 2005.

68. Savage et al., 5.

69. Quoted in: Christian Parenti, “Diary: the opium farmers of Afghanistan,” London Review of Books, January 20, 2005.

70. As one report put it: “The poppy harvest is in full swing in Helmand Province, which has brought an influx of young males into the provincial center of Lashkar Gah. Oddly, in recent days there has been no movement by laborers out of the town and into the poppy fields. The reasons for this are likely twofold: (1) insecurity and ongoing military operations have made them reluctant; and (2) the record poppy cultivation and resulting increased demand for labor have put workers in a strong bargaining position. There is evidence of men balking at harvesting in southern Garmsir district, with laborers realizing that they are a scarce commodity and are holding out for more money. The higher labor costs, coupled with massive corruption and bribe-paying may have significantly increased the cost of poppy farming. What impact this will have on farmers’ decisions to plant later this year remains to be seen. A more immediate benefit of the labor shortage is that it may allow Governor Wafa an opportunity to fulfill a new order from President Karzai to continue eradication in the province, with un-harvested fields offering ripe targets.” See, “PRT LASHKAR GAH: Poppy Harvest and Labor Problems,” April 17, 2007, 12:56: canonical ID: 07KABUL1311_a. (available at WikiLeaks).

71. “PRT LASHKAR GAH: Poppy Harvest and Labor Problems,” April 17, 2007, 12:56: canonical ID: 07KABUL1311_a. (available at WikiLeaks). [End Page 200]

Additional Information

ISSN
1945-4724
Print ISSN
1945-4716
Pages
183-200
Launched on MUSE
2015-05-27
Open Access
No
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