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Afghanistan: A land of deadly harvest


Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is widespread (photo courtesy: MSNBC)

Growing drug addiction and its international trafficking has become a nuisance for the world. There is one robust force which underpins the flourishing international drug trafficking which is Afghanistan. This landlocked country, already devastated by internal strife and war, accounts for the production of 90 per cent world's heroin converted from poppy. If a top United Nations official is to be believed, the annual number of people killed by Afghan heroin in Western Europe exceeds the total death toll of NATO troops-1,800- killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

This country is the greatest illicit opium producer in the world, ahead of Myanmar and the "Golden Triangle". Most of the Afghanistan's poppy is cultivated in 6 provinces in the south and west of the country. In the southwest of the Afghanistan lies Helmand globally know as the opium capital of the world.

The mammoth production of this 'deadly harvest' in this strife-torn nation has several reasons.

One of the factors pushing Afghanistan's farmers towards the cultivation of poppy is the scarcity of water in this parched region. It is not suitable to grow grains and vegetables which need water regularly and thoroughly. The poppy can easily be grown in such a dry climate.

Lack of employment and opportunities in this poor nation also drove young people into growing poppy for drug traffickers who pay them money to eke out their living. Farmers cultivate poppy because they have no other choice and for many years their fields were destroyed without giving them any other livelihood alternative. No wonder many joined the ranks of the Taliban.

It is not only the circumstantial need which compels these people to grow poppy but they are also forced to grow poppy by the corrupt warlords, landlords and Taliban.

Most of the poppy cultivation is done in the region where Taliban holds it sway. The nexus between Taliban leaders and international drug traffickers has kept this opium ball rolling. They have mutual interests in resisting Afghanistan's government and international forces. The opium trade has proven to be a major source of funding for Taliban which makes money form selling opium to traffickers in the world.

It is said that the production and trafficking of opium has increased a great deal since the overthrow of Taliban in 2001. However, according to some sources, it was Taliban- which presently cash in on the opium trade- which had managed to stop poppy farming during their reign.

Helmand is part of the increasingly problematic region in south Afghanistan, where a growing insurgency has made it difficult for the government to mount an effective eradication campaign. Farmers, emboldened by the lack of effective counter-measures, as well as by support from the Taliban, are increasing their poppy acreage.

Interestingly, in the hope of winning the support of opium farmers, who have no other source of employment, NATO has fueled drug production by refusing to destroy Afghan poppy fields.

According to some US Army official, drug economy in Afghanistan is more powerful than the official one.

The route, used by drug traffickers, is called the golden route. From Afghanistan into Pakistan and then into eastern Iran, it's the trail that takes Afghanistan's abundant opium, and its derivative, heroin, to Western markets, where it finds willing buyers.

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Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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