Afghanistan: War, Tribalism and Opium
April 15, 2012
The primary justification for the Afghan invasion was to eradicate Al-Qaeda,
and promises were made to rebuild Afghanistan with a representative government,
creating political stability and economic prosperity. For sure, Al-Qaeda has
been dismantled substantially if not completely, with most of its leaders
including Usamah Bin Laden dead.
However, there is very little progress made on the political front, primarily
due to the failure to bring the dominant Pashtun based Taliban to the table. The
political process is further exasperated by the criminal actions of the US-led
forces: the frequent killings of innocent civilians, urinating on dead Afghans,
and the burning of the Quran are just some examples from a long list.
Consequently, the attitudes of ordinary Afghans towards the Americans have
progressively hardened, along with a growing distrust of the Afghan security
Numerous reports show that corruption is rife in the Afghan government, from
obvious cases of nepotism to allegations of bribery and injustice. For example,
several militia commanders working for the government in the North have been
accused of extortion, robbery and rape, yet nobody has been brought to account .The
previous election in 2009 had very little legitimacy in the eyes of many
Afghans; there were widespread allegations of fraud and the U.N.-led Electoral
Complaints Commission disqualified hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots,
reducing Mr. Karzai's tally to 48.3% from the initial 54.6% .
As the US government is planning an early withdrawal, President Hamid Karzai
is also contemplating holding early elections. Even if the Taliban were brought
into the election process, the government formed would remain fragile. Because
Afghanistan still suffers from the disease of primitive tribalism; each tribe
views the others through historical animosity and with deep suspicion.
Overcoming these historical feuds and tribal differences, and concurrently
building a strong sense of national identity remains a challenge for
Without political stability, economic progress is impossible. Unemployment
and poverty is high and there are frequent cases of young Afghans trying to
enter the West seeking a better life.
After a decade, the only things flourishing in Afghanistan are the poppy
fields for the opium trade. This could be viewed as a paradox for a conservative
Islamic society like Afghanistan, since intoxicants are clearly forbidden in
Islam. More than 90% of the world’s opium originates in Afghanistan. The problem
has naturally spread to the neighbouring countries of Iran and Pakistan, and the
opium reaches the West through Turkey. According to a UN report ,
drug addiction in Afghanistan has doubled in the past four years, the cause
being attributed to poverty and suffering from 30 years of war. Another recent
conducted by the Afghan authorities suggests that there are 1.5 million Afghans
who are addicted to drugs; the real figure for sure will be higher. In a country
of 30 million, this means Afghanistan has the highest relative rate of addiction
of any country in the world.
This is in sharp contrast to the short reign of the Taliban, who almost
eradicated the production of poppy, which was at an all time low in 2000,
reduced by an astonishing 91% from the previous year .
Even with little resources the Taliban regime managed to achieve this, yet the
production of poppy has been rising since the US-led invasion, despite having
huge resources at their disposal.
Indeed, millions were spent on this war, and only a tiny fraction of it was
needed to help the farmers to switch production to another crop from growing
poppy; that would have instantly curbed the supply of drugs. The allocation of
more resources for education, medical facilities and rehabilitation would help
to reduce the existing pool of addicts. Due to the lack of medical facilities,
in desperation people are resorting to opium to treat pains, sickness and the
trauma left from decades of war and poverty. And imposing Taliban style
punishment would deter the hardened criminals who gain substantially from the
drug business; applying all of these measures would have eliminated the growing
drug problem in Afghanistan.
If winning the hearts and minds was a serious objective of the US-led
coalition, then it would have helped to eliminate the opium problem and set the
Afghan economy on a different course. Yet, to the contrary the production of
poppy has been rising steadily. A cynic might ask: is there a link between
imperialism and the drugs industry? It was Queen Victoria who peddled opium in
the Chinese colony; today opium production is flourishing in Afghanistan after
the US invasion. The US provides a huge market for drugs, much of it supplied
from Columbia and other Latin American countries. One thing is for sure, the
Taliban with little resources has clearly demonstrated that if there is a will,
there is a way to get rid of opium.
Yamin Zakaria is the author of
Suicide Bombings - Jihad or Terrorism?, published by AuthorHouse UK.
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