Letter: The Afghan narco-state

To the editor:

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the opium produced by the Afghan poppy crop in 2010 accounted for 93 percent of the world's heroin.

On Feb. 15, 2016, the New York Times' lead story reported that the Afghanistan government not only fails to destroy the poppy crop, but also engages in a shadow economy based on the cultivation of poppies for opium. The Central Government and the Taliban both get enormous amounts of cash by taxing the farmers who cultivate the poppies simply because farmers get four times more cash producing opium than any other crop.

The Taliban, the sworn enemy of the government, assists local farmers in the cultivation of the opium crop including planting, harvesting and packaging. The Taliban uses the money from the sale of the opium to buy weapons, bullets, bombs, vehicles and supplies as well as paying its fighters and bribing tribal chiefs, district administrators, provincial governors and government officials in Kabul. Of equal importance to the money that the Taliban gets from the opium trade, are the recruits it enlists to do it's fighting. Laborers, paid by the Taliban to help farmers raise the poppy crop, become easy prey for Taliban recruiters who not only work alongside them but also seduce their minds with glorious stories about Taliban military and religious victories over government forces. For the laborers, the choice of either a life of abject poverty, or joining the Taliban for pay and religious fulfillment, is an easy one — they join the Taliban.

The New York Times article describes how corrupt government officials provide money to the farmers for poppy seed, move the processed opium out of the country and then collects the revenue from its sale. The Times article quotes officials that say, in private interviews, "connections run deeply into the national government. In some cases, the money is passed up to senators or assembly members with regional connections. In other cases, employees in the Independent Directorate of Local Governance, the agency that oversees provincial and district governments, simply pocket the payoffs." Regarding local payoffs, a police commander is quoted as saying "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."

The irony of the opium trade is that the only year that opium was not produced was in 2001 when the Taliban government banned its cultivation because its use, as are all narcotics, including alcohol, is considered a violation of Islamic law.

Originally, the main thrust of the war against the Taliban was to create a strong central government, put it in charge of district centers and instill the rule of law. The cost of the 16-year war has far exceeded anything that Congress expected and has, thus far, cost more than $800 billion in direct military expenditures alone. When the cost of humanitarian relief, reconstruction aid, medical services needed to treat and rehabilitate our wounded and the $453 billion in interest on the money borrowed to pay for the war are added up, the total cost exceeds one trillion dollars. There is also the cost of the lives lost including 2,394 U. S. military and more than an estimated 31,000 Afghan civilians.

On Aug. 21, President Trump outlined his strategy to end the war in Afghanistan simply declaring: "In the end, we will win." What we will "win" will be the continuation of the Afghan Narco-State that created, sustains and profits from the opioid crisis around the world, in America, and here, in Bennington, Vermont.

— Andrew Schoerke, Will Miller Vermont Chapter Veterans For Peace



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