Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I read this AP story this morning with considerable interest, including this bit:

President Bush called the Afghanistan mission -- which has mobilized 32,800 troops-- NATO's number one operation. Defeating Taliban forces, he said, 'will require the full commitment of our alliance. The commanders on the ground must have the resources and flexibility they need to do their jobs,' Bush said, crediting the alliance for helping Afghanistan go from "a totalitarian nightmare" to stability and steadily growing prosperity.

Then I turned the page, and read this story, which explains the source of Afghanistan's growing prosperity:

By Jason Straziuso, Associated Press | November 29, 2006

KABUL , Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's criminal underworld has compromised key government officials who protect drug traffickers, allowing a flourishing opium trade that will not be stamped out for a generation, a UN report released yesterday said.

The fight against opium production has so far achieved only limited success, mostly because of corruption, the joint report from the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said. The findings show a "probability of high-level [government] involvement" in drugs, said Doris Buddenberg, the UNODC's Afghanistan representative and co editor of the report.

The report in particular presented a strong indictment of the Interior Ministry, which runs the country's police, and said Afghanistan's criminal underworld could not operate without the support of the political "upperworld." "The majority of police chiefs are involved," one senior police officer told the report's authors on condition of anonymity. "If you are not, you will be threatened to be killed and replaced."

Without naming officials, the report said it was possible that powerful interests in the Interior Ministry are appointing district police chiefs "to both protect and promote criminal interests." The result is a "complex pyramid of protection and patronage, effectively providing state protection to criminal trafficking activities."

The spokesman for the counter-narcotics ministry said there is no evidence that high-ranking officials are involved in Afghanistan's drug trade. "If there is evidence we welcome the evidence and the arrest will be on the spot," Zalmai Afzali said.

Poppy cultivation and the heroin it produces have become major problems in Afghanistan, providing funds for the Taliban insurgency that has caused the deaths of more than 3,700 people this year.

Opium production in Afghanistan rose 49 percent this year to 6,100 metric tons. The harvest provided more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply and was worth more than $3.1 billion.

Unfortunately, statistics on indicators of heroin addiction and adverse consequences (such as emergency department visits, crime, and mortality) are published at least two years in arrears, and most of the reliable data we have are from no later than 2002 or 2003. So I can't tell you how the fall of the Taliban and the restoration of the Afghan opium crop has affected us -- or at least I can't give you numbers. But my agency has heroin addicts coming in the door every day. Our state's Bureau of Substance Abuse Services has invited us to develop a new residential treatment center because existing services can't meet the demand. Heroin is back, and everybody knows it.

Now, I believe we need a very different approach to this problem, both here and in Afghanistan. I don't believe that pouring more NATO troops into the country is going to stop opium growing, or defeat the Taliban, for that matter. Afghanistan needs the massive economic development projects it was promised, which the U.S. and the international community never delivered. The reason the farmers grow opium is because that's the only way they can make a living and feed their families.

I also don't believe that our practice of jamming more and more drug addicts into our overcrowded jails is anything but utterly insane. For the $36,000 a year or more we pay to incarcerate somebody, we could give two or three people intensive treatment and social supports -- i.e., training and jobs, supportive housing, peer mentoring -- that are proved to reduce relapse and recidivism. For the money we spend on military operations in Afghanistan we could build roads, provide better agricultural technology, develop businesses to process agricultural products and capture more value within Afghanistan and create jobs. That would combat opium growing and the Taliban at the same time. But we can't do those things -- those are liberal ideas, and that just isn't manly, or Christian.

No comments: