2009 - A Decisive Year in the Afghan Anti-Drug Campaign
Jacob Townsend | Jamestown Foundation | January 2009.
This year the international community could achieve a major breakthrough in the anti-drug war being waged in Afghanistan. The last two years have witnessed large surpluses in drug production resulting in falling prices and stockpiling of poppy seeds. A decline in poppy cultivated areas is expected for this year. James Townsend, UN advisor in Afghanistan, sees this a unique chance: strengthened action on the part of international security forces (ISAF) against the insurgent Taliban in the south, where opium and drug production are concentrated, could bring long-term success to the engagement in Afghanistan.
Last October at the Budapest summit, NATO laid the groundwork for cooperation with Afghan ministries to effectively take action in the anti-drug war. Accordingly, strengthened action against the insurgent groups who control drug production in the southern regions should be taken. These southern regions provide a seemingly free environment for the proliferation of drug production, far from the strong central government in Kabul (70 percent of opium production alone comes from the region on the border between Pakistan and the Helmand Province). The Taliban have long being accustomed to the effervescent earnings of opium production, which is achieved largely undisturbed. A more active engagement of ISAF troops in the southern regions could, therefore, hit the Taliban in an acutely sensitive area. Decreased revenues from opium production would force them to look for alternative sources of wealth. The surveillance of cultivated acreage would be complex, dangerous, and clearly cost intensive. Future prospects of drug transport would thereby be more profitable, but simultaneously more dangerous. Moreover, the Taliban would become increasingly dependent on financing from abroad. Such a development would weaken the almost symbolic connection of the Taliban with drug production, and could even dismantle it completely in the long term.
This year, successes in the anti-drug campaign will most likely be marginal. But in 2010, and at the latest 2011, success should be more visible. The fact that many states involved in the Afghan engagement wish to reduce troop levels in 2011 only emphasizes the importance of promptly handling the anti-drug war. Only quick and intensive action can halt the problems caused by drug revenues, which could spread unchecked after troop withdrawals
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "Upcoming Changes to the Drug-Insurgency Nexus in Afghanistan." published here by Jamestown Foundation, January 2009.