The Paradox of Poppy

The Paradox of Poppy
Posted by FoM on March 09, 2000 at 09:46:14 PT
Pamela Constable, Washington Post Foreign Service
Source: Washington Post
As clouds of acrid smoke billowed into the air and an Islamic cleric chanted verses from the Koran, nearly 10,000 pounds of confiscated hashish and 800 pounds of heroin went up in flames surrounded by banners that read, "Down With All Kinds of Drugs."
The torching ceremony this week, attended by Afghan and United Nations officials, was aimed at convincing a skeptical world and a reluctant nation that authorities here are serious about fighting drugs, even though opium poppy production has soared to record levels since the conservative Islamic Taliban regime took power in 1996. The country is now the world's leading supplier of poppy and its addictive derivatives."This is not just symbolic. It is something we take very seriously," said Abdul Hameed Akhunzada, who heads the Taliban's anti-drug commission. "We are 100 percent determined to control drugs, but we cannot do it alone. This problem existed long before the Taliban, and we need much more help from the outside world to solve it."But two hours' drive east across the desert, in a mud-walled village where acres of new green poppy plants were sprouting beside wheat fields, calloused and illiterate farmers made it clear why reducing poppy cultivation and opium production in Afghanistan faces stiff resistance.The men expressed gratitude for the irrigation wells and flood dikes built by the U.N. Drug Control Program in their district, and enthusiasm about the wheat seeds and apricot seedlings donated to encourage them to switch crops. But they also said poppy requires less water, grows faster, produces more profit and is easier to sell, since buyers always appear at the village gates at harvest time."We don't like poppy, but we are poor, and we have to grow it to feed our families," said Mullah Janan, 25, a farmer in the village of Sekander, where poppy crops provide year-round work from planting, weeding and lancing poppy bulbs to collect opium sap. "Wheat gives us food, but poppy gives us money to buy tea and medicine and other things we need. Without it, the people would not survive."According to the most recent U.N. survey, Afghanistan produced an unprecedented 4,600 metric tons of opium last year. The number of acres under poppy cultivation rose 43 percent, and opium output increased by at least 70 percent. The estimated value of the total raw crop was $183 million, and 97 percent of the poppy fields were in territory controlled by the Taliban, which is still fighting pockets of armed resistance in the north.Western law enforcement authorities have noted that the Taliban collects a 10 percent tax on all farm products, including poppy, and the authorities believe it also profits from the extensive drug trafficking network in the region. With the country economically devastated after 20 years of war and burdened by international anti-terrorism sanctions, they say, Afghan authorities have little incentive to curb this cash-rich crop.But Taliban officials said this week that they recognize and condemn the pernicious impact of drug use abroad, and they stressed that it is strictly prohibited by Afghanistan's Islam-based law. They also appeared eager to reduce their international isolation on such issues, and they have cooperated closely with the U.N. Drug Control Program in its efforts to motivate poppy farmers to grow alternative crops.Five months ago, Taliban religious authorities called for all farmers to reduce their poppy cultivation by one-third. The Kandahar governor also has ordered a 50 percent reduction in this region, which produces 75 percent of Afghanistan's opium. Last month, officials banned the collection of civil and religious taxes on hashish, which is made from hemp, and heroin."When a person is intoxicated, he cannot worship God, so it is completely forbidden under Islamic law," Gov. Mohammad Ahsan Rahmani said during the burning ceremony. "Poppy growing has continued because of our weak economy, but it is the policy of the Islamic State of Afghanistan to ultimately eradicate its cultivation and use."Accusations that the Taliban profits from drug taxes, Rahmani said, are "lies and foolish propaganda of the enemy." Like other Taliban officials, he drew a sharp distinction between poppy, which is legal to grow in Afghanistan, and its addictive derivatives, which are banned. The traditional tax on poppy, he said, is a "historic phenomenon. The money does not go to the Taliban, it goes to the mosques to help poor relatives and neighbors."For more than a year, U.N. trucks have been bringing loads of seed and fertilizer, agricultural expertise and equipment to build flood dikes and irrigation wells that farmers need to grow legally marketable and more delicate crops.U.N. officials said farmers have been enthusiastic but constantly ask for more help than the $2 million pilot project can afford. They said many growers have reduced their poppy acreage as promised, but a recent decline in opium prices and a severe drought might also be responsible. As for the Taliban, they said, economic pressure and a weak government structure make it difficult for authorities to enforce drug reduction."They make a lot of excuses, but we can't blame them totally," said one U.N. official, who asked not to be named. "Their country has been destroyed by war, there is no strong central government or expertise, and their people need to eat. The farmers say, 'Give us another way to live,' and the Taliban are not in a position to do it."This week, the U.N. Drug Control Program opened the first health clinic in the remote Ghorka district, one of five it has targeted for drug eradication. At the inaugural ceremony in Sekander village, U.N. aides reminded local elders that the aid came with a price tag: their commitment to gradually replace all poppy fields with alternative crops such as wheat, onions, almonds and apricots.The elders, squatting on straw mats over tea and cakes in the tiny concrete building, nodded soberly and pledged their cooperation. Later, they led visitors on a tour of new stone walls built to control flooding, and they pointed out fields of young green wheat and fruit saplings along the way."Poppy is not as beneficial to us as people think," said Abdul Wahid Khan, head of the Sekander village council. "We welcome this help, and we hope it will enable us to divert all of our poppy crops, but that will take a long time, and we need sustained support. If the United Nations program leaves, it will be difficult for us to continue cooperating."Along the road, the visitors passed field after field of new poppy plants, with white plastic banners posted to scare off birds. Farmers gathered around the truck, complaining that they needed a paved road to take their wheat to market, that last year's onions could not be sold, and that only poppy brought them an immediate cash income.Janan said he and his neighbors were aware of their "responsibility to the world," and they already have reduced their poppy crops by one-half. "If we gain as much from alternative crops, we will stop growing poppy altogether," Janan said. But, he added, "if not, we cannot give it up."By Pamela ConstableWashington Post Foreign ServiceThursday, March 9, 2000; Page A19 Kandahar, Afghanistan© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Articles:Distress in the Opium Bazaar: Can't Make a Profit Holy Men of Heroin Faces Staggering Wave of Asian Opium Afghan Heroin Feeds Addiction in Region, U.N. Report Declares
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on March 09, 2000 at 18:11:09 PT
I didn't know that smoking Opium can make you feel sick. My husband told me that heroin in Vietnam made you sick the first time but I think only the first time but I could be wrong and he isn't here at the moment to tell me. I don't know much about many drugs but the Poppy is a plant, an herb, so there must be good in it I believe.
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Comment #1 posted by ya_mon on March 09, 2000 at 15:51:45 PT
10,000 Pounds Hashish, Raw Opium in the U.S.
> As clouds of acrid smoke billowed into the air and an Islamic cleric chanted verses from the Koran, nearly 10,000 pounds of confiscated hashish ...That's the good stuff, too. :-( Dang. `Makes my eyes red just thinking about it...'> According to the most recent U.N. survey, Afghanistan produced an unprecedented 4,600 metric tons of opium last year. Which has been traditionally used by men of that region for centuries. Irianian folk medicine tells us that, "Opium is the medicine which cures all ills, but it itself has no cure."I've seen people smoke it here in the U.S., tried it myself. Made me vomit. I guess you have to work at it. (Never much liked opiates myself. Yet my opium smoking-friends find cannabis too debilitating! Go figure.)So much for the War on (Some) Drugs...
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