Afghanistan: Let Poppies Be Grown for Medicine

By infekt · Jul 31, 2008 · Updated Jul 31, 2008 ·
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    Almas Bawar Zakhilwal, an Afghani living in Canada, says the poppy eradication program in his country is a failure and stepping it up would only fuel the war. Canadian troops are not part of the poppy eradication program; it has been contracted out to DynCorp International, an American company, which also provides bodyguards for Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

    "Billions have been spent with no success," Zakhilwal said in a telephone interview. Zakhilwal is Canadian representative of the Senlis Council, a Paris-based organization which advocates licensing poppy production to make medical morphine.

    Kakhilwal noted that the United States already has a "poppy for medicine" program to buy morphine from poppies grown in India and Turkey.

    "So why not try it in Afghanistan?" he asked, noting that Liberal leader Stephane Dion and the Green Party agree.

    But an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine by Thomas Schweich, a former senior counter-narcotics official in Afghanistan with the U.S. state department, calls for stepping up eradication. In Is Afghanistan a Narco-State? Schweich alleges that Karzai has blocked the aerial spraying of herbicides to eradicate poppies to protect his friends involved in the heroin trade.

    Zakhilwal calls Schweich's prescription, allowing the aerial spraying of "harmless" herbicides, "totally wrong," noting that the chemicals used are not benign and would kill other crops, depriving Afghani farmers of their livelihood and making them ripe recruits for the insurgency.

    Zakhiliwal said he recently visited his home village in eastern Afghanistan, where eradication efforts have worked.

    DynCorp now goes into fields and manually destroys the crops. Schweich argues aerial spraying would solve the problem.

    "Nobody is growing poppies," Zakhiliwal said of his village. "They have been arrested several times." Without the poppy crop, he added, "people are starving."

    According to the United Nations, Afghanistan produces 90 per cent of the world's opium, the raw material for heroin.

    Zakhiliwal said opium accounts for 60 per cent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product and he rejected Schweich's contention that the poppy farmers are rich.

    In the absence of other economic activity, he said, eradicating poppy crops leaves farmers three possibilities: going to Pakistan to seek work, joining the uprising or going back to poppy cultivation.

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