Thursday, November 13, 2003

THE AFGHAN OPIUM BOOM: Yesterday, Afghan foreign minister Dr. Abdullah was at the Voice of America where he gave interviews to the Dari and Pashto services. I met and spoke to him briefly. He raised his concerns on the re-emergence of the Taliban and instability caused by the former in the southern provinces; he blamed Pakistani for ignoring the Taliban activity inside its borders. In the interviews, he also addressed the concern of poppy production.

On Monday, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime released a report in which it expected that Afghanistan was to produce 3,960 tons of opium worth about $2.3 billion, which is equal to half of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. No wonder the Afghan economy is in full bloom. I sympathize with the average Joe Mohammad, who cultivates poppies to make a living, to support his family and to survive. As this Washington Post article stresses, most poppy cultivators are simply small farmers. It's hard for the average Afghan farmer to ditch opium and live an honest earning, simply because there's a limited amount of alternatives. Unfortunately, it also feeds social ills and undermines the reconstruction. There's no easy solution and there won't be one for a while.

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