A major source of funds for terrorist groups based in the Middle East is the opium trade, a multi-billion dollar industry. The export value of opiates trafficked from Afghanistan alone was more than $4 billion in 2007, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and is equivalent to more than half of that country’s GDP. The taxes that groups like the Taliban earn from the local opium farmers account for tens of millions of dollars per year, not to mention their profits from sales. Cutting off this source of income would be a major blow to terrorist organizations and with this in mind the Bush administration began a program of eradication soon after we invaded Afghanistan, slashing and burning poppy fields, a project that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite this effort the poppy trade in Afghanistan flourished. In 2001 Afghanistan produced 12% of the world’s opium production…by 2008, it accounted for 93% pouring money into the coffers of terrorist organizations and flooding our streets with heroin.
Now the government is trying a new tactic, and one that I hope will be more successful. Rather than slashing and burning fields, leaving farmers with no source of income, the government is instead offering deep discounts on seeds for corn, wheat and fruit as well as livestock and funding the construction of new roads and irrigation canals. Instead of growing opium, the farmers can grow products which they can use to feed their families as well as sell. By giving the farmers, who profit very little from the opium trade themselves, an alternative, it will hopefully be easier for them to move away from growing poppy without descending into unemployment and poverty.
This is not going to be easy. The farmers that have taken advantage of this program have been threatened by Taliban fighters and distribution centers for the seed programs have been the target of rocket attacks. However, the new program coincides with an increased military effort to crack down on Afghani drug lords.
The fight against terrorism in Afghanistan is as much as battle for the hearts and minds of the people as it is a military war against the terrorist groups themselves. As I have said before on this blog, as long as the terrorists have the rural tribes to turn to as a source of shelter and income, we will never completely eradicate them. If we can win the loyalty of these tribes by providing them with an alternative source of protection and a way to earn a living, we will be striking at the root of the problem.