Friday, June 30, 2006

From Mission Neglected to Mission Creep?

Whose idea was it to add to the war on terror a new front on the so-called war on drugs?

As if our historic mission in Afghanistan was not flagging as it is from imprecise definition and insufficient resources. To it has been added another burden: the eradication of the poppy.

The mission of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul should not include eradicating poppy fields. It is supposed to release a vast project to drag Afghanistan a little further out of its medieval state.

But NATO troops are having to provide security for the Afghan counter-narcotics police. Lieutenant-General David Richards who commands the ISAF, says
The poppy farmers will fight hard to protect their only means of livelihood, and without roads and irrigation systems (to help them grow different products), you can hardly blame them. Unless the farmers were given incentives to grow other crops, we’ll be stirring up a hornet’s nest.
It's becoming much more than a hornet's nest.

A report by an international think tank, the Senlis Council, advises that
Canadian troops and Afghan civilians are paying with their lives for Canada’s adherence to the U.S. government’s failing military and counter-narcotics policies in Kandahar.... Following U.S. policies is turning Kandahar into a suicide mission for Canada....
The US-led counter-terrorist operations under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and aggressive large-scale crop eradication have significantly contributed to the current war situation that is flaring-up in Kandahar and the other southern provinces. Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of the Senlis Council, says,
The Canada government and the international community continue to seemingly unquestioningly accept America’s fundamentally flawed approach to southern Afghanistan. But this is jeopardizing both the troops’ lives and the stabilization, reconstruction and development objectives. The Canadian troops in Kandahar are doing a heroic job in the most difficult of circumstances and are to be commended; but the overall policy context within which they are obliged to work is putting them at risk.

There is no longer any peace to keep in Kandahar. If Canadian troops are to be supported in their mission of securing Kandahar, they urgently need the additional tools to regain the support of the local population which has been lost due to the aggressive militaristic approach of the US in the region.

When the international forces arrived in Afghanistan in 2001 they were welcomed and perceived as being there to help, but now that has changed.

Most farmers feel abandoned and cheated by the central government and the international community. This has given way to a dramatic switch in alliance to the only people who they believe are showing any understanding of their needs – the Taliban.

Conflicting drug, development and security policies are making Afghanistan spiral into chaos. The growing violence shows that the current approach in Afghanistan is simply not working. The international community needs to go back to the drawing board and rework its approach in Afghanistan.

Southern Afghanistan urgently needs an injection of financial aid earmarked for the short-term relief of conditions of extreme poverty in which many people live.

We also recommend the organization of a series of Jirga-style meetings and the provision of an amnesty period of grace for farmers to carry on growing opium until they have an alternative means of supporting themselves.

This will help address the international community’s critical failure to understand the actual impact of the policies that have been implemented in the region. Listening to local concerns with the participation of local communities should be an integral part of all future policy decisions.
The Senlis report says that in the coming years, thousands of poppy farmers will continue to lack sufficient legal economic alternatives to provide for their families. They are already living in extreme poverty. Reinert's recommendation:
A period of grace for poppy farmers would provide for the smooth transition from current illegal poppy cultivation to legal alternatives without endangering farmers’ economic situations. An amnesty will also constrain rural communities’ support for insurgent groups, as farmers will no longer be targeted by ineffective and destructive poppy eradication campaigns.
That's the way it was done in Thailand. After commencing its opium control project in 1978, the Bangkok government gave farmers a four-year interlude in which to end their opium cultivation and find alternative crops. Reinert concludes,
The US has lost yet more of the support of the local people with the blood of innocent civilians on their hands. The problem facing the Canadian troops who have been assisting in the US led anti terrorist mission Operation Enduring Freedom, is that the local populations do not differentiate between the various nationalities present in their region – foreign troops are foreign troops. And foreign troops have killed their loved ones or other members of their communities.
The question becomes, who laid this last straw on the back of NATO's camel?