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Ninety percent of the
world's opium poppies are still grown in Afghanistan, concludes the 2010
International Narcotics Control Strategy Report issued by the U.S. Department
of State in early March. That's the bad news. The good news is that production
has declined by some thirty-six percent over the past two years, and last year
20 provinces were poppy free.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, opium poppy
cultivation decreased by nineteen percent in 2008. Last year, better weather resulted
in a better yield, so although cultivation of poppies declined by twenty two
percent, production of opium gum declined by only another ten percent.
There is a definite connection between narcotics production and trafficking,
and regional insecurity. It therefore comes as no surprise that most of
Afghanistan's poppy crop is cultivated in six provinces in the south and west
of the country, where violent insurgents have the greatest presence.
But two years ago, the tide began to change. Production in Helmand province,
for example, has dramatically decreased thanks to strong efforts taken by the
Afghans, combining a program of incentives; better government services; help
with growing profitable crops other than poppies; with increased law enforcement.
A heavy presence of illicit drug production and trade is bad news for any
country. Like a disease attacking the body, it finds weaknesses within the
system and uses them to infect it with corruption. Once it has taken root,
drug-engendered corruption spreads rapidly, further weakening the system as it
takes over the functions of legitimate government institutions. It brings with
it violence and disregard for any needs that do not directly benefit the drug
trade. And it benefits no one but those directly involved in, or facilitating
the growth and maintenance of, this ugly business.
On every level -- local, district, provincial and national -- the Afghan
government is fighting to keep this corruption from entrenching itself within
the country. The United States offers support through agricultural and
infrastructure development, job creation and banking reform. The U.S. is also
helping to root out violent extremism and corruption, and to institute good
Eliminating the cultivation of poppies and trade in opium gum is vital to
Afghanistan's ability to establish and maintain an effective government, and
thus to be a fully independent, respected member of the community of nations.