Sunday, June 28, 2009

Major Policy Shift in Afghanistan Lays Off Poppy Fields

You won't find this story in much of our media, besides NPR, but the U.S. is changing its Afghanistan policy--for the better. The new policy of assisting those who trade their poppy fields to grow other crops is part of U.S. efforts to win hearts by rebuilding instead of tearing apart. The U.S. is also reducing air strikes.
President Barack Obama’s administration was making “significant adjustments” from the previous George W Bush administration in a bid to root out extremism, Richard Holbrooke told Congress. “We are downgrading our efforts to eradicate crops-spraying, a policy we think is totally ineffectual,” Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in his testimony. The money spared would be devoted to stopping trafficking, pursuing drug lords and helping farmers grow other crops, he added.

“Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars we’ve spent on crop eradication has not done any damage to the Taliban. On the contrary, it’s helped them recruit,” Holbrooke said. “In my experience,” the veteran US diplomat and negotiator said, “this is the least effective programme ever.” Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s heroin, much of which emanates from the southern province of Helmand, where Taliban-led insurgents are waging a bloody campaign against international and Afghan forces. Critics of previous US policy, even within the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, feared that the United States was pushing impoverished peasants to the Taliban by destroying their key cash crop while funding the extremists.

Holbrooke said the Obama administration was instead focusing on ramping up agricultural aid to provide Afghans with alternative livelihoods. But his view was challenged by Representative Mark Souder, a member of Bush’s Republican Party. Afghanistan was already “the breadbasket of the world” until poppy became more lucrative, he said. “There has to be some disincentive to plant heroin in addition to an incentive to plant other crops,” Souder said. “It will not suffice to say, ‘Plant corn,’ when you can get incredible amounts more dollars” with poppy, he said.
New view: Separately, US Gen Stanley McChrystal has said that US and other NATO troops must make a “cultural shift” away from being a force designed for high intensity combat and instead make protecting Afghan civilians their first priority. The newly arrived four-star commander said on Wednesday he hopes to install a new military mindset by drilling into troops the need to reduce the number of Afghan civilians killed in combat. McChrystal is expected to formally announce new combat rules within days that will order troops to break away from fights – if they can do so safely – if militants are firing from civilian homes.Daily Times
The G-8 welcomes the policy shift:
The G-8 foreign ministers "strongly appreciated" the policy shift, Frattini said. Costa, of the U.N., said the new focus "seems to be the winning strategy, and I'm glad that all of this has received support from the G-8 ministers."

The G-8 ministers along with Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta issued a statement at the end of their three-day summit Saturday saying it was urgent to find alternatives for farming communities where "narco-trafficking and extremism are endemic."

They said sustainable farming was key to Afghanistan's and Pakistan's future in that it would boost incomes, create jobs, improve rural development and lower regional tensions.

"Food insecurity and chronic poverty are root causes of civil instability and forced migration," the statement said. Read more at NPR