While the NATO-ISAF approach to combat poppy growing is now more gradual, there are other links in the smuggling chain that should be cut. The easiest target is the bottom link, the peasants; much more difficult is to punish the people with power and wealth. The poor legal institutions and a lack of political will ensure that many influential people involved in the trade never get prosecuted or even removed from their office. A lack of state security makes borders so porous that only two percent of opium is seized when leaving the country. In contrast, 20 percent of Colombia’s cocaine is seized at its border.
The Western military does not want to harm its reputation any more by angering the villagers, but the flourishing narco-trade should not be ignored. Instead of focusing on the voiceless peasants, the counter-narcotic forces can boost their efforts to destroy heroin laboratories, improve border security, and target traffickers and drug lords. While it remains a true challenge in one of the world’s most corrupt countries, it is also one of the most important ones, as the conflict in Afghanistan is quickly turning into another narco war with the insurgents and drug traffickers uniting.
Photo attributed to: Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs