The president and military strongman of Pakistan discusses the war in Afghanistan, a possible resolution to the Kashmir dispute—and becomes the first leader to back the idea of western governments buying up Afghanistan's poppy cropby Jonathan Power / March 22, 2007 / Leave a comment
Pakistan is the hub of the Anglo-American/Nato war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Britain’s embassy in Islamabad is its largest in the world. And the city is full to the brim with American spies and senior military people. But the truth is that the war in Afghanistan is going badly. The Taliban are gaining the upper hand, funded by proceeds from poppy-growing, which they now encourage in a reverse of the policy pursued when they were in power (back then, it was un-Islamic).
In the course of a wide-ranging, two-hour conversation in his office in the presidential palace, Pervez Musharraf, military strongman of Pakistan, made no effort to persuade me that the Taliban and al Qaeda were being defeated or that the war in Afghanistan was going well. There was an absence of bravado and an apparent openness to new ideas—such as talking more formally to the Taliban/al Qaeda and even buying up the poppy crop.
Indeed, Musharraf is the first world leader to tentatively back the idea of western governments buying the Afghan poppy crop to stop it reaching the drug barons yet without impoverishing the farmers. “Buying the crop is an idea one could explore. Pakistan doesn’t have the money for it. We would need money from the US or the UN. But we could buy up the whole crop and destroy it. In that way the poor growers would not suffer,” he told me.
The idea of buying the Afghan poppy crop was first floated in 2005 by Emmanuel Reinert, head of the Senlis Council, a development think tank. The council’s proposal would solve two world problems in one blow. First, it would help deal with the world shortage of medical opiates, which according to the World Health Organisation is causing a “global pain crisis.” Second, it would prevent the opium farmers of Afghanistan being driven into the arms of the Taliban.
Western soldiers sent to Afghanistan to fight the war on terror are also, at least intermittently, waging a war on drugs that requires the destruction of an important part of the Afghan economy—the 2006 crop was worth $3.1bn, equivalent to almost half the country’s GDP. According to a recent UN report, opium is now being produced in 28 of Afghanistan’s 36 provinces, especially in the south; and…