Here’s a paradox for you. The Obama administration is, quite rightly, gearing up to pressure the Europeans to put more men in boots on the ground in Afghanistan. And the Europeans, quite rightly, don’t want to engage in a war of attrition à la Russia in Afghanistan in the 1980s or the US in Vietnam before that. There is nothing worse than having to pull out with your tail between your legs and confront the electorate for thousands of needless deaths among your brave young. Who is right—and what should be done?
The answer is that the Europeans, using their nous as well as their soldiers, should confront the issue of the Afghanistan poppy crop: a crop that is responsible for 90 per cent of the heroin sold in Europe, and that funds over 80 per cent of Taliban activity.
And this brings me to a memorable conversation I had in Islamabad with President/General Pervez Musharraf two years ago (and that was published in Prospect in March 2007). He suggested that the west should introduce a common agricultural policy for Afghan’s poppies—in other words, it should do as both the EU and the US do with certain agricultural crops—and should buy it up with government money. ”Buying the crop is an idea one could explore”, he told me, in answer to what I had a bit nervously thought was a provocative question, ”Pakistan doesn’t have the money for it. We would need help 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.”
Buying the Afghan poppy crop was first suggested by the International Council on Security and Development. The idea would solve two problems in one blow. First, it would prevent the opium farmers from being driven into the arms of the Taliban, as they currently (and often unwillingly) are. Second, this crop could help the world, and especially the poorer parts in Asia and Africa, given thee chronic global shortage of medical opiates. Millions die each work in excruciating pain for want of such relief. Death is bad enough, but to die in extreme agony is the most frightening thing a human being can face. Yet India, Australia and Turkey—the latter encouraged by the…