Growing poppies is a sin

By Mark Harrison, TNC staff writer

The Bush Administration didn't reward the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan $43 million for destroying ancient Buddhist statues, or because the Taliban requires Hindus to wear identification tags. They weren't rewarded with U.S. tax dollars because they forbid education and medical attention to women, or because Afghanistan women are whipped if they accidentally expose their face. None of these hideous laws of the Taliban are enough to compromise the compassion of President Bush. They were rewarded with forty-three million dollars, ceremoniously granted for "drought relief" only after the Taliban declared poppy cultivation a sin.

Mullah Mohammad Omar, the "supreme leader of the faithful" of the extreme Islamic faction that has occupied most of Yugoslavia since 1996, issued the edict in July 2000. One year later, the heroin breadbasket of the world lay barren--and in its place, acres of drought-withered wheat stubble, the alternative "cash crop" that would not grow. The country's drought is in its fourth year and previously the poppy, which is relatively drought-resistant, had provided needed wages for hundreds of thousands who worked in the opium fields. According to the United Nations, more than one million people will now experience an "unbridgeable" food shortage before the end of summer. Sadly, U.S.-driven drug policies have intensified the suffering. Steven Casteel of the DEA was quoted by the Los Angeles Times: "The bad side of the ban is that it's bringing their country--or certain regions of their country--to economic ruin."

Taliban officials are not blind to the drug habits of the U.S. government, nor to the financial aid awarded to drug-producing countries that have said "yes" to deadly U.S. drug policies. And as sure as the opium trade continues today despite the Taliban poppy ban, the U.S. government was sure to provide drug money to the Taliban government packaged as compassion. If Afghanistan continued to produce most of the world's opium poppies, as the DEA claims, it's unlikely that the Taliban government would have received U.S. aid. Secretary of State Colin Powell welcomed the poppy ban and stipulated that the aid package is to be used primarily for emergency food and shelter. Though needed, the aid package does little to bolster the stagnant Afghani economy now deprived of its primary agricultural product.

Possession and sale of opium is still permitted in the country; the Taliban see God on the drug war supply side. The Taliban government no longer benefits from tax revenues from its number-one cash crop; so, as drug war history teaches, the country will become hopelessly addicted to U.S. drug money, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. If not, growing poppies may become god's will again in Afghanistan.