Sunday, March 06, 2005

Of poppies

Okay, so the poppies. Specifically, Afghan poppies. Specifically, the fact that Afghan poppy production has trippled, and that it accounts for between 40-60% of the Afghan economy. And the fact that, at this point, Afghan poppy production is essentially world poppy production. All of these facts are relevant to understanding why the US State Department worries in a recent report that Afghanistan might be on the verge of becoming a narcotics state. The story of how this has come to be is familiar to most of us. Basically: Under the Taliban, not much poppy production; under the democracy that has been established since, lots and lots of it, thanks to the power of local warlords, an ineffective central state, and inadequate American troop presence. (Just to be clear, I mean inadequate to prevent drug production. Not that I believe that should be the top priority of American troops.)

The fact that the State Department worries that Afghanistan might be on its way to a narcotics state is, to me, kind of like saying that North Korea might be on its way to communism, or that the United Arab Emirates might be on its way to an oil economy. When 40-60% of your economy derives from the production of a single commodity—a single illicit commodity that the government would rather you not produce—you have a serious problem. You're not on your way to a serious problem, you're there. And more heroin in the market place is a serious problem for the world, not only for the future of Afghan democracy. Cheaper heroin means more heroin use, means more intravenous drug use, means more HIV trainsmission.

A number of political scientists argue that a country can't be called a democracy until it has survived two changes in power—two elections where the losing party concedes control of the country to the winning party. This is a sensible hurdle for countries struggling to be "democracies." After all, the exchange of power is the most difficult part of democracy. Until countries like Iraq and Afghanistan complete two exchanges, they won't be democracies, and crowing conservatives are premature. And, since Afghanistan is nearly a narcotics state, it's unlikely that its government will pass the test any time soon. Political struggles will be fuelled by drug money, warlords will continue to hold sway in some areas of the country, and they will be as well funded as the government.

Think about it like this. Let's say 50% of the country's GDP is in poppy production. And let's say that a shadow "government," an illicit power structure of warlords and gangsters, taxes that portion of the economy while the real government cannot. Let's futher assume that warlords and gangsters charge an exorbitant tax rate on the income of poppy farmers because . . . well because they're hearltess, un-democratically elected gangsters. It's easy to see the trouble that the Afghan government would have facing them. Though not as cohesive, the various regional warlords and gangsters would probably be better funded than the government. And their cohesion isn't necessarily a problem, since their geographic dispersion would force the government to spread their weak forces so thin, the walords don't have to coordinate themselves.

(Conservative response: "Don't hate on America! Don't hate on democracy!" Not that I can see a fat old white man yelling "don't hate on" anything, but you know, it would be funny.)


Post a Comment

<< Home