How to Prevent Afghanistan from Becoming a Narco-State

Attempts to eradicate Afghan poppy farming have failed.

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[Read: U.S. Wants To Avoid Ban on Afghan Night Missions]

Local tribes along with domestic and foreign private business interests could be stakeholders in this plan. Broad based buy-in would help to spread the risk and improve its viability as would designating a set tax rate on the income from the legal sale of poppies and using those funds for Afghan reconstruction, particularly to build badly needed schools and hospitals and support other projects that would improve the Afghan economy as well as the lives of the country's men, women, and children. Such investments might also aid in efforts to not only provide a secure base for Afghanistan's economy but also stimulate social, cultural, and political modernization after decades of civil war, economic dislocation, military invasions, and destruction. In addition, given the plan's potential for greatly limiting the flow of illicit opium across their borders, regional states such as Iran, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union, would welcome any effort to reduce their own severe domestic drug addiction problems.

Since economic progress in Afghanistan is key to political stability, the "poppies-for-medicine" idea needs to be combined with other promising proposals for rural development that build upon some notable, though under-publicized success stories, such a the National Solidarity Program. Created in 2003 by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development Program to promote the ability of Afghan communities to identify, plan, manage, and monitor their own development projects, the largely unheralded program now reaches 29,000 (of some 45,000 in total) villages. Instead of continuing to waste billions of dollars on ineffective, top-down "state-building" projects that serve to line the pockets of foreign advisers and undermine national capacity, the rehabilitation program works to empower Afghans at the tribal and village levels to make decision affecting their own lives and livelihoods. Locally—meaning both in Afghanistan and neighboring states—there is also the potential for the cultivation of spices; the ever-growing global demand for spices and seasonings is forecast to reach more than 4.6 billion pounds by the year 2015.

Naturally, the effective transformation of Afghanistan's illicit opium production into a health industry with global potential for doing good will not solve all of the country's many problems but it will go a long way towards providing a stable economic base for a nation that is now teetering on the brink of disaster and primed to devolve into a cycle of internecine violence that will continue to take a horrific toll on the civilian population. As the United States debates the idea of ramping up its departure from Afghanistan, the time is right—in fact, long overdue—to lead the call for measures that have real potential for helping to counter the Taliban and build a just, functioning, and sustainable Afghan government supported by a stable economy. Without such efforts Afghanistan's future as a narco-state is not just a dangerous possibility, it is fast becoming a reality.

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