It finally dawned on Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, that eradication programs weren't working and were only driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban. "Eradication is a waste of money," Holbrooke said.
As a result, the U.S. has a new policy on poppy production in Afghanistan. It has the support of the United Nations, Holbrooke said outside a G-8 ministers meeting on Afghanistan in Trieste, Italy. The money used for eradication will be shifted to drug interdiction and alternate crop programs.
That's an interesting concept. As we reported in April, the Afghan's president's brother is the alleged kingpin of the country's cocaine trade. The World Bank, we also reported, loaned the country at least $65 million to improve its irrigation infrastructure with marginal success, primarily because of incompetency and fraud within the government's interior ministry.
The United Nations has estimated the Taliban and other Afghan militants made an estimated $50 million to $70 million off the opium and heroin trade last year.
In a report released earlier this week, the U.N. drug office said opium cultivation had dropped by 19 percent last year, but was still concentrated in three southern provinces where the Taliban insurgency is strongest.
Holbrooke said the previous U.S. policy hadn't reduced "by one dollar" the amount of money the Taliban earned off opium cultivation and production. "It might destroy some acreage," Holbrooke said. "But it just helped the Taliban."
Agriculture was among the issues taken up by the delegates at the G-8 meeting in their Saturday session on Afghanistan, with participants saying in a draft version of the final statement that agricultural development was seen as "key to the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as other countries in the region."
The statement called for "expanded agricultural cooperation that could lead to rural development, food security, employment growth, higher income levels, alternatives to poppy cultivation and ultimately lower tensions in the region."
It is the same direction and purpose of the World Bank loans which were issued in 2002 with little success.
"The farmers are not our enemy, they're just growing a crop to make a living," Holbrooke said. "It's the drug system." Nor are other crops cash cows.