The War on Terror Meets the War on Drugs

Hill & Knowlton will head "a complex $3.8M PR effort" for the U.S. State Department, "targeting Afghan citizens and stakeholder groups to dissuade Afghan farmers from cultivating poppies and boosting global drug trade." Poppy production has soared since the 2001 U.S. invasion. Afghanistan provided 86 percent of the world's heroin in 2005, and "planting has significantly increased in 2006," according to a State Department official. Hill & Knowlton will "deploy communications through seven Afghan provinces" and "build capability" within the Agriculture, Interior and Counter-narcotics Ministries, by providing "communications professionals" and developing each ministry's own communications office. "Foreign and domestic media will be brought along" on poppy eradication missions, and "alternative livelihood efforts" will be promoted in the PR campaign. Current messages include, "Growing poppies is against Islam and harmful for the reputation of Afghanistan." Previous U.S.-funded PR work, by the Rendon Group and others, has been called costly and ineffective by Afghan officials.


Crystal meth is the most prolific and spreading drug all over the world. Heroin and cocaine now pale in comparison. How will this affect Afghan farmers?

Demand for heroin is already being drastically reduced, since meth costs only a fraction of the time and effort it takes to produce heroin. No plant growing or harvesting is required for meth. It seems to be made by producing chemicals from other chemicals. Again, how will this affect this geopolitical situation?

The Afghan farmers currently see the need to identify another way to make a living. There are certainly powerful forces at work right now working on convincing them to get a new source of income. This happened in the jungles of Peru during the 1980's, where whole villages were recruited to earn comparatively huge sums of money by producing basuco (cocaine paste). This tore some of the villages apart, as there were those who did not want to particpate in this economy. The monetary gain was so much greater than any other opportunity that had come their way, out there in the jungle. It was not only temptation that led many who opposed the use of drugs in their personal lives to take up a relationship with narcotraffickers: because of their access to money, the narcos were able to bribe local officials, who also ended up participating in the production cycle and pressuring those who didn't agree to look the other way.

The entrepreneurial narcotraffickers will continue to undermine attempts by the USA to convert peasants with what amount to non-existent and meager aid totals when held up against the huge and fast profits the little guy can make with various subterranean economies. In addition, the US has upheld the archaic system of empowering only the monied elites in many very poor countries, annointing them the rich from whom all blessings of employment flow. The irony and cynicism, the anger and lack of gratitude, engendered by this historical trend also helps embolden ambitious people with few resources to take advantage of unsanctioned economies.

What can we surmise the Afghani farmers will do for money and food now that heroin will be getting so cheap?

The notion that crystal meth is on rapid upswing and destined to overtake other drugs in terms of usage and value is not based on any facts I have seen. According to the ONDCP's website, their data concerning meth use suggests a plateau, if not even a decline in overall use. Other indicators, such as ER cases involving meth use, suggest an erradic trend, if any trend at all. Simply put, it is not clear exactly how many people are using meth and whether or not it is increasing, though some evidence contradicts the "meth panic" in the news lately. This claim is supported by a Slate Magazine article by Jack Shafer, who has published a series of articles on the reporting of meth data, a good summary is here:

But it is certainly true the US Drug Control wonks don't understand the economics of opium production in a country like Afghanistan, where food and sustenance are often of daily concern. Similar lessons can be drawn from the utter failure of the "Drug War" in Colombia and Bolivia, where the incentive to be able to make an income producing coca in the $2-3k range compared to the $200-300 range for maize (or 12 fold increase for poppy production to wheat) is easy math. Colombia, like Afghanistan, suffers from poor infrastructure in rural areas and large portions of territory outside of government control. Yet Colombia is clearly a bad model to emulate, with an ineffective government and strong rebel groups. Another on point slate article:

The British newspaper The Independent ran an article today titled, "[ Afghan poppy farmers expect record opium crop and the Taliban will reap the rewards]." It reports:

[In Afghanistan's Helmand province,] where British troops are to spend the next three years, a combination of factors have conspired to produce what is probably the biggest opium harvest in the history of a province that, last year, produced more than 20 per cent of the world's heroin on its own.

A law and order vacuum has allowed an increasingly well-organised drugs cartel, a corrupt local government and resurgent Taliban to structure the poppy cultivation of the province as never before. That has combined with fine growing conditions this year to produce what, if these were wine producers, might be considered a memorable vintage. And, country-wide it is now clear the poppy harvest will be close to record levels again. ...

Backed by American mercenaries from the Dyncorp corporation, [a poppy eradication team sent to Helmand] suffered endless delays as Afghan drivers refused to travel to dangerous areas; a problem which was compounded when a number of Afghan police were killed by a roadside bomb clearly intended to send a warning to the force. The force's eventual impact was negligible. The central eradication force is said to cost a total of $175m this year.