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Afghanistan: Insurgency Gains Ground As Poppy-Eradication Efforts Struggle

Do Poppy-eradication efforts threaten security in Afghanistan? (AFP) Is the forced eradication of farmers' opium-poppy crops in the Pashto-speaking belt of southern Afghanistan leading to a rapid disintegration of government control and an increase in Taliban/Al-Qaeda power controlled by Pakistani insurgent elements? A new report by the Senlis Council based on interviews with local farmers, community leaders, security officials, and district and regional councils concludes that crop eradication and security objectives are at odds and that compensation to farmers is being mishandled. As a result, the report says, local confidence in government and foreign security forces is lessening, and insurgency is on the increase.

LONDON, April 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Senlis report claims that counternarcotics policies pursued in Afghanistan by the international community have been largely ineffective and contribute to a worsening of relations with local communities. As the eradication of poppy crops continues, it has led to support for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents among dissatisfied farmers instead of helping to "win their hearts and minds."

Those findings by the Senlis Council, an international security and development think tank, are based on groundwork in the three southern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar, Kandahar, and Helmand.

"Eradication operations which are taking place have given a clear target for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, for their operations, so they know what to do and where to operate -- it's right after an eradication campaign," Senlis Council Executive Director Emmanuel Reinert says. "And there has been already casualties during this operation with Afghan forces and also the American troops and an American private company which are involved in this eradication campaign."
"I think the fear is that you've already got that problem, and the fear
is of the war on two fronts. So, you've got the insurgents coming back
in; at the same time you have got farmers who are so angry, so
disgruntled that they are prepared to take up arms."

Reinert explains that this growing insurgency may focus on the British forces that are to be stationed in Helmand Province in June, even if those troops are not supposed to be directly involved in eradication. And the more dangerous aspect of the situation is that the insurgents are now protecting and supporting the disgruntled eradicated farmers, Reinert notes.

"More importantly, because they offer protection to the farmers, they offer compensation to the farmers [who] have [had their crops] eradicated, [and the] Taliban [is] actually gaining the heart and minds of the local population," he says.

Reinert explains that the Taliban has been financed by powerful elements from across the porous Pakistani border who, he claims, control large areas in southern Afghanistan. This is enhanced by cross-border marriages and the fact that it is the Pakistani rupee, not the Afghan currency, that is being used in the rural communities of the Pashto belt. Only the presence of the international forces is stopping the Pakistanis from overrunning the provinces, he says.

Other experts agree. Kim Sengupta is the defense and diplomatic correspondent for "The Independent" in London, and he was recently in Afghanistan.

"They have got the influx from Pakistan and some resurgent Taliban from Waziristan, from Khost, all along the border," he says. "I think the fear is that you've already got that problem, and the fear is of the war on two fronts. So, you've got the insurgents coming back in; at the same time you have got farmers who are so angry, so disgruntled that they are prepared to take up arms."

Sengupta adds that the problem is that no other crop remotely commands the price of opium poppies. And if the farmers are indeed being armed by the Islamists, it can only mean that the opposition against the Karzai government and its Western allies is going to spread.

Reinert also explains that some farmers have been willing to produce alternative crops after eradication. But even some of them are turning against the government because they have been promised compensation that has never arrived, he says.

With this distrust growing, the British plan for securing Helmand will be very difficult, Reinert concludes, as he defends an alternative Senlis plan for legalizing the production of opium for medicinal purposes.

Sengupta agrees with the Senlis Council report when it says that frustrations like this within the rural communities make the insurgents campaign easier. "This is a very big point, because all the farmers we've spoken to in Helmand and Kandahar are very angry," he says.

Other observers agree that until the problem of poppy-crop eradication is successfully solved, the security situation in Afghanistan is going to get worse. And this view is also shared by a British Parliament committee report published last week. It says that in the short term, at least, "the security situation is likely to deteriorate."

Helmand Province Governor Comments

Helmand Province Governor Comments

U.S. Marines operating in Helmand Province in 2002 (epa)

RULING A RESTIVE LAND: On February 12, RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Jawaid Wafa spoke briefly with Helmand Province Governor MOHAMMAD DAOUD about the ongoing violence in his restive region on the border with Pakistan.

RFE/RL: Recently, there have been many clashes and attacks by insurgents in Helmand Province. What in your view facilitates these attacks, especially in Helmand?

Mohammad Daoud: This province has a 160-kilometer border with Pakistan's Baluchistan Province. In reality, armed people, armed terrorists, from the other side of the border cross the border into Helmand. They carry out attacks and return back. It is a serious problem in Helmand that within our borders there is neither tribal good will, nor are there are special military or security measures to prevent enemies from crossing back and forth.

RFE/RL: The attacks and clashes have not only been between government forces and insurgents. There have been various clashes in different parts of Helmand between police and purported drug smugglers. How do you explain this?

Daoud: Drug smugglers also use the border for their own purposes. They have opened markets on the border and process opium there. This is a serious problem along our border. We are in touch with our authorities on this problem.

RFE/RL: There are government border police patrol your border. What is their role in preventing illegal crossings?

Daoud: Along this 160-kilometer border, there are car routes, walking routes. We have border police, but unfortunately, either because of their own problems or because of weak administration, they have not been able to stop the crossing.


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