As the United States begins to prepare for its withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan in 2014, it has begun to address one of Afghanistan’s largest narcotics operations with no force at all. Opium production and trade is one of the main sources of funding for the Taliban, not to mention it has contributed to political instability and a breakdown in the rule of law.
The latest survey by the Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs shows that 5% of Afghanis living in urban areas are addicted to opium, compared to .03% in the U.S. Additionally, the percentage of the population addicted to opium in rural areas is projected to be in the double digits. This makes Afghanistan the country with the highest addiction to opiates worldwide. Further, Helmand and Kandahar, two of the most instable provinces in Afghanistan, are also the largest producers of opium. This linkage between opium production and corruption illuminates the importance of tackling the production of poppy.
Relative peace and stability following the withdrawal of U.S. forces is predicated on the subjugation of the Taliban insurgency, making efforts to stem their funding ever more important. Initiatives by the U.S. government to combat the production of opiates involve enforcing and strengthening the rule of law and the criminal justice system. However, the popularity of informal law at the tribal level, coupled with the paradoxical meshing of Shariah Law with common law, make the establishment of a transparent legal system extremely challenging.
Amy Schimisseur, Team Lead for the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Afghanistan Counter-narcotics, spoke at an event held at Georgetown University called Afghanistan 2014 and Beyond, about initiatives in place to change attitudes and behaviors regarding the production and trafficking of opium. One initiative is the Counternarcotics Public Information Initiative (CNPI), which disseminates public information and awareness through Afghan media outlets, NGOs and government agencies regarding the effects of the poppy crop. Local leaders are being trained to hold community councils on the dangers of drug use and Preventative Drug Education initiatives within public schools have also sought to stem drug use at an early age.
Economic aid also acts as an important tool to encourage the destruction of opium crops and to provide opportunities for development. A widely successful initiative is the Good Performers Initiative (GPI). The program involves incentivizing provinces to eradicate opium production in return for development assistance ($1 million USD/year) for sustainable infrastructure projects such as schools, roads and sports stadiums. The project ideas come from local villages within the given province and the contracts are awarded to Afghan companies. This not only incentivizes governments to eradicate poppy production, it also employs local Afghans and builds capacity.
Even though troop withdrawals will take place, the U.S. plans to continue its war with the Taliban nonviolently on both the governmental and civil society fronts. It is essential that the rule of law provide citizens with security, consistency of expectations, and protection by and from government. With the prospect of the Taliban trying to make a move after the majority of U.S. troops have left, the capacity of civil society and the government, as well as economic development and market opportunities, will be necessary to combat insurgency movements.