Feeling strangely sleepy...

On Monday, the scintillatingly entitled talk Opium Trade in Afghanistan: Implications for Human Rights, Security and Public Health was held in IAB 501. Bwog’s resident lotus-eater Clava Brodsky couldn’t help but delay her return to her suite and stop by.

“Let’s face it, we’re not going to turn Kabul, Afghanistan into Des Moines, Iowa.” –Colonel Louis H. Jordan, Jr

What do an Absolute bagel and the Helmand Province in Afghanistan have in common? Poppy seeds. What do Des Moines, Iowa and Kabul, Afghanistan have in common? Very little, according to Colonel Louis H. Jordan Jr, a speaker at the panel on Monday.

The implications, it turns out, are bleak.  But as optimism is the opiate of Americans, the panelists focused much of their discussions on hopeful alternatives and solutions.

Jake Sherman, Deputy Director of Programs at NYU’s Center of International Cooperation, spoke of poppy eradication. He warned that eradication of poppy fields creates more problems than it solves and argued that NATO forces and the Afghan government should focus instead on traffickers—their coercion should target the higher levels of the “value chain.” He supported the alternative crop program, where US military leaders provide incentives for Afghan farmers to plant roses (nice to sniff?), saffron, pomegranates and other poppy alternatives.  Colonel Jordan, the Deputy Director of the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, also supported this program, but pointed out that it takes a long time for these crops to produce a yield.

Don Duncan, a freelance journalist, focused on another aspect of the opium/heroin trade—the HIV epidemic.  With over 120,000 heroin users, many of whom inject it, Afghanistan is facing an HIV epidemic. Duncan pointed to the methadone clinics that Doctors Without Borders has established as one successful method of battling heroin addiction and the HIV crisis.

According to these speakers, the situation in Afghanistan almost sounded hopeful –– challenging, to be sure, but not desperate. Colonel Jordan made an interesting point that I think implicitly conceded a certain degree of pessimism. He stated that Afghanistan has its own police tradition, in which the police protect the governor and not the people. He denoted this as Afghan culture, as opposed to corruption. On the one hand, America is a superpower Don Quixote, righting the world’s wrongs; and on the other, America’s woefully relativistic. If we’re allowing corruption to fly under the banner of culture, how optimistic should we really be about Afghanistan?

Dorothy’s downfall via Wikimedia Commons