Last week Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, conceded the folly of American efforts to eradicate opium poppies:
Eradication is a waste of money. It might destroy some acreage, but it didn't reduce the amount of money the Taliban got by one dollar. It just helped the Taliban. So we're going to phase out eradication....
The farmers are not our enemy. They're just growing a crop to make a living. It's the drug system. So the U.S. policy was driving people into the hands of the Taliban.
Instead of seeking to wipe out poppy cultivation, an effort that has been spectacularly unsuccessful, the Obama administration plans to focus its anti-drug activities in Afghanistan on laboratories and traffickers. That's not likely to have a noticeable impact on heroin consumption either, but it should piss off fewer farmers and make them less likely to view the Taliban as their defenders against foreign invaders intent on destroying their livelihood.
The ineffectiveness of crop eradication (and of source control generally) is widely acknowledged among drug policy scholars, and critics for years have been arguing that pursuing this strategy in Afghanistan is counterproductive if the aim is to defeat the Taliban and promote something resembling peace and security. Still, the Obama administration should get credit for admitting the obvious, which the Bush administration was never willing to do.
Previous Reason coverage of Afghan opium here.
[via The Drug War Chronicle]