"Good times ahead for Afghanistan"


Heaven knows Bill Safire is on board, a Karzai win portends a Bush win you see. But the read from the region is more nuanced. Reeling in the opium trade is taken as a given, even as the details escape everyone:

In his first interview after the elections, President Karzai said the Taliban were no longer a potent force that could threaten Afghanistan. "Terrorism and Al Qaeda are there. But not a movement with people or popular support." An 18,000 strong US military presence is currently scouring the mountains of Afghanistan looking for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. "How long can they hide?" asked Karzai, confident of nabbing the two most wanted men in the world.

But for the present, Karzai is looking at ways to breathe life into Afghan economy. He confirmed that Afghanistan would soon farm out exploration blocks for international companies to have a go. As of this week, Afghanistan has overtaken Colombia as the world's largest producer of opium. Karzai wants to crush this, though his plan of replacing poppy crops with pomegranates is unlikely to find many takers.

Karzai also faces pockets of ethnic Tajiks who want to see brick-and-mortar evidence that the Kabul government loves them. And although the Taliban surely flopped in efforts to disrupt the presidential election, oddball mysticism still has a powerful pull in the hinterlands. One village has constructed a shrine to 39 dead al Qaeda holdouts and ascribe healing powers to it.

Karzai will need some special powers of his own if he moves to cut poppy income from the Afghan economy before something -- oil? gas? -- exists to replace it. And if the West goes into full-on opium war mode in the coming months, the good times will be short-lived indeed.