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An overdose of targets - except on drugs
date: 31-January-2006
source : THE TIMES
editorial comment editorial comment
Better off with oil than opium??? Hey, make it legal and see what comes on top :)

THE plan to rebuild Afghanistan, which will be revealed at today’s meeting in London, contains a formidable list of targets for the country.
The timing is good, at least. The conference of 30 countries will pull together international attention about the growing crisis in Afghanistan, after two years when it was fading.

But for all the shower of figures — the targets for money to be spent, for police to be trained, and homes reached by electricity — there is no detailed plan to counter the drugs trade. There is simply a nod that this is Afghanistan’s worst problem.

Yet in the past four years the opium trade has come to dominate the economy, to the point where taking the poppies out of Afghanistan seems almost as hard as taking the oil out of Saudi Arabia. The figures and targets also sidestep the most serious point: that so many corrupt people, many associated with the narcotics trade, have used the past four years to insert themselves into parliament and provincial government.

There is something comic about producing a “blueprint”, as the Government of Hamid Karzai calls it, to rebuild Afghanistan. True, it captures the rawness of the country: the sense that in so many dimensions, its would-be benefactors are starting from the bottom.

But it is not as if the effort is without precedents. The blueprint is threatened at every turn by history: not just the much-quoted British and Soviet attempts of the past two centuries but the record of the past four years. It is hard not to conclude that those years since the US invasion have been wasted.

The Karzai Government has blamed other countries for failing to make good on postwar promises, although it also believes there has been real progress, for instance in schools. Karzai himself, barricaded into his Kabul fortress, has hardly had it easy.

But his Government has also been to blame. One of his greatest strengths — keeping the peace among chieftains who had dedicated their lives to killing each other — now looks more like an exercise in avoiding confrontation.

The new plan, called the Afghanistan compact, sets out targets for 2011. These include, according to reports, a trebling of the army to 70,000. It also wants the number living on less than $1 a day to be cut by 3 per cent a year. The Asian Development Bank, one of many financial institutions expected to make new pledges, is set to announce a $1 billion, five-year loan package today.

But achieving these will depend on other, much more profound changes which are hard to bring about.

The army? Iraq has shown the difficulty of setting up an independent, neutral force in a country riven by sectarianism.

It is not obvious why Afghanistan should be easier. The feuding between the north and the south has only been inflamed by the past year’s resurgence of the Taleban in the south east.

Poverty? It depends not just on international aid dispensed by Kabul but on the willingness of provincial governors to give money to reform.

There lies the biggest problem. Karzai began well, removing some of the most belligerent governors and chieftains, including those most closely associated with the opium trade. But in most cases, he just moved them sideways.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that opium accounted for 52 per cent of the economy. Some say that officials or MPs have links to two-thirds of the trade.

The two figures go together: with the poppy trade so powerful, it is hardly surprising that so many of those in power might have a debt to it.

The decision by Britain, and Nato, to commit more forces to fighting the poppy trade in the south east is the right one. But that needs a clear plan of action and there has not been one, beyond the wistful hope that more troops and more cash can persuade farmers to grow something else.

Iraq, compared with Afghanistan, has oil wealth and an educated population. It is hard not to think it is better off.

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