Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Three Phases of Afghanistan and Poppy Strategies

Strategies for dealing with the poppy economy in Afghanistan exist (like this recent one by WB/DfID: Afghanistan: Economic Incentives and Development Initiatives to Reduce Opium Production) but have been notoriously difficult to implement.*

Poppies matter in Afghanistan. Can Afghanistan be "fixed" without fixing the poppy economy? Probably not. But is that question actually relevant at all? Do we have to deal with the poppy economy now?
That all depends on what we are doing when in Afghanistan. "Afghanistan" as policy problem in historical can be divided into three phases:

1) Invasion, toppling, counterinsurgency, contested state-building by NATO and 'world society'.
2) Counterinsurgency, contested state-building by 'host nation', i.e. Afghan state.
3) Development.

We are still in 1), and consequently our effort should go toward getting to 2). That means hard core focus on capacity building in Afghanistan - first and foremost security forces, both ANA and ANP, but also all the other elements necessary to sustain and control these forces, i.e. rule of law instruments and a reasonably functional central, regional and local administration, plus an acceptable political process.

If that's true, then maybe the real question concerning strategies for poppy economics is that it shouldn't be dealt with now. Or at least only to the extent that it matters for the Taleban/insurgents. Maybe we should even leave it alone for a while - maybe we only risk fostering more resistance that will hamper the phasing from 1) to 2)?

In the end, those questions ought to be part of the national debates about general strategies for dealing with "Afghanistan" in NATO countries.

* The Danish Institute for Military Studies' Afghan Index contains a useful collection of Afghan data.

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