Prancing through poppy fields

Afghanistan’s push toward democracy rests on the opium trade.

Yes, Afghanistan: the forgotten war and stepping-stone for a lame excuse to go to war in Iraq. Nearly 20,000 U.S. troops are still fighting along the Pakistan border against the Taliban, al-Qaida and others. But to really understand Afghanistan, we must look past the immediate presence of the United States toward the importance of the opium trade.

Afghanistan provides 87 percent of the world’s opium. From its opium poppies, Afghanistan provided 4,000 tons of opium, which would eventually be converted to 400 tons of illegal heroin last year. Half of Afghanistan’s gross national product is connected to the opium trade. The drugpins are far more powerful than the Afghan government, despite the fact that President Hamid Karzai outlawed the opium trade three years ago.

As it stands now, Afghanistan is a country with a shattered infrastructure, without a real weight from the rule of law and is facing a lack of security. The vast poppy fields, which undermine the legitimacy of public officials, are the most tangible evidence of this. It’s estimated that 90 percent of police chiefs in Afghanistan are directly involved with drugs or are protecting those involved, according to a report by CBS’s Steve Kroft. Much of the money made from the sale of opium does not benefit the majority of Afghans and tends to further violent movement by, for example, allowing them to purchase weapons.

As the law is undermined, so too is the electoral process as Afghan election officials dismissed 50 employees for suspected election fraud. Demonstrations against alleged fraud are not uncommon.

The lack of law enforcement has impeded efforts to legalize the opium industry for the manufacture of codeine and morphine. Security would be in reach if the United States involved the peacekeeping International Security Assistance Force. This would provide 11,000 NATO troops. In order to turn the opium trade into a legitimate trade, the United States must help the Afghanistan government with law enforcement and training. For the time being, Afghanistan’s democracy is a small white cloth in a black market bazaar.