- The Washington Times - Monday, September 7, 2009


America may have missed a chance in Afghanistan early in this decade when the Taliban decided to ban opium cultivation, wiping out 90 percent of the 2000-01 poppy crop (“Time for a strategic retreat?” Opinion, Friday). The ensuing massive dislocation and unrest in the opium-dominated rural economy threatened the Taliban’s control, causing it to turn to the international community for help in maintaining the ban.

At this juncture, the United States and its partners might have intervened decisively to stabilize the economic situation, assist desperate rural dwellers and help the regime secure its gains against the opium scourge. In turn, the Taliban — faced with the catastrophic consequences of drug prohibition — could have been induced to accommodate Western demands, especially on the issue of Osama bin Laden. Such a grand bargain might have resulted in an Afghan regime divorced from its al Qaeda patron and strongly committed to drug eradication, with the leverage of Western aid serving to chip away at the harsher features of the regime’s Islamist rule.

Unfortunately, whatever plans or negotiations were underway along these lines were upstaged by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent coalition military action. Today, opium production in Afghanistan, though declining somewhat, is still some 37 times above the 2001 level, and a narco-funded neo-Taliban insurgency rages throughout the country, posing problems of pacification and stabilization that are immeasurable and possibly insurmountable at this stage.


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