Of smoke and mirrors

The war against terror rages on in our country, not being checked by the floods or any other form of diplomacy or military action. Where it was first concentrated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and areas close to our porous border with Afghanistan, it is now fought in the streets of Lahore and Islamabad with sporadic suicide bombings in public spaces and attacks on our infrastructure.

The allied forces have all but given up on mending Afghanistan, as many analysts said they would when the famous “with us or against us” point came in our history. Their strategy went from a full-blown assault on the militants to retrenchment to more troops and finally, “let’s get the hell out of here” while Pakistan is still bombarded daily by drones on suspicion of militant movement on our soil.

While our soldiers and civilians pay the price of this war , the driving force behind it is still being harvested in Afghanistan without little care for its end result. Yes, I speak of the opium crop grown in the Kandahar and Helmand province of Afghanistan which accounts  for 90 per cent of the global production and it grows under the very noses of Nato and the allied forces. Is anything being done about it? Not quite.

According to a New York Times article published this May, blight/fungus has affected a third of the poppy harvestthis year, as a result of which opium prices have soared by 50 per cent in the region. According to the Taliban, the allied forces have destroyed the crop and many farmers now agree and believe this. This is serving the militants double benefits in the form of propaganda to farmers against the allied forces of having caused this infection and a sharp increase in the sales value of the product to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, dollars which translate into suicide vests, arms and ammunition – most of which ends up in Pakistan.

So why is it that the allied forces chose to bomb on suspicion in Pakistan via drones while the mother lode sits in their backyard? Why do they not bomb the poppy crops of Afghanistan and end the financial clout of the militants which would immediately halt their nefarious activities? Ah yes, it’s because the poor farmers depend on poppy you see, it’s a vital part of the afghan economy and we all know that protecting the afghan farmers’ interests is what it’s all about.

Pakistanis are known to be conspiracy theorists, however these are plain and undeniable facts that are available to anyone who wishes to Google them. Yet the international media is silent on the fact that poppy cultivation has actually increased by leaps and bounds. In a UN report, “Among the most striking findings in the report is a 30 per cent spike in cultivation in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement and a province that the US-led international force is struggling to secure.”

We see stories in the media both here and abroad of our government being corrupt, our agencies being some sort of demonic forces and our army being parasites yet they all conveniently forget to mention that the root of the problem goes unchecked next door.

The  New York Times also stated that Nato and American forces have adopted a “soft-glove” approach instead of a widespread eradication of the harvest. They are now trying to convince the farmers to switch to other crops by offering financial incentives. But is it really going to work? It hasn’t for the past decade and it won’t work now.

It’s time we stopped acting like ostriches and demanded some answers as to where exactly Pakistan will stand once the western forces leave Afghanistan. It’s time that we pointed out the root of the problem, which when eliminated will drastically reduce militant funding.


As published in the DAWN BLOG on 4th Oct 2010