Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, recently told reporters at a meeting of G8 foreign ministers that the U.S. would be fundamentally changing its drug policy in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported June 28.
Instead of trying to eradicate opium poppy fields, as the Bush administration had done, greater emphasis will be put on assisting Afghan farmers to make a living through alternate crops and on seizing drugs leaving the country, as well as preventing supplies for growing and processing from entering, according to Holbrooke.
Holbrooke said the eradication policy, which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, failed because it had put farmers out of work, alienating the Afghan people and driving them into the arms of the Taliban.
However General Khodaidad, the Afghan minister of counternarcotics, warned that if the strategy was not in accord with Afghan culture and tradition, any changes would be ineffective.
Foreign ministers at the G8 meeting gave their approval to the change in U.S. policy, and Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, called the earlier eradication efforts “a sad joke.”
Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, welcomed the change in policy but warned that because the Afghan economy is so dependent on the drug trade, the new policy was unlikely to significantly reduce the country’s dependence on that trade.
Afghanistan supplies over 90 percent of the world’s heroin, and the United Nations estimates that the Taliban make as much as $300 million from the opium trade annually.