Afghanistan's Ubiquitous Poppy

Gareth Davies

foreign policy | Afghanistan | illicit drugs | medicine

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses row on row, ...

So goes the famous poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, of the Canadian Army. To him the poppy was a symbol of great tragedy, sadness, heroism and courage, and he used it to commemorate all the fallen in World War I. Today, on Novemeber 11 each year we still wear the poppy in commemoration of all the fallen in all the wars since then.

The poppy indeed.

One might say, "In Afghan fields the poppies grow..."

But to what does one commemorate those poppies? All the fallen in that great tragedy? Alas, Afghanistan's ubiquitous poppy is the modern day Pandora's Box. Pandora opened the lid and out came all the miseries that afflict the world, and today all those miseries have been let loose in the shape of heroin.

It was reported today, Friday, February 23, 2007, in the The Independent & The Independent on Sunday,

    Two more British soldiers have died in Afghanistan, as Western officials in the country have admitted that the country is to produce its largest ever poppy harvest.

    The deaths, the fourth and fifth in three weeks, come as Western military commanders and counter-narcotics officials appear increasingly at odds over how to approach the drugs problem in the south of the country. Military officers are fearful the $1bn (£540m) a year campaign to eradicate the drug is helping pull in recruits for the Taliban.

This news item was taken from an earlier column by Tom Coghlan in Kabul and Kandhar, Published: 03 July 2006.

Fox News carried the AP report on Sunday, September 03, 2006, "Opium Crop Rises Record 60 percent in Afghanistan".

    KABUL, Afghanistan —  The U.N. anti-drugs chief announced Saturday a "staggering" 60 percent rise in opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year, and demanded the government arrest scores of major traffickers and remove corrupt officials and police who are profiting from the trade.

    The record crop yielded 6,100 tons of opium -- enough to make 610 tons of heroin -- outstripping the demand of the world's drug users by a third.,2933,211957,00.html

BBC News on Friday, 24 September, 2004, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK ran the banner headline, "Big growth in Afghan poppy crop"

    The US has confirmed a big increase in Afghanistan's opium poppy crop and says the illicit drugs trade is endangering efforts to rebuild the country.

    A US State Department official said poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was expected to jump by 40% this year.

    Another official said there were record levels of poppy cultivation in areas not previously used for this purpose.

    Afghanistan is one of 22 nations listed by Mr Bush in his annual report to Congress on "major" drug-producers.

    Pentagon official Peter Rodman say the drugs trade is corrupting Afghan government institutions and that without vigorous eradication, security would not improve quickly.

    "We know that profits from the production of illegal narcotics flow into the coffers of warlord militias, corrupt government officials and extremist forces," Mr Rodman said.

It is clear that the heroin trade stemming from Afghanistan's poppy fields has been growing like Jack's beanstalk for some years now.

But we should remember that Pandora opens the Box a second time not knowing what she was going to let loose, perhaps even greater evils. But when she lifted the lid a second time out came hope. And thus, goes the legend, were we all saved from hopeless afflictions.

What about today? The Box waits to be opened a second time and we should be not afraid of what might be let loose.

Heroin, that monkey on the back, is out. It is, as most, if not all of you, know, a derivative of the poppy seed contained in those large baseball size pods that are left when the petals fall.

From the seed is made opium and from opium is made morphine and codeine.

If heroin is all the miseries in the world, then surely morphine and codeine must represent hope, hope of escape from the pain that afflicts us all when we are gravely wounded in some fashion by sickness or injury.

No doubt morphine and codeine are themselves abused as is heroin, but properly controlled, as they are for the most part, morphine and codeine get us through the worst of times or ease our passage gently from this life to whatever awaits beyond.

That is indeed hope.

Much of the surgery today would just not be possible without morphine and it is literally a heart saver.

So why are the Americans bombing Afghanistan's poppy fields?

It is well chronicled that Afghan farmers just cannot make a go of it growing grains and vegetables.

If the farmers do not grow poppies, the Taliban appear and shoot some of them. So they grow poppies from which they manufacture heroin.

Without protection, the farmers can do little else.

Instead of protecting them, the Coalition forces destroy the farms and bomb the farmers.

I don't get it.

We could buy all the poppies they could grow for use as medications in the form of morphine and codeine.

We could protect the Afghan farmers and win their confidence and allow them to enjoy some prosperity without getting involved in the illicit drug trade, whilst we buy from them all the poppy seeds possible, for the good of people, not for their misery.

This would cut the massive funds now available to the Taliban from the sale of heroin on the world market and undoubtedly have a beneficial impact on the "war" raging in Afghanistan to our benefit.

Isn't that hope?