Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Stumbling Over Poppies

The Telegraph has reported that the poppy eradication programme in Helmand province is collapsing under the weight of corruption:

"A 500-man Afghan police force backed by American private security contractors and two helicopter gunships began work in the drug heartlands two weeks ago aiming to destroy 22,000 hectares before April's harvest. In two weeks, only 1,200 have been ploughed.

"A policeman provided a detailed account of systematic corruption within the force. 'The only people [whose crops are] being eradicated are those without money or connections,' said the man, who cannot be named for his own safety. 'On the eradication force, this is being called 'the season to make money'."

"Powerful local landowners were bribing officials at a rate of about £500 per hectare. A hectare produces about £3,500 worth of opium.

"This year's effort is regarded as a crucial test of the Kabul government's ability to tackle the drug problem after previous years ended in disaster amid similar tales of corruption.

"If the campaign fails in Helmand, which produced 40 per cent of the country's opium last year, then British officials admit that US-led pressure for a radical campaign of aerial spraying of poppy next year will become irresistible.

"'The local police are worse than us at taking bribes,' said the police officer, who was recruited in Kabul. 'But every officer from the highest to the lowest is doing their best to take bribes.'"

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