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Canada has reservations about poppy spraying January 22, 2007 - ctv.ca
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Canadian diplomats are quietly trying to steer Afghan counter-narcotics agents away from a proposal to use chemical spraying to destroy opium-producing poppy fields, says a senior Canadian official.
Responding to international pressure, particularly from the United States, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government is seriously looking at instituting an aerial spray program to combat the explosion in the illegal narcotics trade.
"The Canadian position on eradication ... is that it is one of the pillars of the Afghan national drug control strategy,'' said Gavin Buchan, the political director of the provincial reconstruction base in Kandahar.
"As such, we believe it has a role to play in the overall context. However, we have significant reservations about the advisability of chemical spray.''
Ultimately, the decision is one for the Afghan government to make, he said.
Whatever the Afghans choose to do, it will have a significant impact on the 2,500 Canadian troops stationed in Kandahar province.
It's widely felt that a mass eradication effort against dirt-poor farmers, who have no other crops or livelihood, would drive them back into the arms of the Taliban, fuelling the deadly insurgency that took the lives of 36 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat last year. Many of the militant fighters who attacked Canadian troops last fall in the Panjwaii and Zhari districts were, in fact, local farmers, coerced into fighting for the extremists.
But a go-slow approach has its pitfalls as well, given that militants draw funding from the illegal opium and heroin markets, plowing that money back into weapons and explosive which are used to attack NATO troops.
Chemicals an issue
Aside from the military concerns, Buchan said he worries about the public reaction to the use of chemicals.
"I've had Afghans tell me, `Oh, I remember what happened when the Russians used chemicals,' he said referring to the Soviet occupation of the 1980s. "They blamed them for a series of diseases and ill effects. There's that aspect to be considered.''
Buchan wouldn't say whether he believed a mass eradication effort would drive farmers take up arms against NATO.
Canada is not involved in the elimination of poppies, and army commanders in the field issued strict orders last spring to units to avoid destroying fields. It was a measure intended to win the trust of local farmers and to convince them NATO wasn't there to take away their livelihood as the Taliban claimed.
After a record crop in 2006, initial surveys suggest that there is less poppy planting going in Kandahar and Helmand province this year, but Buchan cautioned that the evidence is only anecdotal at this point.
"To the best of our knowledge, yes, but this is very early in the growing season, you'll need to leave it for another couple of months before we have a really good handle on what's out there,'' he said in an interview.
While Canada does not participate in the burning of fields, the Canadian International Development Agency is spending $18 million over the next two years to support alternative livelihood programs for farmers across many districts in the province.
Many of those projects involve building irrigation systems wrecked by years of fighting, said Adrain Walraven, a development officer at the Canadian provincial reconstruction base.
"Water is essential for alternative crops,'' said Walraven.
"Poppy cultivation has many driving factors, as I'm sure you are aware, but one of them is that poppy does not require a lot of access to water.''
Over the last few weeks, Walraven said, most of the proposals Afghans have come forward with are so-called "water-based projects.''
People are asking for base wells and irrigation canals to be built, which tells Canadian development officers that farmers are willing to grow crops other than illicit poppies.
Before decades of war engulfed this region, farmers used to grow grapes, melons and apricots -- "products farmers here were proud to grow,'' said Walraven.
"People here have a sense of honour about some of the products that in the years of war have been pushed to the side. And they're very interested, with proper access to water and agricultural fundamentals, in re-establishing some of these tree fruit plantations.''
But convincing them to switch crops is going to be difficult, especially when a farmer can earn 75 per cent more per field growing poppies than wheat. And then, there's the upfront cash payments provided by the drug lords.
Buchan said farmers are also weighing the risk given the threatened stepped up eradication efforts.
"You may make 75 per cent more with poppy, or you may make nothing at all because the government came and burned down your field,'' he said.
"Individual farmers make quite rational, calculated decisions about whether to grow poppy, and risk is an important consideration for them.''
What is the point of being a soverign nation anymore? I know that the big wigs in the world are all about globalization, but come on...how can one country tell another what it can and cannot export? How do our lawmakers get to make policy for other countries? Haven't we fucked up things at home enough (and over there)?
Its amazing. The whole world uses drugs...yet those in charge are always against drug use...how does that work? How do people not realize drugs have always been around, and they are always going to be around...and all we are doing now is screwing over the lives of the individual user. We will destroy countries, we will destroy lives, we will end lives, we will occupy foreign lands, we will poison foreign lands...yet we will never end the use of drugs in humanity. Why can't people accept this?
I just want to know...I want someone with a well thoughtout and educated answer to explain to me why drugs are bad for humanity...so bad in fact that we are willing to destroy humanity to get rid of them? It doesnt make sense to me....it doesnt seem logical...and I dont see why, after all these years of this illogical idiocrisy we call a drug war, people are still all anti-drugs.
Grrr...I really need a place where I can vent with some like minded people in person. Sadly, those that agree with me are put in jail for thier belief in the freedom to control their own bodies...and no one is left. I feel I will be next...the next casualty in this drug war...and I will NOT go down without a fight!