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Poppy Cultivation Complicates Afghanistan's Struggle for Stability

Monday, Feb. 12, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The broken elevator at the Ministry of the Economy was not unexpected. A rolling blackout the night before had hit my downtown hotel, where taps ran dry depending on the time of day. But the blunt honesty of Minister Mohammad Jalil Shams had a sobering effect on an otherwise pleasant day in Kabul: Taliban insurgents and narcotics were this year's bumper crops, he said, and if all goes well it will take at least a decade or two to win back public confidence eroded by a corrupt government that has failed to make good on promises of security and basic services.

"That Afghanistan is producing the largest amount of opium in the world is a fact nobody can deny. It is also true that there is no real alternative livelihood for people" involved in poppy cultivation, the minister lamented in a late-September interview. What, then, are the best short-term options being pushed by his offices to support the rural poor inclined to better-paying Taliban commanders allied with drug cartels? There was a loud pause. "There is Saffron being grown in Herat province and roses in Jalalabad," he started, admittedly "small steps" in a long-term effort to rebuild a country handicapped by a quarter-century of war. ...

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