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Opium in Afghanistan: Nobody wants to talk about it...except me!

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Note: I am spending a week in Kabul, Afghanistan with a study group from Global Exchange. I have been doing research on the poppy/opium/heroin trade here. It's fascinating -- as is everything else about this country....

In Afghanistan there are some things you talk about and some things you don't. For instance, the government just issued a press release stating that the newspapers must stop calling warlords "warlords". Very clever. The "warlord" problem can now be safely talked about because it has just been eliminated with a stroke of the pen.

Theses guys must have either been taking spin lessons from the White House or George Orwell.

In Afghanistan everyone talks about the next major earthquake. The Kabul valley is surrounded by mountains that seem to shoot straight up from the valley floor. And each of these mountains is covered with adobe-brick huts, clinging on to the mountainsides for dear life because this is the only area where the ultra-poor (Afghanistan is something like the fourth poorest nation in the world) can afford to build. "The precariousness of this housing is very much like last year's pre-earthquake situation in Pakistan," one Afghan explained to me. If the Big One ever hits here, 100,000 people could be killed.

Everyone in Afghanistan talks about corruption. It's becoming a way of life. "Government employees are paid rock-bottom wages, only a few dollars a day. Common laborers sometimes get paid more than they do," an Afghan friend in the Interior Ministry told me. As a result, corruption is rife.

"They have 'ghost workers' here. And in some departments, as many as 20,000 to 30,000 imaginary employees are on the payroll."

Apparently, poor Afghans are as honest as the day is long and seem to have the same approach to morality as Americans back in 1910 did. "I dropped my cell phone on the street," said one American, "and someone ran after me for a whole block in order to give it back."

It's only among the rich and powerful here that theft and corruption are rampant. Hey. That sounds like America in 2006.

Everybody talks about Condoleeza Rice's new policy for Afghanistan. The US-AID has been totally successful in winning the hearts and minds of Afghans by funding local schools and health clinics. But Condi has other ideas. "We need stop all that and put our money into roads and hydroelectric construction." Looks like she read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" again. Money that goes to the betterment of Afghans doesn't go to Halliburton, Bechtel and KBR. Forget about hearts and minds! Taxpayers' money that's not going to Bush's friends is money wasted. Period.

Corruption in Afghanistan? "Imagine Enron plus ten."

Everyone here in Afghanistan talks about Pakistan. Everyone here LOVES to talk about Pakistan. "Pakistan is falling apart. Its four regions are in conflict and it's always fighting with India! It's just a matter of time before Pakistan fails as a state. But it thinks that if it can seize Afghanistan, it will gain 'strategic depth' in case of a war with India," said one diplomat I talked with. "Pakistan has been working to destabilize Afghanistan for decades for this reason. Everyone in Afghanistan hates Pakistan."

People here LIKE a lot of the things that US AID and various American NGOs are doing here. But universally and to a man Afghans hate Pakistan as far as I can tell.

And while there is not hardly any of the hatred of America that I thought I would find here, Afghans HATE all the money the Bush bureaucracy pours into Pakistan.

In addition, Pakistan's policy toward Afghanistan is the same as Israel's policy toward Palestine -- subtly undermine it, destabilize it and then, when things fall apart, go for the land grab. Also Pakistan's policy toward the various Afghan tribes is the same as America's policy toward the Shi'a and Sunnis and Israel's policy toward Hamas and Fatah: Get them fighting among themselves and then just stand back.

Everyone in Afghanistan talks about all this other stuff going on but NOBODY likes to talk about opium, the country's major source of revenue. Even George Bush doesn't talk about it -- even though opium production has sky-rocketed here on his watch.

American drug companies don't talk about it. Why should they? If all the opiates in Afghanistan were sold as a legal medical cash crop, the drug companies wouldn't make money by selling morphine.

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Stillwater is a freelance writer who hates injustice and corruption in any form but especially injustice and corruption paid for by American taxpayers. She has recently published a book entitled, "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips For Touring (more...)
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