Transforming Afghanistan's opium farming from heroin to morphine production would thwart the Taliban and stabilize the economy, writes Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The year 2014 is fast approaching and with it, the end of the allied forces mission in Afghanistan. At the close of that year, as the president confirmed in his speech from Bagram Air Force Base, the United States and NATO will hand over responsibility for the security of Afghanistan to its own forces. But in the meantime, events on the ground are conspiring against some of the long-term policy goals that the allied nations who committed troops to Afghanistan had hoped would bring peace and stability to that country. The recent burning of Korans as well as the massacre of civilians, not to mention U.S. troops urinating on enemy corpses, posing for photos with the remains of Taliban insurgents, and similar inflammatory actions have contributed to anti-American and anti-NATO sentiments in Afghanistan as well as in neighboring countries, especially Pakistan. Given these developments, President Karzai, in an effort to prove to his nation that above all he is an Afghan nationalist and guardian of Afghan sovereignty, has often been forced to publicly distance himself from America, making demands such as that U.S. forces be confined to their bases and withdraw completely from Afghanistan by the end of 2013. In addition, the Afghan government has insisted that NATO forces stop "night raids" on suspected insurgents' hideouts, which recently resulted in an agreement that should give Afghan authorities veto over controversial special operations raids. For its part, the Pakistani parliament has demanded a halt to all U.S. drone flights over border areas that provide safe haven and supply routes for the Taliban. Further, the Pakistani government has blockaded the flow of U.S. materiel supplying American troops in Afghanistan.
These challenges are arising in the midst of a global economic slowdown that is making it difficult for even those nations rich with resources to chart a reliable course for their future. Economic uncertainties have added to the growing call in the United States and other NATO countries to end the allies' presence in Afghanistan—and hence, the enormous cost in terms of lives lost and dollars spent—even sooner than planned. For Afghanistan itself, which despite some $18 billion in U.S. aid alone over the past decade remains one of the poorest countries in the world on the United Nations´s Human Development Index (registering 174th out of 178 countries), the economic outlook remains bleak. Add in a growing Taliban insurgency against the allied powers along with ethnic, religious, and tribal conflicts and tensions as well as interference from neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Iran, and India who support their proxies inside Afghanistan, and what's brewing is a recipe for disaster on many fronts, particularly in regard to the Afghan economy once the United States and NATO have largely departed.