Afghanistan’s security troubles are closely intertwined with the trafficking of poppy, Afghanistan’s largest cash crop. The UN has previously estimated that 90% of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan. This is a staggering number, but a new report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan may actually be on the decline.
The total opium cultivation in 2008 in Afghanistan is estimated at 157,000 hectares (ha), an 19% reduction compared to 2007. Unlike previous years, 98% of the total cultivation is confined to seven provinces with security problems: five of these provinces are in the south and two in the west of Afghanistan.
Of the 34 provinces in the country, 18 were poppy-free in 2008 compared to 13 in 2007. This includes the eastern province of Nangarhar, which was the number two cultivator in 2007 and now is free from opium cultivation. At the district level, 297 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts were poppy-free in 2008. Only a tiny portion of the total cultivation took place in the north (Baghlan and Faryab), north-east (Badakhshan) and east (Kunar, Laghman and Kapisa). Together, these regions accounted for less than 2% of cultivation. The seven southern and western provinces that contributed to 98% of Afghan opium cultivation and production are Hilmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Daykundi, Zabul, Farah and Nimroz. This clearly highlights the strong link between opium cultivation and the lack of security.
The total opium production in 2008 is estimated at 7,700 metric tons (mt), a 6% reduction
compared to production in 2007. Almost all of the production (98%) takes place in the same seven provinces where the cultivation is concentrated and where the yield per hectare was relatively higher than in the rest of the country. All the other provinces contributed only 2% to the total opium production in the country.
The gross income for farmers who cultivated opium poppy was estimated at US$ 730 million in 2008. This is a decrease from 2007, when farmgate income for opium was estimated at US $1 billion.
The report says that a combination of successful counter-narcotics strategies and a drought have contributed to this decline. To sustain this trend in places where a drought was largely responsible for declining opium cultivation, the report recommends urgent international action to provide farmers with viable alternatives. The security of Afghanistan may hang in the balance.
In another graf of note from the NYT article announcing Obama’s selection for UN ambassador, nominee Susan Rice reflects on the lessons she drew from the traumatizing experience of working in the State Department during the (ineffectual response to) the Rwandan genocide:
“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required,” she told The Atlantic Monthly in 2001. She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of an American-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.
Rice has certainly espoused some hawkish instincts when it comes to Darfur and other humanitarian emergencies, but I think the phrase “going down in flames” was used hyperbolically. The fact that she is willing to stick her neck out and advocate for the muscular policies that it will take to bring mass atrocities to an end — instead of merely issuing vapid expressions of horror, words of condolence, or the all-too-common pronouncements of “never again” — suggests that Rice is not delusional about the kinds of hard measures that the United States and its allies will have to leverage. And as Mark has articulated, Rice’s experience with Africa and her “sharp elbows” make her particularly well-suited to staring down Security Council challenges.
“It will be very difficult to copycat the Somalia situation in Asia,” said Noel Choong, head of the Piracy Reporting Center at the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “The governments here are more committed and have more resources. In fact, the attacks here are coming down.”
A regional piracy-monitoring agency in Singapore said maritime attacks in Asia in the first nine months of the year dropped 11 percent compared to 2007 and 32 percent from 2006.
This is good news, as 40% of the world’s seaborne trade passes through the Strait of Malacca, a thin avenue [shaded dark blue on the map] between Malaysia and Indonesia. And while increased government anti-piracy activity – something that actual functioning states are much more capable of — has certainly played a role in vanquishing Southeast Asian pirates, it also helps that, whereas Somali pirates are typically “very heavily armed,” their Southeast Asian counterparts “usually just have knives.”
On the UN side, attack helicopters are ready to go, and the mission may potentially acquire about 3,000 new troops, according to a draft Security Council resolution to be voted on this week. The problem, of course, is that Member States will have to step up to contribute these troops, which will then likely take months to deploy. An fast-deploying European force not seeming to be in the works, the best we can hope for right now is for countries to offer their troops to the UN force as expeditiously as possible.
UPDATE: Refugees International’s Erin Weir, writing from on the ground in eastern Congo, is frustrated that “the member states represented on the UN Security Council have persisted in doing absolutely nothing.” She agrees that a delayed addition of troops is not going to be enough and that, after so much dithering, “time is not a luxury that the world can afford” in Congo.
Greater trouble nears in Somalia…
Islamist militias in Somalia on Thursday continued their steady and surprisingly uncontested march toward the capital, Mogadishu, capturing a small town on the outskirts of the city.
I would describe this as a pincer movement — Islamist militants from the interior, pirates from the coast — but Somalia is naturally far more complicated than that. The connection between the Islamists and the pirates is only loose at best, as are even the ties binding the various rebel groups. Furthermore, as the difficulties faced by Somalia’s unstable, Ethiopian-backed “transitional” government suggest, controlling Mogadishu is anything but tantamount to running the country. And while some residents in the paths of the Shabab militants have fled, others are evidently pleased at their arrival.
UPDATE: Michael Kleinman says: “One of the main issues is that the Islamists – and in particular the Shabab – now control much of the coast, putting them in a position to disrupt WFP, ICRC and NGO food shipments through the port at Marka.”
The UN’s second-highest peacekeeping official pens a letter to the editor in The Washington Post, responding to critics of the overwhelmed, undermanned, under-resourced, and under-appreciated mission in eastern Congo.
MONUC forces are patrolling, holding access routes to the provincial capital of Goma and maintaining the fragile peace there. It is the only force actively contributing to the protection of the vulnerable and helping to make a difference where it matters most. However, with barely one peacekeeper for every 10,000 civilians in eastern Congo, MONUC cannot be everywhere at once. Its troops are spread thin throughout the country; moving large numbers of them would destabilize other volatile regions. This is why we have called on the international community to reinforce the mission immediately. We need the right tools if we are to succeed in the difficult days ahead.
Without the U.N. force, the situation in North Kivu would have been far worse. Without the blue U.N. helmets and U.N. expertise, Congo could not have emerged from the horrors of its brutal civil wars to hold its first national elections in half a century. U.N. peacekeeping is an imperfect instrument, but where would Congo and indeed Africa as a whole be without it? [emphasis mine]
UN troops cannot indeed be “behind every tree,” and Mulet raises a good point about the counter-factual difficulty of realizing the benefits of having UN peacekeepers behind at least some of those trees. Check out this RI bulletin that I flagged earlier for more on what the mission is doing — and what needs to be done to support it.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.