Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum has an excellent column on the contradiction between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror in Afghanistan. As I have explained time and again (see here, here, and here), our efforts to eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan are driving many Afghan peasants into the arms of the Taliban, and also enable the Taliban to finance itself through the black market drug trade.
Applebaum makes several related points, and also points out that the strategy of legalizing poppy production in order to help curb terrorism was successfully pursued in Turkey, ironically with US support. An excerpt:
Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could "bring down the government." Just like Afghanistan, Turkey — this was the era of "Midnight Express"-- was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.
As a result, in 1974 the Turks, with American and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes. You wouldn't necessarily know this from the latest White House drug strategy report-- which devotes several pages to Afghanistan but doesn't mention Turkey — but the U.S. government still supports the Turkish program, even requiring U.S. drug companies to purchase 80 percent of what the legal documents euphemistically refer to as "narcotic raw materials" from the two traditional producers, Turkey and India.
Why not add Afghanistan to this list? ..... [E]ven if the program succeeds in stopping only half of the [illegal] drug trade, a huge chunk of Afghanistan's economy will still emerge from the gray market; the power of the drug barons will be reduced; and, most important, Western money will have been visibly spent helping Afghan farmers survive, instead of destroying their livelihoods. The director of the Senlis Council, a group that studies the drug problem in Afghanistan, told me he reckons that the best way to "ensure more Western soldiers get killed" is to expand poppy eradication.
As they say, read the whole thing.
I'm not sure I agree with all the specifics of the Applebaum's proposed program, and I don't know enough to evaluate some of the details. My own preference would be for a less heavily regulated legalization than what she describes. Be that as it may, the Turkish model, as described by Applebaum, is far preferable to the Bush Administration's dangerously misguided poppy eradication campaign.