Thursday, July 23, 2009

Afghanistan and Obama

Rory Stewart (he who walked across Afghanistan on foot, wrote a book about it, then became governor of an Iraqi province, then wrote a book about that) has an interesting piece in the London Review of Books arguing that the high flung rhetoric used in discussing Afghanistan by the Obama and Brown administrations presupposes both an over simplistic moral view (and sense of mission) of the place.

He notes that the rhetoric regarding Afghanistan is:

...suggestive enough of crude moral imperatives to attract the Daily Mail; and almost too abstract to be defined or refuted. It papers over the weakness of the international community: our lack of knowledge, power and legitimacy.
Most importantly, Stewart makes light of the problems of the economic development vision of Afghanistan, arguing that is is far more likely to begin to resemble one of its neighbors than to develop into the Western Style democracy the rhetoric of the Western countries currently mired in Afghanistan belies.

To wit:
But Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan present a bewildering variety of states: an Islamist theocracy, a surreal mock-tribal autocracy, a repressive secular dictatorship, a country trembling on the edge of civil war, a military dictatorship cum democracy. And it will be many years before Afghanistan’s economy or its institutions draw level with those of its neighbours.
I think Stewart makes some excellent points across his essay. The greatest problem with the essay is that it fails to address the issue of poppy production; which when taken with the porousness of the Afghan borders continue to dictate Afghanistan's future as a so-called "narco state". This problem strikes me as being open to attenuation by providing a frame-work through which Afghans can grow poppies (easily their most valuable and most easily produced potential cash crop) legally. This taken with international morphine shortages, should, as The Economist and other publications long noted. should serve as a means for producing both a legal venue for poppy production in Afhganistan, and could see the opening of a technology industry were the morphine manufacturing plants to be built in Afghanistan; and operated by Afghans. This is just a thought, but one that appears to continue to elude international drug policymakers and the Western governments that continue to push empty rhetoric in Afghanistan.

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