While in Afghanistan, one of our highlights was the Friday bazaar. It was the only real opportunity for us Westerners to feed out addiction of shopping. Everything from antique weapons to bootleg DVDs (Suck it, MPAA!) were available for purchase.
And also, apparently, all sorts of products derived from endangered animal species.
Western soldiers on deployments have both relatively high salaries and access to bazaars, and they’ve helped create a niche industry on overseas bases and outposts for goods made from imperiled species. This is the souvenir trade with a dark side.
We’re a decade into the Afghan way and we still haven’t figured out how to handle those danged poppies. The At War blog on the NY Times talks about the issue and demonstrates how little (as in none) we’ve been able to move on this issue.
American forces don’t do anything about the poppy crop (it’s not population centric), but pay the Afghan government to destroy poppy fields. I’m not sure what the equation looked like that figured it’d be too counterproductive for foreign troops to destroy poppies but somehow wouldn’t undermine credibility in the host government to take cash from foreign governments to destroy poppy crops, thereby impoverishing farmers but I’m sure it’s a hoot.
Of course, left to the Afghan government the eradication program has been used as a stick to punish anyone who offends the person in charge of the district/province/national counter-narcotics forces. Case in point is the profiled governor who proposes cementing up wells so local farmers can’t irrigate their fields. He also proposes cementing the occasional farmer in wells just to make sure the locals get the message.
The end of the article wraps up with a suggestion from the American brigade commander. Let’s pay the farmers to grow poppies (monopolizing the market) and build a pharmaceutical industry. That won’t seem particularly original since (as the article notes) the idea has been kicking around for a long time.
So, what does it mean when you ask the same questions for ten years and get the same, small range of answers (all of which are unacceptable for one reason or another)? Well, I guess it could mean that we aren’t imaginative enough to come up with the ‘right’ answer or maybe we just have to make one of those answers acceptable.* I’ve been in favor of the monopolizing the market approach as it doesn’t risk pushing the locals into the arms of insurgents and deprives them (the insurgents) of cash.
But, it doesn’t seem like there’s much of an appetite for new programs now in Afghanistan (even if they’re old ideas) so we’ll just keep on, keepin’ on.***
Finally, just a reality check: Guys (and gals) are serving in Afghanistan now who don’t really have a direct memory of 9/11. What’s weirder to me is that there are soldiers serving there now that were not even ten years old when I was there.
‘Houston, I think we’re old, now.’
*Or, you could just keep on going with something you know won’t work and try not to think about it too much.**
**Also known as current government policy.
***As a side note. It might be worthwhile to keep in mind as we approach 2014 and everyone is clapping each other on the back about how we’re withdrawing from Afghanistan, that in 2003 there were around 20,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan.