The Dutch government is trying to avoid the plan of president Karzai to destroy the papaver fields in Uruzgan. Last week, Dutch Development co-operation Minister van Ardenne visited her troops in the southern regions of Afghanistan. In a formal meeting with Uruzgan's governor Mulavi Muni, she made clear that she should not implement Karzai's policy to destroy as many newly-sown poppy fields as possible.
Her position brought her into open disagreement with the Dutch minister of Defense Kamp. He backs the destruction of the crop as a way of combating opium production.
Ardenne fears that this could undermine the fledging trustful relationship between local farmers and Dutch ISAF troops, that are operating in Uruzgan.
Ardenne believes that destroying the opium fields will result in a stronger Taliban. She thinks it would be 'undesirable' for Dutch soldiers to play a role in the destruction, because it would negate the positive effects of their reconstruction efforts in the country.
Besides, this kind of measures against the poppy production will only succeed if not only the farmers but also the dealers are involved. Furthermore, alternative crops must be offered to small-scale farmers to ensure they can maintain a source of income.
Minister Kamp, on the other hand, says Dutch soldiers must support the policy of the Karzai government: 'If the Afghan government has a policy combating opium production, and the Dutch troops support the government 100 percent, then putting a stop to the cultivation of opium must be part of that support.' The Afghan opium crop accounts for nearly 90 percent of the world's total heroin production and is believed to be an important source of funds for the Taliban. Last year, production increased by nearly 50 percent.
Drugs and Democracy Transnational Institute
Dutch drugs expert Martin Jelsma agrees completely with Ardenne. Jelsma is co-ordinator at the Amsterdam-based Drugs and Democracy Transnational Institute: 'The Taliban are not directly involved in cultivation but they do demand a cut from the opium economy through unofficial 'taxation' or by controlling the flow of the drugs at roadblocks. They sometimes seize quantities of the opium crop, too.'
Jelsma says the destruction of Uruzgan's opium fields will not seriously affect the total production of opium: 'The opium market worldwide is very stable and will not be influenced by what happens in Uruzgan. However, combating Colombia's coca cultivation has had lots of negative side effects. Spraying pesticides from the air kills not only the coca plants but other crops as well and can also contaminate the water supply. Furthermore, farmers are being driven into the arms of Colombia's FARC rebel movement, which offers them a basic income.'
This article is based on the following sources:
wereldomroep 'Gebakkelei over opiumteelt in Afghanistan'