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Winning with Opium in Afghanistan

Despite considerable effort by the international community in Afghanistan since 2001 to eliminate the Taliban and al Qaeda, the insurgency in the south of the country has gathered momentum at breakneck speed in recent months. Our field research shows that we are not winning the campaign for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people – the Taliban are. Indeed, the international community’s methods of fighting the insurgency and eradicating poppy crops have actually helped the insurgents gain power.

The international community has so far pursued policies of destruction, rather than the promised reconstruction. The aggressive United States-led counter-narcotics policy of crop eradication has failed to win the support of Afghans, because it has triggered a chain reaction of poverty and violence in which poor farmers, with their only livelihood destroyed, are unable to feed their families. This has been exacerbated by the failure to provide even the most basic aid and development in the country’s poorest areas.

At the same time, communities have been torn apart as a result of bombing campaigns, which have destroyed the very homes we came to protect. This, in addition to four years of drought, has forced entire families to leave their villages for makeshift internal refugee camps.

You do not win people over by bombing them, but by helping them.