Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Update on Iran's Parliamentary Elections

Washington is so caught up with the debate about whether to bomb Iran or not that very little attention is being given to what is happening inside Iran and the very interesting dynamics that are at play as various individuals, political parties, and organizations gear up for the upcoming parliamentary election in March 2008.

This is an important election and from the looks of things key players in Iranian politics are taking the contest very seriously. The latest manifestation of this seriousness is the suggested list of 39 candidates for the city of Tehran just put out by the Kargozaran (Servants of Construction Party), a political party closely associated with Iran’s former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The list has been offered to Setad-e E'telaf-e Eslahgarayan (Headquarters for the Coalition of Reformists) and is yet to be finalized either as a separate list or as part of an agreed upon list for the reformists/centrists to enter the contest as a coalition. In short, there is still a lot of negotiating to occur as important reformist wings, including the centrist Etemad-e Melli (National Confidence Party) and the more liberal Mosharekat (Islamic Iran’s Participation Party), mull over the question of whether there are enough candidates over which there is agreement to allow for a unified list to be put forth by a coalition. Similar negotiations are going on in the conservative Jebheye Motahed-e Osulgarayan (best translated as the United Principalists Front) but no signs of agreement there either.

Still the Kargozaran list is itself of significance for a variety of reasons. First, it is important because it is a “powerful” list. It is reportedly headed by Mohammad Hashemi, the former president’s brother and a one time head of Iran’s broadcasting (IRIB), Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s former nuclear negotiator, and Mohammad Reza Aref, Khatami’s first vice-president. It also includes many former ministers of both Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations, Ayatollah Khamenei’s brother (don’t read much into this as he is not in good terms with his brother), a former mayor of Tehran, a couple of former ambassadors (including Sadeq Kharrrazi who reportedly authored the famous 2003 memo to the United States that called for some sort of a grand bargain).

The "power" of the list is significant because it makes it very difficult for the Guardian Council to disqualify men and women (the list has four or five women) who have until very recently been in charge of key ministries and positions. A disqualification will essentially mean a vote of no confidence against people who are not outsiders but have been key policy makers since the revolution. I do not think the Guardian Council will take that route and I venture to say that the content of the Kargozaran list is intended to place that body into precisely that predicament.

The list is also powerful because it suggests that key players in Iranian politics have not given up on coming back to power. The fact that so many have been willing to be placed on the list, despite the assured attack against their personal lives and finances by the hardliners, is a sign that contested politics in Iran (albeit still among a limited number of players) is alive and well.

The second reason the list is important is because it tells us something about the likely focus of the campaign; not on Iran’s foreign policy but economic mismanagement and incompetence of the conservatives and hardliners in power both in the parliament and the office of the presidency. Foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear file will be a backdrop since the economic direction of the country will in many ways depend on how the nuclear file is handled. But in all likelihood it will not be the point of overt public contention.

Economic management of the country will be. Conservatives and hardliners will try to make economic justice the main focus of the campaign as it was during the ninth presidential election in 2005 but Kargozaran are giving their hint that they will try to discuss the economic problems of the country as a management problem. Former ministers and state managers in the petroleum, agriculture, commerce, housing, energy ministries will be touted as both more competent and having a better vision of how the Iranian economy should be run.

Why all this is important is because the March elections will probably be a forerunner to issues and political maneuvering that will also be prevalent during the 2009 presidential election. A good showing by Kargozaran and the broader reformist coalition, even if they do not gain an outright majority, is a sign that the strategy pursued here will also be effective in the presidential election.

One final interesting note is that both Kargozaran and Etemad-e Melli parties have said that if former president Khatami agrees to run, he will head their list. Khatami has said that he will not and I seriously doubt he will change his mind. But the continuous reference to the possibility of him running suggests a belief that he is still a very popular man in Iran. Read more on this article...



by Philip J Cunningham

BEIJING It was just another ho-hum week in China. A rocket was launched to the moon, newspapers announced that the GDP had just exceeded that of Germany, thousands of new Toyotas added to perennial traffic woes, while the usual breakneck building was being carried out everywhere at once, skyscrapers popping up like bamboo after the rain.

Where there is money, the architects and construction companies will come. Wisely or not, China is putting much of its money into buildings, and the hundreds of new giant structures in Beijing range from the ugly and audacious to the sublime. The new CCTV tower, designed by Rem Koolhaus, is a bit of all three packed into one. As I gape at its twin, tilting towers, soon to be joined hundreds of feet off the ground by a right-angled sky bridge, an unexpected word comes to mind. Peace dividend.

Remember the peace dividend? After America’s triumph in the costly, dangerous and protracted war of nerves between the two superpowers, there was much talk about a peace dividend that would naturally accrue to the victorious camp of the Cold War and perhaps even trickle down to fallen Soviet adversaries. It was a turning point in modern history. Not only was America’s favorite enemy supine and in the process of dismemberment, reduced to a rump Russia, but China, an adjunct to the classic communist enemy that America’s cold warriors so loved to hate, had just been grievously set back by a harrowing act of self-destruction at Tiananmen Square.

George Bush Sr. presided over this historic shift of fortunes, but failed to deliver on the peace dividend, as the economy skidded and he got America involved in a brief but bloody war in the Persian Gulf. It fell to Bill Clinton to enjoy something akin to a peace dividend, though his excessive triangulation in hopes of shoring up political capitial meant effectively continuing the Bush Sr. legacy of giving big business and big bureaucracies a big say in national fortunes.

Clinton dutifully tightened the screws on Iraq and then launched a pre-emptive “humanitarian” war in the skies over Belgrade, foolishly demolishing the Chinese Embassy and dramatically uniting China in the process. It was done in the name of Kosovo, but it served domestic politics as well, giving the dovish president a chance to show his political “maturity” by giving orders to kill.

But it took George Bush Jr. to fully deep-six the peace dividend. Burdened with ambitious neocon underlings, almost all Cold Warriors to the last, he waited for a challenge to US supremacy, somewhere, anywhere, to strut America’s stuff. The first crisis of his presidency, the forced landing of an American spy plane on China’s Hainan island, saw the instantaneous and opportunistic ratcheting up of tension only to calmed and neutralised by cooler heads, largely remnants of the Bush Sr. foreign policy establishment. It wasn’t until September 11 that the neocons, aching for a good fight, somewhere, anywhere, preferably in a weak country with a lot of oil, found their “trifecta” and reversed America's fortunes.

The looney cruelty of the suicidal hijackers was so insane that it almost made the decision to attack the wrong country seem like a reasonable reaction in response. And thus America went down the road to Baghdad and Abu Ghraib, wagging the dog, kicking the dog, sinking into a quagmire so intractable and full of hate that it is became a perverse self-fulfilling prophecy, breeding new terrorists and enemies of America by the day.

The war on terror, a war waged somewhere, anywhere, unwinnable and endless by the logic of its own rhetoric, now drives American policy. It has enabled trigger-happy politicians, most of whom did everything they could to avoid military service in their own precious youth, to commit thousands of less privileged young Americans to premature death and permanent wounding, while unleashing bombs and trickle-down violence responsible for a million Iraqi lives.

The dim-witted demeanor of the current US commander in chief and his divisive rhetoric makes it possible for purveyors of war, who are intimately linked with big oil and war-related service providers such as Halliburton and Blackwater, to connect unconnected conflicts and re-imagine a bi-polar scheme in which the US is at war with a unitary enemy worthy of the dubious but coherent Soviet threat.

The peace dividend, and all it represented in terms of America being able at last to focus its admittedly awesome economic, moral and intellectual powers on problems of poverty, health care and education, has gone missing.

And then a funny thing happened. China, which deserves credit, if only inadvertently, for inspiring, in the streets of Beijing and at Tiananmen Square, the mass uprisings that swept Eastern Europe and heralded the end of the Cold War nearly everywhere but in China itself, slowly emerged from the shame of its cruel, reflexive crackdown, scorned and awkward but eager to build its economy and engage in trade with any willing takers.

China licked its wounds and bid its time and got its act together in some, but not all, important respects and watched from the sidelines as the US shocked and awed the world with its prowess and stupidity. China, secretly envious of America for so long, watched bemusedly, and not without a touch of pity, as its mentor lost its marbles. While the US sinks deeper into debt, borrowing money from China to sustain a costly war in Iraq, Beijing’s manufacturers have more dollars than they know what to do with. The peace dividend that America once longed for is alive and well and kicking in China.

Nowadays, even a short visit to Beijing illustrates the benefits of being in a country at peace with the world, as terror threats are few and the nation has the luxury of focusing on the Olympics, peace games that highlight healthy international competition, concord and amity, rather than the shrill politics of war.

Talking to people in Beijing one can detect many moods, ranging from the depressed to ectstatic in regards to pollution, politics and the unprecedented promises of a booming economy. China has over-sized problems commesurate with its position as the world’s biggest slice of humanity, and is not without its dark side, but it is mercifully free of war and debilitating overseas military campaigns that might otherwise drain both the spirit and the coffers of the nation. To be in China is to be far from war, far from daily death tolls and violent campaigns. China, due to its separateness and its being at peace, is truly enjoying a separate peace.

China today possesses an audacity, tinged with illusions of national greatness, that is both familiar, reassuring and unnerving to an American, all the more so to a native New Yorker, who looks up at China’s dramatically changing skyline and sees the hubris and confidence that marked America at its apogee. China has put up the equivalent of a dozen World Trade Centers while Americans hem and haw and squabble about what to do with Ground Zero, which is treated by a disgraced US President and disgraceful candidates for his seat in the Oval Office more like an excuse for destruction and war than a construction site.

Walking around the perimeter of China Trade, Beijing’s newest, tallest tower, a streamlined steel structure with a fine filigree of lines running from top to bottom, brings back memories of watching the impossibly tall Twin Towers change the Manhattan skyline when I was a kid. Though singular and less dramatic in height, the tapered contours of the silvery monolith reach for the sky, the closest thing I’ve seen to a resurrection of the Twin Towers; resurrected, but not in New York.

Philip J Cunningham teaches at Doshisha University in Japan. Read more on this article...

To Bomb or Not to Bomb Iran

Others have discussed this amazing exchange between Norman Podhoretz and Fareed Zakaria about the threats Iran poses to the United States and how to confront/neutralize this threat. I still would like to bring attention to it here and also say that it is about time for the middle or center of the American political spectrum (or what Podhoretz disdainfully calls the foreign policy establishment) to bring some sanity into the discussion of Iran. More please! Read more on this article...

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Unilateral Sanctions against Iran: What Do They Mean?

The new set of unilateral sanctions against Iran target the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), several of its affiliates involved in construction and economic activities, the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), three individuals affiliated with Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), and two state-owned Melli and Mellat banks for proliferation activities. In addition, they target the IRGC Qods Force for providing material support to terrorist organizations (Taliban is the only identified) and state-owned Saderat Bank as a terrorist financier (Saderat was already under sanctions).

Putin has likened the move to an act of a "madman" running around "with a razor blade, waving it around." But the move shies away from designating either the IRGC or the smaller Qods force as terrorist organization and as such significantly falls short of the US Senate vote which designated the larger IRGC as a terrorist organization. It seems to be a compromise intended not to freak out the Europeans who had balked at the idea of placing the military force of another country on the terrorist list.

Still some see it as a move towards war. But Anthony Cordesman sees the opposite: “[A] warning shot across the bow, not that the U.S. is going to invade Iran, but that Iran has pushed the level of escalation, particularly inside Iraq, to unacceptable levels. In many ways, this kind of warning is more a demonstration of restraint than a signal that we’re going to war.”

It is conceivable that the immediate backdrop to this move was Washington's unhappiness with Iran’s increased activities in Iraq. But, if so (setting aside the unconvincing public case regarding Iran’s nefarious activities in Iraq), it is not entirely clear how this move will reduce and not increase Iran’s activities unless a clear warning has been given to Tehran about the possibility of war.

I tend to see the move as more of a general political maneuver; on the one hand, to show the Iranian leadership the American resolve to continue the sanctions process and, on the other hand, to placate the war hawks in the Bush administration at least for a while.

The need to keep tightening the sanctions noose arises from the ineffective nature of the sanctions regime. To counter the stated U.S. attempt to isolate it, but more importantly to assure its own security, Iran has pursued a very active strategy vis-à-vis its neighbors, with many which it has long and porous borders. The northern border in particular, shared with former Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan—not to mention the vast Caspian Sea— is particularly open. Pakistan and Afghanistan borders to the west—both with new land routes into Central Asia and China–are also uncontrolled by the West. Dubai and other Persian Gulf free ports, as well as newly developed facilities on the Sea of Oman guarantee that needed goods will flow into the country if severe trade sanctions are enacted. Dubai is also the place to get around the financial restrictions imposed on Iran. Even the present chaos in Iraq guarantees free flow of goods across Iran’s border (Iraq is reportedly now the second destination for Iran’s non-oil exports).

Those who are pushing for more sanctions know this. They know that so long as neighbors such as the UAE and Turkey are unwilling to give up their lucrative business with Iran, the sanctions regime will not harm Iran enough to abandon its stance. They also know that given Iran’s long borders, the sanctions in place will be adjusted to in a short period of time. So for Iran to feel any kind of political heat the sanctions noose has to be tightened periodically.

This does not mean that sanctions do not harm Iran economically; they just don’t harm it enough. High oil prices and Iran’s relationship with neighbors give Iran sufficiently versatile tools in the cat and mouse game that is being played between the US and Iran. There is no doubt that the US is the physically more powerful cat in this game but the mouse, so to speak, simply has too many holes to hide in and is difficult to catch precisely because of the versatility of tools at its disposal.

The State and Treasury folks keep hoping that by doing something they will place pressure on Iran’s contested political environment, ultimately convincing those sectors of Iranian elite who are worried about Iran’s deteriorating economic conditions to step up to the plate and force a change in Iran’s policies regarding nuclear enrichment. This is nothing short of wishful thinking so long as the US offer of diplomatic engagement is based on the precondition of changed Iranian behavior and policies before talks begin.

Out of necessity or choice, the current Iranian leadership has decided to hobble along in the energy sector (through attempted cooperative activities with a few European companies and some Asian companies from China, Malaysia, and even India), subvert sanctions through its vast open borders, forego a more coherent economic vision delineated in Iran’s Third and more so Fourth economic plan for the integration of the country in the global economy, and hope for the best on the basis of a genuine belief that time is on the Iranian side.

The argument is that Iran’s massive energy resource (quite a bit of it yet untapped) will ultimately bring the US around and the Iranian economic versatility is sufficiently robust in these days of high oil prices and American troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan to buy Iran’s enough time until that moment arrives.

Yes, they argue, the Iranian economy will continue to be hobbling and inefficient but standing firm against the US will assure that the Islamic will remain an Islamic republic for years to come. If and when the US decides to engage with Iran, they say, it will do so on the basis of what Iran is (i.e., a country in which its hardliners cannot be purged and will continue to play a significant role in its contested politics and economic decision making) and not what the United States thinks Iran should be domestically and in the region.

This is a dangerous strategy that as we all know risks military confrontation but is a strategy that those currently in power in Iran have chosen and this last round of sanctions will not dissuade them otherwise. Read more on this article...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan VI: Alternative Livelihoods or Development?

This is the sixth of a series of posts in which I analyze the main aspects of counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan, in response to the recently published U.S. Counter-Narcotics Strategy for Afghanistan and the UNODC Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007.

The previous installments were: Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan (First Installment): Defining the Problem; Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan II: The Value Chain, The Corruption Chain; Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan III: The False Promise of Crop Eradication; Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan IV: Beyond Interdiction; and Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan V: Is Opium Poppy Cultivation Related to Poverty? I also presented a general memorandum on counter-narcotics strategy: Points on Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan: A Critique and a Proposal

As argued in the previous installments, the U.S. (which funds most counter-narcotics activity in Afghanistan) has invested a disproportionate amount of resources in eradication of the opium poppy crop, which contributes only about 20 percent of the value of the opiate industry in Afghanistan. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, characterized last year's eradication effort as "a farce." The result of failed eradication programs has been the migration of cultivation, its concentration in insecure areas, an increase in the value of the opium economy, and closer links among farmers, traffickers, corrupt officials, and the Taliban. The opium economy in Afghanistan has spread and become more integrated not in spite of, but because of counter-narcotics efforts.

In the new U.S. Counter Narcotics Strategy, of the five immediate priorities, three are for eradication: make eradication a counter narcotics priority; encourage (i.e. pressure) the Afghan government to set eradication goals, and; encourage (i.e. pressure) the government of Afghanistan to use non–negotiated eradication (mechanical eradication and spraying). The two other goals are improving the fund for rewarding provinces (more precisely, governors of provinces) that are “good performers,” with lower cultivation being the only measure of performance, and an improved public information strategy, an area where this administration has proved itself uniquely inept. While the report contains sections on alternative livelihoods and interdiction, neither is listed among the immediate priorities.

The U.S. justifies the emphasis on eradication by citing a UNODC finding that “poppy cultivation is no longer linked to poverty.” The previous post shows that this conclusion is based on fallacious analysis of flawed data. Dependence on poppy cultivation remains linked to poverty according to the World Bank and independent analysts. Hence World Bank economist William Byrd argues that rural development programs will be critical to create alternative livelihoods for poor farmers: “The country also needs to develop labor intensive agriculture exports of high-value added which really will be the alternative to opium. But it has to be recognized that this will take time.”

Recognizing that "this will take time" would mean planning for a transition from the drug economy to a fully licit economy. This is a massive macro-economic development task, not a law enforcement task to be supplemented with some economic incentives and sanctions. I will now outline the components of that task. To recognize that "this will take time" means planning for a transition from the drug economy to a largely licit economy.

Alternative to What?

The basic idea of "alternative livelihoods" is sound: participation in the narcotics industry fulfills economic and social needs whose satisfaction is otherwise difficult under current circumstances; those engaging in these activities need legitimate alternatives. Designers of "alternative livelihood" programs, however, often misunderstand and underestimate the functions of the narcotics industry. The U.S. Counternarcotics Strategy is the first document from Washington that shows significant undertanding of the functions of the drug economy, but in its rush to produce instant results it ignores the implications of the facts it recognizes.

The Strategy avoids the most elemental error: confusing alternative livelihoods with "crop substitution," as expressed in the common question, "what other crop can they grow?" Consistent with the flawed oversimplifed view of "poverty" in the UNODC report, this question assumes that the sole non-criminal beneficiaries of the opium economy are "farmers" (presumably cultivating their own land with mostly family labor); that the main reason "farmers" grow poppy is to increase their income; and that there are no economic functions of the drug economy outside of cultivation.

All of these assumptions are wrong. Opium is not a crop but an industry. The ludicrous statement made by UNODC and echoed by the U.S. that "only" 14 percent (a mere one seventh!) of the Afghan population is directly involved in opium cultivation, ignores the facts, also documented by UNODC and the World Bank, that "cultivation" generates only 20% of the value of the opiates produced in Afghanistan; that a very large number of people are directly involved in the sectors of the opium economy other than cultivation; and that many people gain their livelihoods from activities generated indirectly by demand created by the opium economy in, for instance, construction and trade.

The reduction in poppy cultivation in Nangarhar province in 2004-2005 provided a test of the macro-economic impact of the drug economy. David Mansfield's research revealed that it is substantial:
[T]he ban imposed by the provincial authorities had a wide-reaching impact extending well beyond opium poppy farmers, affecting a variety of different socio-economic groups. Estimates suggest that rural labourers who had no land of their own but who had previously been employed during the weeding and harvesting seasons for opium poppy lost as much as US$ 1,000 in off-farm income due to the ban. Businessmen and shopkeepers in the provincial and district bazaars saw their turnover halve due to the significant shortfall in purchasing power that the ban imposed on the rural population. And unskilled daily wage labourers in Jalalabad city experienced a reduction in the number of days they were hired as well as in daily wage rates.

The most significant impact was borne by opium poppy cultivating households themselves. However, even for them the impact of the ban was less punitive in areas with better access to resources. For instance, while households with access to larger and well-irrigated landholdings experienced more substantial falls in on-farm income due to the ban, their proximity to the agricultural commodity markets of Jalalabad allowed them to offset some of these losses by increasing cultivation of other high-value crops. Those with a stock of assets also drew on the different sources of legal income that they had access to in the provincial centre and, where possible, increased the number of household members allocated to daily wage labour opportunities. While even in this relatively resource-wealthy group losses were significant — expenditure on basic food items were curbed to make ends meet — neither longer-term productive assets, such as livestock and land, nor investments in licit income streams were sold off in response to the imposition of the 2005 opium ban in Nangarhar.

In contrast, those households most dependent on opium poppy and who typically cultivated it most intensively were found to adopt coping strategies in response to the ban that not only highlighted their growing vulnerability but threatened their long-term capacity to move out of illicit drug crop cultivation. The loss in on-farm income that this group experienced was not offset even in part by an increase in cultivation of high-value licit crops. This was due to constraints on irrigated land, the distance to markets, and the increasing control “local officials” had gained over the trade in licit goods. Instead, these households replaced opium poppy with wheat. However, due to land shortages and the density of population wheat production was typically insufficient even to meet the household’s basic food requirements. The loss in off-farm income during the opium poppy weeding and harvesting seasons (up to five months’ employment) could not be replaced by intermittent wage labour opportunities paid at less than half the daily rate offered during the opium poppy harvest the previous year.

For this group, problems in accessing new loans were compounded by inability to pay accumulated debts. As a result, expenditures on basic food items were reduced; children were withdrawn from higher education; and livestock, household items, and prior investments in licit income streams were sold. The resource-poor were more likely than the resource-wealthy to send members of their family to find employment in Pakistan, and were typically the most vociferous in their opposition to the government for its imposition of the ban and to the foreign countries they believed to be behind it. The impact of the ban on opium poppy cultivation on some households was so substantial that even in households that included only one male of working age, he would travel in search of wage labour opportunities, leaving the women and children without an adult male relative present in the household compound.
This real-life experiment (performed on human subjects who were not informed of the risk or offered the option of not participating) shows what was lost when cultivation was suppressed.

There are several conclusions:
  • Poppy cultivation is not a choice of crop that requires another crop to substitute for lost income; it is a component of complex livelihood strategies of extended families. These strategies include labor migration, education, seeking wage labor, and serving in armed groups (not mentioned in the text). This multi-dimensional function of poppy cultivation is the reason for the use of the term alternative "livelihood" rather than "crop." Advocates of eradication claim that since no other crop produces the same gross income, eradication is necessary to force farmers to adopt other crops. Mansfield shows that eliminating cultivation before investing in assets needed for production actually deprives poor farmers of the capacity to adopt other crops and economic activities. Rural families do not need just another "crop"; they need access to opportunities and assets that enable them to support themselves without poppy cultivation. These opportunities can come in forms other than "crops." Secure employment is the most reliable "alternative livelihood."
  • Poppy does not give access only to income, but to credit, land, water, food security, extension service, and insurance. As the Afghan public sector, both national and local ,was destroyed in war over the past decades, private and sometimes criminal groups undertook the provision of public goods, including collective violence for "security," in order to create conditions for their activities. Of course when public goods are provided by private for-profit organizations without legal oversight, the provision is flawed (as the example of private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan shows). The opium industry privatized the provision of essential support services to the agricultural sector, as its rate of profit and global size made it the only industry with the resources and incentives to supply such public goods.
  • The fact that one seventh of the population of Afghanistan is directly involved in opium poppy cultivation does not show that it is a marginal activity. On the contrary, it signals a social revolution. For the first time in history, a substantial portion of the Afghan rural population is involved in the production of a cash crop for the global market. Never having come under direct colonial rule, and being distant and isolated from global markets over the past several centuries (as sea trade dominated long-distance land trade), Afghanistan's people never experienced the commercial penetration of their society as did those of colonized countries. The country never produced tea, coffee, sugar, indigo, rubber, copper, diamonds, gold, oil, jute, or any of the other commodities whose cultivation on plantations or extraction from mines led to new forms of labor control and migration, followed by social and political upheavals. Only Afghanistan's recent comparative advantage in the production of illegality and insecurity enabled it to join the global market by producing illicit crops. Nowhere in history have rural people abandoned commercial farming to return to subsistence agriculture without being subjected to massive violence. Regardless of the ethical implications, the degree of violence required to drive the Afghan peasantry back to subsistence farming is consistent with no known political objective of the international community or even the Bush administration (though such an attempt by the international backers of the Afghan government would help the Taliban and al-Qaida). Hence the economic alternatives to the opium economy must include, as the World Bank's William Byrd stated, the creation of "labor intensive agriculture exports of high-value added," not a return to subsistence farming. This was the purpose of the creation of projects such as Gulestan and Arghand. It is also what the Interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy (chapter 5) calls for:
    The ideal type of agricultural activity for Afghanistan is labor-intensive production of high-value horticultural crops that can be processed and packaged into durable high-value, low volume commodities whose quality and cost would be adequate for sale in Afghan cities or export to regional or world markets.
    When USAID started ALP in 2004, however, their initial package consisted of donations of wheat seed and fertilizer, much of which the farmers immediately sold to pay off their opium debts.
  • The public goods and effective demand created by the opium industry in this predominantly rural and agricultural country have become central to macroeconomic stability. This is not the case in drug producing countries where cultivation involves a negligible part of the economy and a marginalized part of the population. Even in Colombia, the value of narcotics production is estimated at only 3 percent of the GDP. In Afghanistan around a third of the economy and probably around a third of the population depends economically to a significant degree on the opium economy. Drug production affects the balance of payments, tax revenues (through imports), the rate of exchange, employment, retail turnover, and construction, not just farm income. The broad scope of the effects of the drug economy in Afghanistan led the current U.S. Strategy to refer to "alternative development," rather than "alternative livelihoods." As with other improvements in analysis and terminology in this report, however, the Strategy fails to draw the logical conclusions: that counter-narcotics in Afghanistan requires a macroeconomic and political strategy over a period of decades, not a quick-fix based on accelerated eradication before that development policy is even formulated.
  • Because drugs are not marginal, and changes in production and trafficking have significant macro-economic impact, counter-narcotics policy has national political impact. Production and trafficking of narcotics constitutes a response to insecurity and marginalization, which are national, not regional or local phenomena. There is virtually no area of Afghanistan except some urban areas where law enforcement can prevent growing opium poppy. It is an option for anyone. The investment by the Thai government in the economic and social integration of opium-producing hill tribes in remote areas on the Burmese border had no effect on the national political arena, as it was insignificant compared to the government budget or GDP, and the rest of Thailand was under effective government control. According to U.S. claims, however, the yearly amount of aid now aimed at Helmand province (even if much of it never arrives in any perceptible form) is equal to over half the domestic revenue of the Afghan government, or 3 percent of GDP. Therefore alternative livelihood programs directed to regions in proportion to their volume of opium production produce perverse results: they become incentives to production of opium elsewhere. In the fall of 2004, a Momand elder from Nangarhar told me that his tribe had concluded that the only way to get foreign assistance was to grow opium poppy. Just as eradication spreads poppy cultivation to new insecure areas with lower yields or a higher cost of eradication by raising the price, alternative livelihoods directed at opium cultivating areas spread cultivation by acting as an incentive, raising the expected returns to poppy cultivation. The current strategy responds to this with a program of incentives for "good performers." Recognizing the problem is a positive step. (When I argued in December 2004 that "alternative livelihood" aid should also be given to provinces that did not grow opium, one of the highest officials in charge of U.S. Afghanistan policy told me I was not living in the "real world." By 2006 opium poppy was grown in every province of Afghanistan for the first time.) Those on the ground are skeptical (to say the least) that rewarding governors will have any sustainable effect on the economic decisions in the drug economy.
Therefore alternative development for counter-narcotics must start from macro-economic plans to create employment by linking Afghanistan to the licit international market, especially through rural industries based on agricultural products. Since elimination of the narcotics sector risks causing a significant economic contraction of one of the poorest and best armed countries in the world (situated in proximity to al-Qaida's new base area, Pakistan's nuclear weapons, and Iran's nuclear program), planning for elimination of narcotics must start from a macro-economic plan to assure stability and overall growth.

The 2004 study Securing Afghanistan's Future, prepared under the direction of then Finance Ashraf Ghani proposed such a basic framework, though much more work was required. SAF estimated that the elimination of the narcotics economy in fifteen years without compromising a modest rise in standards of living would require a minimum real growth rate of 9% per year in the licit economy. The growth rate alone would not cushion the shock sufficiently, as the losses from eliminating narcotics might not occur in the same locations and social groups as the new growth; therefore sectoral anbd redistributive policies would also be needed. The I-ANDS also referred to this target, but there has been no further work on the integration of counter-narcotics into macroeconomic planning. Instead the development component has been limited to small-scale rural development, often delivered in strikingly wasteful and ineffective ways.

Sectoral policies might have to address particular commodities. As Ashraf Ghani has noted, cotton (the original cash crop produced in the irrigated areas of Helmand) is not competitive with opium poppy as long as U.S. and EU producers drive down the price by dumping subsidized cotton on the international market. Estimates of the price impact of these subsidies vary. Total U.S. cotton subsidies total over $3 billion yearly, more than total U.S. development aid to Afghanistan.

If the U.S. and EU subsidies cannot be eliminated, because the political support of cotton farmers is more important than winning the struggle with the Taliban and al-Qaida, subsidies could be provided in Afghanistan. In meetings with counter-narcotics officials, Helmand farmers have asked for government cotton subsidies as an incentive to shift from poppy to cotton, but unlike U.S. farmers, whose political contributions count, Helmand farmers do not qualify for exemptions from the discipline of the "free" market. Even if cotton alone is not competitive, Ghani has suggested that t-shirts would be competitive. Establishing textile quotas for Afghanistan and investing in simple garment factories in Afghan cotton-producing areas could increase employment. The appeal of a certified "Made in Afghanistan" (or "Made in Afghanistan by Afghan women") label could offset the increased costs of production and transport. This is just one example: creating markets for products Afghanistan can produce and providing marketing assistance is key to alternative development.

The U.S. has made some efforts in this direction. In early 2007, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sponsored a visit to Afghanistan by the president of the Dole Fruit Company. After a brief look around, he asked for 10,000 ha of land with no one on it so that he could start a plantation that would be cultivated according to international standards. If he got the land, he would probably end up hiring migrant laborers from Pakistan, as they would be cheaper and more docile than Afghan workers. Afghanistan could then look forward to additional ethnic conflict on the Sri Lankan model, as Afghan farmers claimed that their land had been illegally expropriated for a foreign company employing foreign workers....

Still as a producer in Afghanistan myself, I understand Dole's point of view. In Gulestan we do not have the luxury of running our own plantations. To make néroli (essential oil of bitter orange blossoms, known as naranj in Afghanistan) we have to harvest the flowers from existing orange groves, enabling the growers to profit from blossoms they had previously only enjoyed for their fragrance. It turned to be not quite as easy as it sounds.

We registered the company in December 2004 and ordered a steam distiller from Turkey in order to distill the orange blossoms of Jalalabad into néroli. Based on our survey of the orange trees of Jalalabad, we estimated that the first year we might be able to produce up to 40 kg of néroli, which sold for a bulk price of about $3,000/kg. The income of $120,000 would have covered our entire initial investment and set us on the road to profitability. Unfortunately due to misunderstandings about payment, snow in Iran, a huge traffic backup at the customs post, the requirement that trucks be offloaded and then reloaded when entering Afghanistan, and poor roads, the still arrived in Jalalabad only after the orange blossoms had all fallen.

The next year, we set out to distill néroli again and found, to our surprise, that orange growers were extremely reluctant to allow us to harvest the orange blossoms, though we offered to pay in cash. They were unfamiliar with the process and feared either that harvesting the flowers would harm their fruit or that we would take advantage of them in some way. Many growers had already sold their fruit to traders on futures contracts and feared that harvesting the flowers might prevent them from delivering the amounts they had promised, landing them in debt. Some demanded that, in return for harvesting the orange blossoms, we purchase a futures contract on their entire fruit production ourselves. When we agreed to one such contract with a grower, the other growers raised their price by a factor of 10. In addition, early rain cut the season short. We produced barely one liter of néroli.

Later in 2005, when we were processing other materials, we lost access to our equipment for several months while the olive oil factory where we had installed it was used as headquarters for the parliamentary and provincial elections in Nangarhar.

The next year, 2007, we prepared a little better with the farmers, but most of them were still reluctant. When we went to recondition our equipment, which was installed in the state olive oil factory in Hadda, we were denied access. The former director of the Nangarhar Valley Development Authority, who had given us permission to use the premises, had been arrested on corruption charges, and after the elections his clan had been removed from control of the provincial administration. The new management was unwilling to risk letting us work. Due to delays in payment from an international donor (such delays are the rule with donors, regardless of the progress of agricultural seasons), we had kept a smaller still we had made that was due to be turned over to a group of farmers, and we used that equipment to produce a smaller amount, nearly 2 liters of néroli. We have now made additional contacts in the area, including with the U.S.-sponsored Alternative Livelihood Program/East. ALP/E has established a fruit producers association with whom we can negotiate the purchase of flowers in advance. We had approached ALP earlier and gotten no response, for reasons that remain opaque but that may have to do with some disbursement problems of USAID resulting from a decision by the director to review its implementation mechanisms. (I know it's confusing and complicated and not too bloggy -- think how it sounds to Afghan farmers.) Therefore in 2008, we may be able to approach perhaps half of the production level we had hoped for in 2005.

This brief description can only summarize a few of the obstacles risks inherent in introducing a new source of livelihood to Afghanistan. (I do not mention the arrest of some of our employees for possession of legal industrial alcohol or our inability to pay required taxes since officials will not allow us to pay without bribes -- recently they have added late charges to our taxes since they would not accept payment without bribes). It suffices to illustrate the high risk of economic activity, especially of agro-based manufacturing, in Afghanistan. Generally, it is safer to stick to illegal activities, since everyone understands the rules. Drug traffickers offer a full package of finance, extension services, insurance, and marketing, backed up by threats of force. Alternative livelihood programs have had none of these.

What all this shows is that moving rural Afghanistan into the licit economy requires investment in many kinds of public goods -- roads, security, credit, marketing, storage, extension service -- and the creation of rural industries as well. All of this depends in turn on linking Afghanistan to regional and global markets and assuring access to those markets -- which requires political and business initiatives at the policy level, not a beltway consulting firm sitting in a pink palace in Lashkargah ("pink palace" is the nickname for the residence used by Chemonics in Helmand -- it is owned by one of the local drug barons).

While ALP started out with make work projects (ditch digging for $3/day, compared to $25/day for working the popy harvest) and giving away wheat seeds. An Afghan colleague (a government official) came across one such project in Nangarhar in 2005 and found the workers laughing at the pointlessness of their activity. Those foolish foreigners again! Well, we all know that foreigners lack capacity....

The current strategy pays repeated homage to the need for a more comprehensive alternative livelihood project, though a careful grammatical analysis of verb tenses used reveals that these "alternative livelihoods" thus far exist only in a higher realm than mere reality. The strategy also fails to address the wasteful and ineffective delivery methods that make farmers unwilling to trust their livelihoods to such programs.

The problem is time and risk. Officials claim that they will engage in eradication only where there are alternative livelihoods. Of course this is not exactly true, since the rich and politically connected will be in a much better position to take advantage of any alternatives available, but that is not the main problem with this argument. The main problem is that alternatives do not simply exist or not. They take time to develop, and the farmers are unable to estimate how risky they are. As David Mansfield has repeatedly argued, poppy cultivation is mainly motivated not by profit seeking but by risk management. Few farmers grow only poppy, however lucrative it may appear to be (and the gross prices per kg that are always quoted do not take into accounts the cost of labor and, especially, of credit). Poppy growing is part of a strategy of livelihood diversification in extended families designed to hedge against the exceedingly high level of risk. Gulestan's experience shows that farmers are wise to take out such insurance.

What this means for alternative livelihoods is that farmers cannot reasonably be expected to abandon a pivotal part of their livelihood strategy as soon as a U.S. government official decides that he has an alternative livelihood. The risk-averse Afghan peasant and the foreign official under pressure from a capital to show quick results have different definitions of when alternatives to poppy cultivation are available.

One example courtesy of David Mansfield (personal communication): In Qandahar an aid organization involved in alternative livelihoods provided funding to enable farmers in Qandahar to plant fruit trees.The farmers planted the trees in their poppy fields and continued to grow poppy among the saplings. As the trees matured over several years, their shade would prevent the poppy from growing, while their increasing yield of fruit would provide cash income. If the fruit did not work out, the farmers still had their poppy. To Mansfield this appeared to be a clever way to manage the transition from opium to another crop. The aid donor, however, terminated the project. Since alternative livelihoods were now “available,” the farmers should not have grown any poppy. The aid organization was not prepared to tolerate a gradual transition as farmers learned how and to what extent they could rely on fruit production for livelihoods and credit. Farmers will initially diversify into other activities and only gradually abandon poppy as they develop greater confidence in other economic activities.

But the current counter-narcotics strategy has no plan for managing the transition and sequencing the different policy tools. How to turn a list of activities into a counter-narcotics strategy that serves Afghan and international overall objectives will be the subject of the last and final post.

Note: I am traveling in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the next couple of weeks. This may limit my ability to post and respond to comments and queries. But I'll be back....
Read more on this article...

The Kurdish Front against Iran

Kudos to Richard A. Oppel, Jr. of the New York Times for bringing attention to the conflict between the Kurdish guerrillas and Iran during the time attention is on the Turkish- Kurdish imbroglio and the possible US connection.

There has already been some good reporting on the conflict. Seymour Hersh referred to PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) and the US support for it in a New Yorker piece in November 2006. Juan Cole talked about it here. And independent journalist Reese Erlich has done much work trying to see if PJAK is receiving support from the United States as well as Israel. But a front page story with pictures and interviews with guerrilla leaders brings the right amount of attention.

The conflict between Iran and PJAK which is the Iranian affiliate of PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), has been going on for a while, involving Iranian incursions and repeated shelling of the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan.

But Oppel’s story is significant for reasons that go beyond front-page attention to a largley neglected issue by the mainstream media. First, the story sheds light on the extent of the operation, involving relatively large numbers of Iranian casualties (the claim is 150 since August) as well as some captured (one even interviewed by Oppel).

Second, the story does not beat around the bush and rightly states that PJAK is essentially the same as PKK (“they share leadership, logistics, and allegiance to Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader imprisoned in Turkey”). This is an important point because PKK is on US’s list of terrorist groups and precisely for this reason the United States would like to avoid any hint of association with the group, particularly now that Turkey is demanding the US to bring pressure on the Kurdish Regional Government to clamp down on the activities of PKK.

But association with PJAK is exactly what the United States is accused of by the government of Iran. This association (direct and indirect) is also not denied by the interviewed members of PJAK whose leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, visited Washington last summer.

Oppel does not inquire how a leader of a terrorist organization received a visa to the United States. I assume the answer would be that PJAK as a separate organization from PKK is not on the terrorist list (which is true) and Oppel seems satisfied with the diplomatic answer that Haj-Ahmadi did not meet with US officials while in Washington and does not probe further.

This answer makes the United States seem only slightly less hypocritical in its support of PJAK than the support it gives to Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), an Iranian opposition organization group based in Iraq which is on US’ list of terrorist groups. But this begs the further question of why is PJAK not on the list.

But I am digressing here from the third and most important aspect of Oppel’s piece which is a quote from Cmdr. Scott Rye of the Navy identified as “an American military spokesman in Baghdad. Rye says, “The consensus is that US forces are not working with or advising the PJAK.”

This is a strange statement (the consensus is?!) and nothing in it precludes the possibility of American hardware and financial support for the organization. Oppel unfortunately does not offer further clarifications. It is possible that as in the case of PKK, PJAK is also supported by Massoud Barzani’s Kurdish regional government. But if the implication of the quote above are correct and indeed financial and hardware support for PJAK does come from the United States, then all sorts of questions are raised regarding US policy.

Does the US not mind that part of its support for PJAK may be transferred to and used by PKK against Turkey? What does Turkey think about all this? (okay, this one is a rhetorical question!)Does the fact that the US is knowingly supporting PJAK explain the American silence in the face of Iranian raids into Iraqi Kurdistan? Doesn’t it sound pretty suspicious that in the light of all the hoopla about the Islamic Revolution's Guard Corps' (IRGC) meddling in Iraq, the American government has remained silent regarding actual Iranian incursions into and shelling of Iraqi territory or even the existence of uniformed captured IRGC members? Is this because the US does not want any probing of the association or because of the embarrassingly contradictory position it has to take regarding the similar actions taken by Turkey and Iran against Kurdish guerrillas? Isn’t this an incredibly stupid way of solidifying Turkish-Iranian relations at the time when the stated policy of the United States is to isolate Iran in the region?

I don’t know the answers to all these questions but I hope someone is asking further questions and putting the administration on the spot. Read more on this article...

Monday, October 22, 2007

The War Rollout Keeps Rolling Along.....

Scott Horton at Harper's has an update on the fall product rollout for war with Iran. He analyzes the full text of Dick Cheney's speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which I discussed yesterday based only on press reports. Horton summarizes Cheney's discussion of Iran: "Is Cheney threatening war against Iran? Yes, that’s exactly what he is doing."

But that's not all there is to the speech. Horton:
And while I pulled out the passages of the speech that constitute the most undisguised saber-rattling against Iran, the entire speech is worthy of careful study. It shows a man who has disintegrated into a moral sewer. He regales his audience with the need to use torture techniques, which he tells us elsewhere he learned of from “our friends” in the Middle East (a phrase which, I am told, describes the brutal techniques used by the Egyptians.) And he then proceeds to cite a positively insane op-ed by Bernard Lewis, the subject of one of my prior columns, in which the Soviet Union is held up as a wonderful model for the United States. So there you have Dick Cheney wonderfully summed up: traditional U.S. values are for sissies. Real international strongmen torture their own citizens like the Egyptians and bully the neighborhood like the Soviets.
Meanwhile the blogification of the foreign policy elite continues apace. Last June the New York Review of Books published an essay entitled Bush's Amazing Achievement, in which Jonathan Freedland discussed books by Chalmers Johnson, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Dennis Ross:
One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker. This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America's standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated. Paid-up members of the nation's foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators. They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.
The consensus has now spread beyond Iraq. In this week's Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria observes, "The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality." Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, is the former managing editor of Foreign Affairs and a Harvard Ph.D. (Yale B.A.), who studied under Samuel Huntington. He is the very image of the calm, intellectual realist (and he has written a wine column too). He's had it. Zakaria to Earth (come in, Earth):
Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?
Earth, over and out.

Zakaria too comes back to the sage of Princeton:
Last year, the Princeton scholar, Bernard Lewis, a close adviser to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal predicting that on Aug. 22, 2006, President Ahmadinejad was going to end the world. The date, he explained, "is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to 'the farthest mosque,' usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back. This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world" (my emphasis). This would all be funny if it weren't so dangerous.
When Fareed Zakaria is reduced to asking, "What planet are we on?" I have to wonder.... What planet ARE we on? Read more on this article...

Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan V: Is Opium Poppy Cultivation Related to Poverty?

This is the fifth of a series of posts in which I analyze the main aspects of counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan, in response to the recently published U.S. Counter-Narcotics Strategy for Afghanistan and the UNODC Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007.

The previous installments were: Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan (First Installment): Defining the Problem; Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan II: The Value Chain, The Corruption Chain; Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan III: The False Promise of Crop Eradication; and Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan IV: Beyond Interdiction. I also presented a general memorandum on counter-narcotics strategy: Points on Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan: A Critique and a Proposal.

As argued in the previous installments, the U.S. (which funds most counter-narcotics activity in Afghanistan) has invested a disproportionate amount of resources in eradication of the opium poppy crop, which contributes only about 20 percent of the value of the opiate industry in Afghanistan. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, characterized last year's eradication effort as "a farce." The result of failed eradication programs has been the migration of cultivation, its concentration in insecure areas, an increase in the value of the opium economy, and closer links among farmers, traffickers, corrupt officials, and the Taliban. The opium economy in Afghanistan has spread and become more integrated not in spite of, but because of counter-narcotics efforts.

In the new U.S. Counter Narcotics Strategy, of the five immediate priorities, three are for eradication: make eradication a counter narcotics priority; encourage (i.e. pressure) the Afghan government to set eradication goals, and; encourage (i.e. pressure) the government of Afghanistan to use non–negotiated eradication (mechanical eradication and spraying). The two other goals are improving the fund for rewarding provinces that are “good performers” (with lower cultivation being the only measure of performance) and an improved public information strategy, an area where this administration has proved itself uniquely inept. While the report contains sections on alternative livelihoods and interdiction, neither is listed among the immediate priorities.

Fallacies for Failure

Most people assume that Afghan farmers turn to poppy cultivation because of poverty. And they are right. Of course it is not just the poverty and insecurity of individuals that lead to cultivation: it is the poverty and insecurity of the entire country, which have destroyed infrastructure, gutted the state and justice system, ruined the security institutions, and isolated both each village and the entire country from licit markets. The country is tied for last place in the world in all indicators of human development, such as infant mortality, child mortality, maternal mortality, literacy, and life expectancy.

Poverty and insecurity are not the same, but poor people are more vulnerable to insecurity, which restricts their opportunities and helps keep them poor. Research by scholars such as Colombia's Francisco Thoumi shows that the production of agricultural raw materials for illegal narcotics tends to be concentrated in countries that have a comparative advantage in the production of illegality and insecurity and, within those countries, in communities that are the most isolated and marginalized within the state.

The predominant role of poverty, insecurity, and marginality in poppy cultivation argues strongly for making development, security, and political and social integration the top priorities in countering the narcotics economy in Afghanistan. Perhaps that is why the U.S. government and UNODC, both of which have strong commitments to an enforcement rather than developmental approach to narcotics production and use, have tried to deny the obvious link of poverty to narcotics production through elementary statistical errors and a false distinction between poverty and insecurity.

The UNODC Opium Poppy Survey 2007 asserts:
First, opium cultivation in Afghanistan is no longer associated with poverty – quite the opposite. Hilmand, Kandahar and three other opium-producing provinces in the south are the richest and most fertile, in the past the breadbasket of the nation and a main source of earnings. They have now opted for illicit opium on an unprecedented scale (5,744 tons), while the much poorer northern region is abandoning the poppy crops.

Second, opium cultivation in Afghanistan is now closely linked to insurgency. The Taliban today control vast swathes of land in Hilmand, Kandahar and along [and across, though UNODC does not say so] the Pakistani border. By preventing national authorities and international agencies from working, insurgents have allowed greed and corruption to turn orchards, wheat and vegetable fields into poppy fields.
In both public and private discussions, U.S. counter-narcotics officials unfailingly refer to these statements as evidence that narcotics production is due to the greed of rich farmers working with terrorists to produce poison for profit, rather than the vulnerability of the poor. This is a principal justification for the priority they give to eradication.

The statement that "opium cultivation is no longer associated with poverty -- quite the opposite" is an attempt to use a statistical fallacy to promote a failed policy. This statement is an example of the ecological fallacy, defined by Wikipedia as:
A widely recognized error in the interpretation of statistical data, whereby inferences about the nature of individuals are based solely upon aggregate statistics collected for the group to which those individuals belong. This fallacy assumes that all members of a group exhibit characteristics of the group at large.
Wikipedia provides an example that perfectly duplicates the fallacy committed by UNODC:
Imagine two communities, Chiptown and Pittsville. Within each community there is a divide between the rich and poor, the rich living in gated communities on the hills and the poor living adjacent to the industrial districts that pump carcinogens into their backyards. In both communities, the poor people have a cancer incidence that is many times that of the wealthy people. In Chiptown, where the dominant industry is high-tech computer manufacturing, the overall salaries are higher for both rich and poor people, but the carcinogens spewed into the environment are particularly nasty, giving cancer to nearly all those exposed (almost entirely poor people). Prof. Newbie comes along and decides to examine the risk factors for cancer. He looks up the cancer rates and median incomes of these two towns on the CDC and U.S. Census webpages. He finds, to everyone's surprise, that the cancer incidence is higher in the wealthier community, Chiptown. He concludes that higher income is a risk factor for cancer. In fact, we know that exactly the opposite is true: In the wealthier community of Chiptown, being poor is especially dangerous to one's health.
Substitute insecurity for carcinogens, poppy cultivation for cancer, and Helmand for Chiptown, and you have the UNODC argument, described by the most commonly used source on the intenet as a "widely recognized error." I taught it to first-year graduate students at Yale in 1982.

Are Helmand Farmers Rich and Greedy?

Besides the gross methodological error, UNODC's assertion is based on a definition of poverty as household income alone, a notoriously inadequate measure, especially in rural areas. David Mansfield, probably the world's leading field researcher on narcotics in Afghanistan, comments in a private communication previewing a report he is co-authoring with Adam Pain for the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit:
The claims of the relative wealth of farmers in the south is not supported by the available data. In fact statistics produced by the Central Statistics Office of Afghanistan in 2004 summarising household data and collected in the National Risk Vulnerability Assessment ranks Helmand 6th, Kandahar 15th, Uruzgan 32nd and Zabul 33rd of the 34 provinces in terms of social and economic well being. This compares to rankings for the seven northern provinces of Jawjan, Balkh, Samangan, Baghlan, Bamian, Frayab and Sari Pul of 1st, 9th, 13th, 11th, 18th, 25th and 31st, respectively.

Moreover, in 2005, Helmand province reported some of the worst school enrollment rates for 6-13 year olds and one of the highest illiteracy rates of any other province other than Zabul and Paktya. Given the intensity of the conflict in the south it seems rather unlikely that these indicators have significantly changed over the last two years -- quite the contrary. The assertion that the population of the southern provinces are not poor seems to be derived from the fact that households in the southern provincesreported average higher annual incomes (US$ 3,316 for poppy growing and US$ 2,480 for non poppy growing) to UNODC surveyors than those in the north (US$ 2,690 for poppy growing and US$ 1,851 for non poppy growing) or centre (US$ 1,897 for poppy growing and US$1,487 for non poppy growing. To put these figures in perspective a "greedy" opium-producing household in the south would have a daily income of $9 per day in contrast to a poor but virtuous household in the north with a daily income of $5 per day. Given the difference in the average number of household members per household, with an average of 9 persons per household in Helmand and 7 persons in Balkh,this would represent a per capita income of $1 and $0.70 per capita respectively. Leaving aside the issues of income inequalities within provinces and the well known methodological difficulties associated with collecting data on household income and its reliability in developing countries,the focus on income as a measure of poverty represents a severely limited understanding of the nature and measurement of poverty, particularly under conditions of chronic insecurity.
Mansfield observes that development experts define poverty multidimensionally, not solely in terms of income, which is why they favor indicators such as the Human Development Index. He concludes:
Given the prevailing levels of insecurity, and other poor health and welfare indicators, some opium poppy growing households may indeed be relatively income wealthy but most will experience the wider dimensions of poverty. These may be even greater in the south where the intensity of the conflict will disrupt labour and agricultural markets, preclude access to health and, education; and where the threat of physical violence from both state and non-state actors is at its most overt.
In a much needed corrective to the false impression conveyed by the UNODC report, World Bank Afghanistan economist William Byrd also stated:
Dependence on opium cultivation is very much associated with poverty.

Those who are actually cultivating opium on a sharecropping basis or who have very small plots of land tend not to be very rich. We have to be careful to distinguish who is cultivating the land and who owns it. Not surprisingly, it is the landowners who get most of the returns on opium at the farm level, while drug traders and their sponsors reap the lion’s share overall.
Current reporting from Helmand by RFE/RL confirms the link of poverty (including insecurity) to narcotics production. One farmer in Helmand, repeating what so many have told interviewers, told RFE/RL:
"I am 20,000 rupees [$350] in debt and I cannot earn even 50 rupees [$1] a day, so I have to plant poppies -- because I am anxious," he explains. "I know that it is a bad thing and the Holy Prophet Muhammad says that 'all intoxicants are forbidden.' But we need it [to survive] and so it is fine to plant it in a situation like ours."
RFE/RL reports what I have found to be the predominant Afghan view:
Tribal leader Ali Shah Mazlumyar argues that there is a simple way to rid Helmand of poppy cultivation. "If 1/100th of the antidrug aid dollars were spent on helping poor farmers [through alternative-crops schemes], the situation would be much different -- if the government could buy their crops en masse and then sell them cheaply [on the open market]," he says. "This would be an enormous help and might solve the problem [of poppy cultivation] without the use of guns, artillery, and tanks."
World Bank economist Byrd agees with Mazlumyar (whose name means "friend of the oppressed"). In the interview cited above, Byrd said that rural development programs will be critical to create alternative livelihoods for poor farmers. “The country also needs to develop labor intensive agriculture exports of high-value added which really will be the alternative to opium. But it has to be recognized that this will take time.”

To recognize that "this will take time" would mean planning for a transition from the drug economy to a fully licit economy. This is a massive macro-economic development task, not a law enforcement task to be supplemented with some economic incentives and sanctions. The next post, a critique of "alternative livelihoods," will outline the components of that task. Read more on this article...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Afghanistan and the Region: The View from Herat

This week (October 17-20) Afghanistan hosted the 17th meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Economic Cooperation Organization in Herat. This marked the first time that Afghanistan had assumed the chairmanship of the organization or that ECO, which is based in Tehran, had met in Afghanistan.

The meeting's official proceedings dealt with regional economic cooperation, but this meeting in western Afghanistan, which depends economically on Iran, provided an opportunity for staking out positions on regional tensions. During the meeting an as-yet unidentified suicide bomber attacked the homecoming motorcade of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Karachi, killing 139 people and threatening the political transition negotiated between Bhutto and military ruler Pervez Musharraf with the support (or at the urging) of the U.S. The meeting also coincided with the resignation of Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. Larijani's replacement by a junior ally of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad just before a key meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana made a negotiated settlement of Iran's nuclear issue even less likely. As the meeting was ending, U.S. Vice President Cheney told a conference of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a think-tank closely associated with the "pro-Israel" lobby): "The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences." Calling Iran "the world's most active state sponsor of terror," Cheney said, "Our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions."

President Karzai played a balancing act. Hosting this conference in Herat pleased Iran, which had consistently urged that ECO, based in Tehran, should play a central role in regional economic cooperation for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, over objections of the U.S. In his speech opening the conference, Karzai gave a nod to US concerns, which Kabul shares:
We, the Muslims, must show the true image of Islam to the world and this will be impossible unless we eliminate terrorists where ever they are and fight them collectively.
In a bilateral meeting with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki, however, Karzai emphasized the friendly ties between the two nations in a seeming rebuff to the U.S. position. Karzai had done so in the U.S. in August. Interviewed on CNN, Karzai characterized Iran as a "helper" of Afghanistan, a characterization with which President Bush took issue at a press availability after the two leaders' August 7 meeting in Camp David.

In Herat Mottaki appeared self confident. He announced an additional $600,000 in aid for Afghanistan. In answer to a journalist's question, he stated:
The people of Afghanistan will never allow America to use Afghanistan against any other country. This our belief, this is our trust.
Referring to the "people" implied that Iran might rely not solely on the Afghan government, but on its direct relations with the "people." Mottaki appeared to gloat over the U.S.'s situation:

Mottaki added that the United States had exhausted itself with the war in Iraq and "is not in a position to create another conflict in our region."

"Americans, not based on our statements ... but based on statements by American politicians have been defeated in Iraq," the foreign minister said.

Simultaneously, Tehran announced how it would respond to a U.S. attack:

"In the first minute of an invasion by the enemy, 11,000 rockets and cannons will be fired at enemy bases," said Mahmoud Chaharbaghi, a brigadier general in the elite Revolutionary Guards.

"This volume and speed of firing would continue," added Chaharbaghi, who is commander of artillery and missiles of the Guards' ground forces.

These "bases" are those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kabul has also received information that the Iranian government had informed its ambassadors that though Afghanistan is a "friend," one must sacrifice even friends when survival is at stake. This is a reference to Tehran's belief that the goal of U.S. policy is the overthrow of the Iranian regime, not simply the termination of uranium enrichment.

Karzai also met Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, who announced that Pakistan would host another meeting of the joint Afghan-Pakistani "Peace Jirga" after Pakistan's general elections next year. The attack on the Bhutto convoy, however, raised doubts as to whether those elections could be held. Writing in Asia Times Online, the consistently interesting (though inconsistently accurate) Syed Saleem Shahzad called the attack "The first shot . . . fired in the battle that Islamists have vowed to wage against the Washington-inspired and brokered attempt at regime change in Pakistan." According to Shahzad:
The attack was hardly a surprise. Militants see Bhutto's return to Pakistani politics as a Western-backed coup against Islamists in Pakistan, akin to the arrival in the Afghan capital, Kabul, of the US-backed Northern Alliance in 2001. Militant leader Baitullah Mehsud had instructed pro-al-Qaeda cells in Karachi to kill her for three major offenses against the Islamists, which he listed as:

- She is the only opposition politician who supported the military attack earlier this year on Islamabad's Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), a hotbed of Islamist radicalism, and she coninues to condemn the Lal Masjid ideologues; - She has stated that she would allow incursions by US forces into Pakistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden; - She has stated that she would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to question Dr A Q Khan, the former leading nuclear scientist accused of passing Pakistani nuclear technology to anti-Western countries.
Baitullah Mehsud, however, states he "had nothing to do with it," and many of Bhutto's supporters suspect that elements of the Pakistan military and intelligence apparatus were involved. Bhutto had previously told the Sunday Telegraph:
We need a security service that is professional in its approach, which rises above ties of religious or political sentiment. I have strong reservations about some of the people still operating within the intelligence services, and we need reforms to get rid of them.
Bhutto was referring to those in the ISI who support the Taliban and even al-Qaida. Her dismissal in 1990 of General Hamid Gul as Director of the ISI was key to the army's decision to oust her that year and defeat her in rigged elections. Military appointments and policy toward India and Afghanistan are considered by the Pakistan army to be off limits to civilian officials. Now, as in 1989-1990, it is likely that Bhutto's negotiations with the army (carried out though the current ISI director) also focus on this issue. Maintaining "reserve areas" of military control is a frequent demand of military institutions trying to negotiate their extrication from direct rule. By announcing her intention to clean up the ISI, Bhutto promised Kabul and Washington that she would carry out the policies they have been asking for, while threatening the most sensitive prerogatives of the Pakistani military.

Such is the region in which Vice-President Cheney aims to impose "serious consequences" on Iran if it moves toward acquiring the capability to manufacture the nuclear weapons that Pakistan already has. Pakistan, of course, is likely to have been a source of the technology used by Iran for uranium enrichment. But Pakistan is the U.S.'s most important non-NATO ally, while Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism. The views from Washington and Herat could not be more different. Read more on this article...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ali Larijani Resigns

Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, has resigned. This is a big deal!

The fact that Larijani had threatened to resign several times was an open secret in Iran; a fact that was even acknowledged by the government spokesman, Gholam-hossein Elham, in his announcement of Larijani's resignation (Al Jazeera has good round up of some of Larijani's conflicts with Ahmadinejad).

What is surprising is Ayatollah Khamenei's agreement to this resignation and the reported replacement of Larijani by Saeed Jalili, a deputy foreign minister for European affairs who actually has very little diplomatic experience (Jalili's experience at the foreign Ministry prior to being assigned as deputy minister by Ahmadinejad was in personnel matters). What Jalili does have is a very close relationship with Ahmadinejad. As such, the move, if it is confirmed, reflects yet another enhancement of Ahmadinejad's fortunes in Iranian politics.

So far the Iranian system seems to be in a state of shock. Larijani was considered a successful handler of the Iranian nuclear file and his agreement with the IAEA regarding a work plan to resolve the remaining outstanding issues over Iran's nuclear program an important step forward.

His announced meeting with Europe's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, for next Tuesday makes the timing of the resignation even stranger and suggests the extent to which this move might have been impromptu and really the result of intense personal as well as policy conflicts between Larijani and Ahmadinejad. The straw that broke the camel's back was probably Larijani's assertion that Putin had a special message about Iran's nuclear file and Ahmadinejad's public rejection of that assertion.

Several important politicians in Iran, including Ahmad Tavkoli, the head of Majles' Research Center, and Mohsen Rezaie, the Expediency Council's secretary, have already expressed their concern and unease about Larijani's resignation as well as his replacement by a novice. The deputy head of Majles' Foreign Relations Committee has promised an investigation.

The most unsettling aspect of this move from the insiders point of view may be questions raised regarding Ayatollah Khamenei's control over the nuclear file. Both of the possibilities - that he has either lost control or decided to throw his support for the most radical elements in the Iranian political system - are bound to unsettle the domestic political scene. For him, to be seen as being in one corner with Ahmadinejad against all the other heavyweights of Iranian politics, including Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami, Karrubi, Rezaie, Qalibaf, and now Larijani, is a predicament he has tried hard to avoid at least publicly.

Khamenei's reaction to and explanation of why and how this happened will be important for calming nerves inside Iran. But the mere fact that such an open and public split has occurred, as far as I know for the first time on the foreign policy front, will have important ramifications particularly with the nearing of parliamentary elections. Read more on this article...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Karachi Bombing: Afghanistan and Pakistan Are a Single Front

The bombing of Benazir Bhutto's motorcade in Karachi signals a new level of integration of the political arena of Afghanistan and Pakistan. If, as now seems likely, the attack is traced back to the "Pakistani" Taliban of South Waziristan and al-Qaida, it will constitute a strike at the center of the Pakistani political process by groups based on the frontier who are part of both the transnational Afghan-Pakistani Taliban movement and the transnational global al-Qaida movement.

The moment is reminiscent of events in Central Africa in 1996. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda ended with the defeat of the Hutu-power regime, whose remnants and constituents fled into Eastern Zaire. This regional crisis in a distant border region unexpectedly linked up with the national political process of Zaire when the advent of elections made the citizenship of ethnic Rwandans (Kinyarwanda speakers) an issue that the Rwandan regime used as a vehicle for launching the war that overthrew the Mobutu regime. A "humanitarian" crisis on the frontier sparked a regional civil war than ultimately involved much of the African continent. Will the crisis of leadership and political integration among Pashtuns have similar ramifying consequences?

Paddy Ashdown, former EU Special Representative in Bosnia-Herzogovina, warns of just such an outcome in an interview with Reuters:
"I think we are losing in Afghanistan now, we have lost I think and success is now unlikely," he told Reuters in an interview.

"I believe losing in Afghanistan is worse than losing in Iraq. It will mean that Pakistan will fall and it will have serious implications internally for the security of our own countries and will instigate a wider Shiite, Sunni regional war on a grand scale."

"Some people refer to the First and Second World Wars as European civil wars and I think a similar regional civil war could be initiated by this (failure) to match this magnitude," Ashdown added.
Those who tried to kill Benazir Bhutto clearly perceive that a democratic Pakistan is the greatest threat their movement has faced in the region. Public opinion polls indicate that the Islamist parties that have sheltered them in the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan are set to be wiped off the electoral map in any fair vote. The takeover by the frontier provinces by coalitions that support the international effort in Afghanistan could lead to serious effort to integrate the tribal agencies where al-Qaida and the transnational Taliban have their bases.

Paddy Ashdown correctly warns that this situation is more dangerous than Iraq. Is anyone listening? Read more on this article...