Killer fungus is no mystery to Afghan poppy growers … Afghanistan's opium producers believe they are victims of a biological attack by the United States. Reports of a "mysterious" fungus that has in Afghanistan hit international headlines but on the ground the "mystery" is an open secret. Helmand farmers interviewed by BBC Pashto service for the early-morning news programme a couple of days ago were convinced that "they" had deliberately destroyed the crops. The pronoun "they" is a euphemism for US secret agents, whom farmers suspect of having sprayed the crops with the fungus. Afghan farmers have been cultivating opium poppies for a considerable period of time. This allows them to distinguishing between natural causes and artificially induced problems. In their suspicion and accusation, Afghan farmers are likely to be ignored. The government lacks the necessary equipment to conduct proper research. The United Nations Drugs Office in Afghanistan is conducting research but the institution is no longer widely trusted. As with all other mysterious incidents in Afghanistan, this story too is likely to be lost and forgotten in the fog of war. – UK Guardian
Dominant Social Theme: Shed no tears for these drug dealers.
Free-Market Analysis: If indeed Western intelligence agencies are responsible for the sudden Afghan poppy plague, let us be clear: It will go down in the annals of counter-intelligence as one of the stupidest blunders ever made by the West's blinkered spooks. It would be a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. With the US army (and therefore NATO) supposedly doing what it can to win "hearts and minds," a hush-hush operation to ruin poppy harvests would seem to directly contradict the larger strategy. And from the Guardian report, we can see the damage may already have been done – not to the poppies but to the relationship between the US military and the Afghan tribal communities.
We have read that Western incursions have already wiped out up to 80 percent of Afghan herd animals, ending a way of life for countless Afghan Pashtuns and rendering whole families basically bankrupt. Now, the poppy crop, the backbone of a certain part of the Afghan economy, is threatened as well. It likely begins to look to Afghan farmers anyway as if the West – the Americans and NATO in particular – have decided (despite statements to the contrary) that the best way to "win" the war in Afghanistan is to deprive everyone of their livelihoods except for the rapidly growing Afghan police and military forces. We don't think this strategy is a very good one, however, if indeed it is purposeful. The Pashtun Afghans will probably find a way to survive and the resentment these tactics will likely cause (whether or not they are substantive or it is fair to attribute them to the Americans or NATO) will nonetheless make nation-building even more difficult.
As for the attack on poppy farming itself goes – if indeed it is an attack – the actions contradict the laws of fundamental economics. In fact, the mold won't wipe out the entire poppy crop, but will just boost the price tremendously for what is left. Additionally, the resentment generated from such a "sneak attack" will make an already irate Pashtun population even angrier. Finally, the Taliban itself is said to hold great poppy stores and the lack of an additional crop would be actually a vast windfall. Here's some more from the Guardian article:
When the report of the fungus was first published, a reliable source directed the author of this article to the Sunshine Project, a now suspended non-profit organisation. In 2000, the international NGO had published a report about "dangerous US fungus experiments", warning against the potentially harmful impact of the fungus on biodiversity in the target drug-producing regions.
The report said: "The strains of the fungi fusarium oxysporum and pleospora papveracae might infect and kill plants other than coca, poppy and cannabis in ecologically sensitive areas of Asia and the Americas."
An indication of the potential risks caused by the use of such fungi, tailored to affect drug-producing plants, is the fact that their use was banned in the United States itself. …
The Guardian article goes on to trace how the fungus might have spread into Afghanistan (with Russian and US help) and adds, "Research for a product bordering on illegality, funded with taxpayer money from the United States and the United Kingdom, has led to the creation of a lethal weapon against opium poppy crops in Afghanistan."
But there is a deeper point as regards this issue (our point, not the Guardian's). It is that the relations between allied Western troops and Afghan Pashtuns are now so poisonous that any difficulty – and problem natural or man-made – is increasingly attributed to the West. Whether the Americans or NATO had a hand in it or not, the questions will be asked and ultimately the reputations of both will suffer yet again in the eyes of the Pashtuns. This bodes poorly for America's efforts at winning "hearts and minds" of Afghan non-combatants. This is not an effort that has been going well in any case. Almost any given day brings news of more Afghan civilian casualties, and too often attempts to deny the reality of war via coverups.
Here is an Al Jazeera/AP report on yet more Afghan civilian casualties late last week:
Afghans angry at 'civilian deaths' … Afghans said between nine and 15 civilians had been killed in the overnight raid … One person has been shot dead by police as hundreds of protesters took to the streets in eastern Afghanistan, accusing Nato-led forces of killing civilians during an overnight raid near the city of Jalalabad. Angry Afghans set fire to tyres and blocked roads in the Surkh Road district of Nangahar province on Friday, demanding an explanation for the deaths. Witnesses told Al Jazeera that between nine and 15 civilians had been killed in the Nato attack. Mohammed Arish, a government administrator in Surkh Rod, said a father and his four sons and four members of another family were among the dead. "They are farmers. They are innocent. They are not insurgents or militants," Arish told The Associated Press by phone.
We assume at some point, these poor people will be "compensated" for what seems like another murderous accident. But what this has come to mean through weary repetition is that Western military representatives will show up at the door (or tent flap) with American money for those who have been killed by mistake. We wonder if the Afghans as a people are so far gone that the receipt of funds reduces or eliminates the pain of losing a loved one. We would tend to think not.
We return to the Afghan war again and again – as to the crisis in the EU (see other article, this issue) – because these are key areas of consolidation when it comes to the elite's apparent (and increasingly obvious) efforts to expand global governance. If the EU crumbles, this effort shall be set back a great deal. The same goes for Afghanistan and its stiff-necked Pashtuns who have not yet yielded to the forces of modernity – as the West sees it – even after decades of struggle.