Western cultural imperialism in Afghanistan

According to the New York Times, the Afghan government is dragging its feet in eradicating poppy cultivation:

United States officials warned this month in an internal memo that an American-financed poppy eradication program aimed at curtailing Afghanistan’s huge heroin trade had been ineffective, in part because President Hamid Karzai “has been unwilling to assert strong leadership.”

A cable sent on May 13 from the United States Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said that provincial officials and village elders had impeded destruction of significant poppy acreage and that top Afghan officials, including Mr. Karzai, had done little to overcome that resistance.

“Although President Karzai has been well aware of the difficulty in trying to implement an effective ground eradication program, he has been unwilling to assert strong leadership, even in his own province of Kandahar,” said the cable, which was drafted by embassy personnel involved in the anti-drug efforts, two American officials said.

Why should Afghans cease growing their main cash crop, particularly one that amounts to half their national income? Economically, it doesn’t make sense. They do so because the West, particularly the USA, insists on it; with thousands of US and other NATO troops in their country, and a weak central government in Kabul, the Afghans aren’t in a position to refuse.

But morally, what right has the West to insist on this? It’s true that the poppies make heroin which causes social problems, not least killing people, but it kills far fewer people than the tobacco grown in the USA, the grapes grown in France, or the hops and barley grown in Britain. The West’s policy of banning one drug while growing worse ones itself, purely because the West has a collective hang-up regarding some drugs, amounts to cultural imperialism.

Perhaps in an alternate Earth somewhere, Afghanistan has occupied the West, and is busily bullying Western countries into ceasing production of alcohol and tobacco. Perhaps, even, they are spraying pesticides from the air, with nary a thought to the health consequences for the people below.

  1. If we’re so keen in the West to stop heroin coming in, then a short-run, put-up-or-shut-up solution would be for us to buy the raw poppy crop and destroy it. No messing round with crop substitution subsidies and the like. Just get the wallets out and buy it in a properly regulated market. Now, in the longer run that would create incentives for them to grow more, but it would also perhaps test our resolve on the ‘war on drugs issue’. If it really is a moral crusade, we’d be able to put a direct value on how much that crusade is costing. People could then make up their minds whether such a crusade is value for tax money or not.

    As you say, Phil, there is zero moral case for us to sit in Whitehall or Washington and tell Afghan farmers what they can and cannot grow. It’s even worse in the case of Bolivia, where the US has tried to stop Bolivians growing coca leaves for their own consumption. Shrill complainants about too many American films at the multiplex often band the phrase ‘cultural imperialism’ about. That’s bollocks. But requiring farmers on the other side of the world to have a ‘permission slip’ for their crop choices certainly is.

  2. Alex said:

    After all, we are deeply conflicted on this as regards Afghanistan. No drugee, no Karzai – it’s as simple as that. But, unfortunately, we are obliged to try, so the rational response is to have an ineffective eradication plan. It’s ineffective, so it doesn’t harm anyone, and it’s eradication, so conscience is salved.

  3. Monjo said:

    Buying the drugs would make the US’s “War on Drugs” a lot cheaper than its “War on Terror”.

  4. The simplest way to eradicate the drug problem is to execute all dealers and users. No customers means no suppliers. QED

  5. It’s known to all why America captured Afganistan & Iraq. One of the many hidden reasons ii definitely cultural imperialism. In this new unipolar and USA centric world, third world post-colonial countries have been gradually undergoing through cultural imperialism in the name of development and modernization. Already, the symptoms appeared in different countries in the form of ‘crisis of identity’ an ultimate consequences of cultural imperialism. World people should be conscious about it as soon as possible.

    Rahman Nasir Uddin