Up almost 50 percent from last year, more opium than ever is being grown in southern Afghanistan — the area where the Taliban fighters are strongest. And almost five years after the government was pushed out of Kabul, opium poppies are spreading like weeds, financing the Taliban's comeback.
"The Taliban is starting to tell people on the ground that they must grow poppies and the reason is because they want the money. So, they're getting money from the poppy growth," says CBS News consultant Jere Van Dyke.
If the US were to legalize drugs, it would be difficult, probably impossible for the Taliban to compete with legal drug producers and their main revenue source would dry up. Even if the US were to take the far less radical step of simply stopping its efforts to forcibly eradicate poppy fields in the parts of Afghanistan controlled by US and allied forces (as I advocated in my previous post on the subject linked above), the resulting competition would diminish the Taliban's profits. Furthermore, as I also noted in that post, stopping the US-led opium-eradication campaign would eliminate one of the main reasons for popular support of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. If I were a poor Afghan peasant and the US-led Coalition were trying to eliminate my only source of income, while the Taliban was actually helping me on that score, I might be tempted to support them as well.
I recognize, of course, that it is politically unrealistic to expect the Bush Administration to abandon the War on Drugs completely. But I hope they can at least recognize the wisdom of stopping the poppy eradication campaign in Afghanistan. They need not even make a public announcement about it or admit that they were wrong. Reasonable people can differ about whether or not the War on Drugs is a good idea. But even those who support it wholeheartedly should consider whether it is really important enough to risk undermining the War on Terror.