Tory MP Douglas Carswell has just returned from visiting British troops fighting in Afghanistan. Here are some of his thoughts:
We are winning in Afghanistan – that is the clear view on the ground. In contrast to Iraq, the Taliban are heavily on the back foot. Continued success, however, will be hampered by attempts to eradicate opium poppies…We are winning precisely because we are fighting the Taliban with “hearts and minds”, not just militarily might. Success hinges on not driving the locals into supporting the enemy. Yet this is precisely what poppy eradication is starting to do. Farmers grow poppies in Helmand for the same reason farmers decide what to grow the world over – because it is the rational thing to do. It is not part of a cunning scheme to flood the infidel West with cheap heroin. To a Pashtun farmer, poppies mean an instant cash-crop. Advocates of poppy eradication like to argue that narcotics fuel the insurgency. The truth is the precise opposite. Farmers carry a financial risk when they grow poppies having already been paid for their unharvested crop. Destroying their crop will make it impossible to pay their debts. As a direct consequence, they then become much more likely to accept work as hired-guns for the Taliban. Fear of poppy eradication is mobilising local farmers to side with the Taliban. In the poppy growing Sanjin valley, the locals have teamed up with the Taliban and so that is now where our troops face the fiercest fighting. As Americans say, “Go figure”.
Mr. President? Mr. President?