Books on Afghanistan
Update No: 068 - (25/07/07)
In July the US authorities released their own preliminary estimates of this
year's poppy harvest in Afghanistan. Although the government claims to have
eradicated almost 50,000 acres, a total of 457,000 acres are estimated to have
been harvested by farmers, up 12% on the previous year. The announcement has
added fuel to the fire of the debate on eradication, with the Americans renewing
their pressure for stepping up eradication efforts and adopting aerial spraying.
The main rationale for the Americans insisting on eradication is that they
believe the Taliban are largely funded by drug money. However, one of the
paradoxes of the last year of eradication efforts is that they were successful
where the Taliban are not active, like in northern Balkh province: here almost
no poppies are being grown nowadays. By contrast, production grew dramatically
in areas affected by the insurgency, such as Helmand province, which now
accounts alone for 46% of the harvest. In other terms, the current eradication
strategy seems to have moved an even greater percentage of the business in areas
under the control of the Taliban.
Civilian casualties and mass graves
Over the last few months a number of mass graves have been discovered around
Afghanistan, including one (the largest) in Kabul. The discoveries immediately
sparked a bitter political debate. Karzai was the first to try exploiting the
issue, to weaken some leftist elements who have recently formed an alliance with
Islamist groups on an agenda of constitutional and electoral reform and
opposition to the government. However, it is increasingly uncertain how many
corpses are in the graves and who are the culprits. Some of the people who have
examined the Kabul graves allege that the bodies date back to a relatively
recent period and not to the 1980s, when the leftists were in power. Possibly to
avoid a major embarrassment, the government decided to prevent the Kabul grave
from being subjected to further examinations.
The other major topic of political debate in recent months has been the rise of
civilian casualties inflicted by NATO forces when fighting the insurgents. This
year for the first time more civilians are being killed by NATO than by the
Taliban, a fact which is contributing to stimulate the rise of a xenophobic
sentiment among the Afghan population. The practice of offering cash payments to
the relatives of the victims is now beginning to have the perverse effect of
giving an incentive to fake claimants to come forward. Since it is difficult to
verify casualties and the relationship with the claimants, NATO faces quite a
dilemma in this regard. If not checked, the result could be spiralling claims of
The latest IMF forecast places inflation at 5-6% for the current year, down
from 7% last year, while GDP growth is forecast at 12.2%, up from 8% last year.
Whether or not these estimates are accurate, economic growth seems to be having
little impact in terms of creating jobs in the legal economy. Most legal
investment is concentrated in a few projects, such as luxury hotels and mobile
telephony, each of which only creates hundreds of jobs. The only component of
the economy whose benefits are widely distributes is the narcotics sector.
Afghanistan also looks very vulnerable to political developments in the region.
Recent measures taken in Iran to reduce the smuggling of cheaply priced fuel out
of the country, together with a temporary reduction of fuel imports from
Kazakhstan, caused a sudden and unprecedented rise in fuel prices in July,
immediately reflected on the fares charged by transport operators. The potential
implications of any crisis in neighbouring Iran are obvious.