The State Department this week announced more than $18 million in awards to provincial governments in Afghanistan in the fight against the illicit opium industry in that country. The award comes after news this past November that countrywide there was an "alarming" 18 percent increase in 2012 in poppy growing. On top of this, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, presented testimony to Congress on Wednesday regarding the hazards of direct assistance to the government of what Chairman Jason Chaffetz of the House Subcommittee on National Security called "one of the most corrupt nations in existence."
The State Department press release on the awards begins as follows:
U.S. and Afghanistan Announce $18.2 Million in Good Performers Initiative Awards for Provincial Counternarcotics Achievements
On February 12, 2013, Afghanistan’s Minister for Counter Narcotics Zarar Moqbel Osmani and U.S. Embassy’s Coordinating Director for Rule of Law and Law Enforcement Ambassador Stephen G. McFarland announced $18.2 million in Good Performers Initiative (GPI) awards. GPI awards are given to provinces that achieved or retained poppy-free status, reduced net poppy cultivation by more than 10 percent over the previous year, or made other exceptional counternarcotics efforts during the cultivation season. Twenty-one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces received GPI awards, including 17 provinces that earned $1 million awards for being poppy-free.
Total awards are down from $19.2 million in 2011 and $25.7 million in 2010. In 2008, over $39 million was awarded. Despite these and other efforts to make a dent in the opium trade, the area of land dedicated to poppy growing from 2006 (the year before the award program began) to 2012 fell by only six percent, from 164,000 hectares to 154,000. Perhaps even more discouraging is that increase from 2011 to 2012 came despite a 154 percent increase in verified poppy eradication by the Afghan government.
There is good reason for concern for the future of opium reduction efforts as the U.S. "winds down" (in the words of President Obama) its involvement in Afghanistan. The United Nations report from November 2012 unsurprisingly found that the vast majority of the opium is coming from those regions of the country that are the least secure.
This year saw 95 per cent of cultivation concentrated in the southern and western provinces where insecurity and organized crime are present: 72 per cent in Hilmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Day Kundi and Zabul provinces in the south, and 23 per cent in Farah, Hirat, and Nimroz provinces to the west. This confirms the link between insecurity and opium cultivation observed since 2007, says the Survey.
Special Inspector General John Sopko, in the broader context of providing direct aid to the Afghan government, expressed his concern about the impending increase in the difficulty of providing accountability for the use of funds precisely because of the ongoing drawdown of U.S. forces: