Aside from the immovables of fundamentalism, inter-tribal violence, status and treatment of women, central government legitimacy is one of the most pressing problems facing an Afghanistan on the path to stability. Both, unfortunately and fortunately, the most stabilizing element with the region is the massive amounts of money grossed from the narco-economy.
Central authority has traditionally been a great problem for the country and the region due to sectarian conflict, corruption and religious extremisms. But, to this, there may be a solution. Though somewhat shocking at first, the answer may well be to legitimize the narco of the narco-economy. At first blush, this may sound like an endorsement of heroin. It is certainly not. It is however, an endorsement of a state-run high-technology pharmaceutical industry.
The Karzai government is unstable for a plethora of reasons, corruption and family ties being among them. The government to come after it is unlikely to be free from these and other problems. However, a legitimized prize worth fighting over could spur a real political movement and political parties. An economic boom within a county in so dire a need of one. With the demand for the product unlikely to waiver in the foreseeable future.
Altruism of living conditions and wealth generation aside, we need out of Afghanistan, and we need out now. Propping up a government with a hope of a future is that path. Considering the massive expense of the war, a couple of hundred million dollars on a distributed pharmaceutical establishment seems of little added cost, especially if we do not have to return in five or ten years. The great stumbling block in the near term is internal revenue.
Morphine and codeine are internationally recognized and needed drugs for the medical industry and war efforts around the world. Afghanistan has no exports to speak of aside from, of course, the Arab Horse. This product is a societal bane and a socioeconomic tsunami flooding the world over. This wave of destruction is up drastically since the war began and our soldiers have orders not to engage in the destruction of it in the fields. This is problematic, until you consider the value of it to, we’ll call them “special” interests in countries, both rich and poor, and controlled by criminal groups and in places governments as well. The removal of a vast percentage of heroin into a legitimate and helpful industry is a great win for the world and a miracle for the poor and the addicted.
The government of Afghanistan has little to no revenue, and the people are not entirely keen on paying taxes, nor are they lining up to be tax collectors, for obvious reasons. A state-owned and run drug company, with international drug safety monitors from importing nations, could subsidized much of the governments operating costs. It could well mean getting us out of holding the bag for the running of a foreign nation at great cost to ours.
A centrally located processing and export facility would provide Kabul with an important point of leverage with the provinces and their tribal leaders and warlords. Also, it would provide a point of sale from citizen to government at which a tax could be levied to the grower. (For once a tax Republicans won’t scream and cry about!) This providing another, yet associated, revenue stream to fund programs like schools and food banks at the local level. Creating a level of influence between federal and local officials that would rightly lead to a better working relationship. This too would go a long way at their own central government winning “hearts and minds” among their own people, rather than being seen solely as a tyrannical force from the capitol.
Locating opium purchasing facilities in the provincial capitols under the control of the local governors gives them a strong say in the pricing and introduction of the raw product into the supply chain. This effect of local control eases locals into a federal system of governance via a valuable commodity and a considerable check from the government to pay for local serices themselves in a way that they themselves choose. Also pushing to the forefront a dire need country wide, real roads upon which to travel.
Both the main processing facility and local intake buildings would, of course, need to be hardened structures capable of withstanding ground assaults and sustained mortar fire on both the buildings themselves and the line of farmers delivering their goods to market. Remnant elements of radical groups disapprove of and would attempt to destroy the prize rather than have it in the hands of the government. Government to farmer interaction using a standard currency inflates the value and diminishes the use and reliance on foreign currencies and barter which cannot be taxed effectively.
Bordering countries share in the plague of heroin as well providing an opportunity for intergovernmental interactions that are wholly productive. The positioning of the only internationally accepted processing facility within Afghanistan provides them with a new found bargaining position never before know to them. While Pakistan has nuclear weapons, Afghanistan would have an economic weapon. Even if bordering countries are unimpressed with the legitimization and refuse to allow their peoples to participate, there would still be the path of seized drugs to be reduced into safe products, a disarmament of sorts. Yet more heroin off of the world market.
There would need to be strict guidelines and supervision of such an endeavor, to say the least, as no system of regulation is perfect; there would undoubtedly be diversions, from the proper stream of medical use, to illicit markets. This must be considered in light of the current situation of unregulated heroin flooding the streets at record levels. Some estimates have the percentage of the world's heroin supply being from Afghanistan at above nintey. In a lesser-of-two-evils assessment, diverted morphine ampoules of pharmaceutical grade chemicals are a far better problem to have than baggies and bricks of unknown contents floating around the cities of the world. No matter how you look at the Afghanistan problem, they need money. Money that is not our tax money!
We can subsidize them forever, or at the least for a very long time, or we can teach let to fish, as it were. We can continue to destabilize the entire region with war and drones or we can begin to try to assist these people make their way in the world and even, perhaps, make an ally or two in the process.