OPIUM TRAFFICKING IN AFGHANISTAN -- (House of Representatives - February 12, 2007)
Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, as this body plans to debate tomorrow the ongoing war in Iraq, I come to the floor this evening to discuss what I feel is the forgotten war, the United States' war on terror in Afghanistan.
I have stressed on numerous occasions the importance of the United States not losing sight of the real front in the war on terror in Afghanistan. Too often, the Bush administration has placed all of its efforts into fighting the war in Iraq while the Taliban and al Qaeda increased their presence in Afghanistan and western Pakistan.
It was promising to see Secretary of State Robert Gates visit Pakistan this weekend to meet with Pakistani President Musharraf. Unfortunately, Secretary Gates stated that the meeting was, and I quote, not aimed at securing the assurance of action from Pakistan. As I have stated before, assurances of action are exactly what the United States must demand from Pakistan at this time.
President Musharraf has acknowledged that his country's Frontier Guards have allowed insurgents to pass freely at the border shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the Pakistani President is fully aware of Taliban insurgents crossing the border, why is he not taking the necessary steps to bring an end to these violations?
Mr. Speaker, in Afghanistan the Taliban seems to be ramping up its efforts and possibly planning a spring offensive. Last week in a speech on the House floor, I mentioned a town in southern Afghanistan, Musa Qala, which has been overrun by forces despite a peace deal brokered between local leaders and NATO-led forces. This deal called for the local leaders to take control of the town and ensure that Taliban fighters not create a stronghold in the area.
Unfortunately, these deals failed, and this week it has been reported that roughly 1,500 families have fled Musa Qala and, as an anonymous Taliban commander has claimed, there are thousands of Taliban in the region preparing for a possible attack by United States or NATO forces.
Now, it is extremely important for the United States to step up its efforts in this deteriorating country. Of particular significance is the alarming rate at which the opium trade is growing in Afghanistan. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, opium poppy production reached a record 6,100 metric tons last year, and this is 49 percent greater than the total in 2005.
Corruption is rampant within the opium trade, and the Taliban not only profit by selling and trading the opium, but also through providing protection to opium farmers and traders. Corruption is so pervasive that police chief posts in poppy-growing districts are auctioned off for as much as $100,000 for a 6-month appointment.
While these police chiefs will only make $60 a month, they know the kickbacks they will receive from working with the opium farmers and the Taliban will be extremely financially rewarding. Now, some claim that the U.S. and NATO should simply fly over Afghanistan and spray chemicals over all the opium fields to destroy the crops; but not only will this cause environmental and health damage, but it will also raise the price of opium and drive farmers towards the Taliban insurgents.
What the U.S. should do instead is use the additional aid that it plans to send to Afghanistan this year to bolster rural development in poppy-growing areas. This money must also be used to create new rural industries so the farmers will have options other than growing poppy and participating in the illicit opium trade.
The main goal of U.S. efforts to eradicate the illicit opium trade should be to target illegal drug traffickers and corrupt officials such as police chiefs. Our government must couple this with aid to the rural poor in Afghanistan in order to provide financial alternatives to the illicit opium trade.
Mr. Speaker, as my colleagues and I debate the merits of the President's plan to escalate the war in Iraq, which I oppose, it is important for us not to forget where the real war on terror continues today in Afghanistan. The United States must intensify its redevelopment efforts in Afghanistan as an alternative to the opium trade, which is only providing further financial backing for the Taliban-led insurgency.