Justin Marozzi

Smack in your face

In Afghanistan more provinces than ever are producing opium. Justin Marozzi watches Britain lose its farcical war on drugs


The minister had been stood up. Here we were in Bamiyan, in the heart of Afghanistan with Her Majesty’s drugs-busting minister Bill Rammell, and there was no sign of the Afghan farmer who had reportedly given up growing poppies in favour of dried apricots. He seemed an unlikely enough character in any case. Perhaps he never existed.

Protected by a phalanx of armed Special Branch officers, we had flown into Bamiyan in a C-130 Hercules to catch up on the British-led counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan, a country that supplies 95 per cent of the heroin on our streets. The UK is providing £70m over three years to help the country turn its back on poppy cultivation. I had been invited to cover the minister’s visit during a business trip to Kabul and was looking forward to meeting the man who had switched from smack to snack.

Instead, our group of diplomats, journalists and local Afghan officials were pretending to listen to a smooth-talking Food and Agriculture Organisation bureaucrat telling us about the ‘multi-sectoral approach’ to developing sustainable livelihoods in the eastern Hazarajat, a method which involved plenty of ‘capacity-building’, ‘upscaling’, ‘sub-group visioning and action planning’ and rejoiced in a ‘multi-faceted monitoring and evaluation system’. The programme even gave ‘explicit attention to equity and gender’. The most revealing moment came when he displayed a convoluted flow-chart replete with the jargon beloved by development types.

‘This is how I think,’ he said rather grandly.

‘How sad,’ Lesley Pallett, head of the Foreign Office’s drugs and international crime department, commented tartly.

The local ministry of agriculture official welcomed British support. He talked of the need for alternative crops, noting that the price of potatoes was very low. If they had money for a research laboratory, he hinted, they could research higher-yield varieties.

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