Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
from Photographers' Blog:
It's not hard to find a field of poppies in the village of Jelawar, north of Kandahar. Some are hidden discreetly behind mud walls but others have been brazenly planted within sight of the main road. During a recent patrol, I accompanied Afghan National Army Captain Imran (he uses one name) and a group of U.S. civil affairs soldiers on a tour of Jelawar's back roads as they tried to assess the extent of this year's opium production.
The first field we came to was a couple of hundred meters across, filled with pink poppy flowers in full bloom. There were several men working the field and Imran asked them what they were doing. A farmer looked up from pulling weeds and said they were working on their onions. Indeed, in a poppy field the size of a football stadium there were a handful of green onion shoots pushing out of the soil. Not exactly the perfect cover, especially after the farmer admitted to planting the poppies in the first place.
As we walked from one poppy field to the next, Imran was not amused. Finally, he gathered a group of farmers together to give them some bad news. "President Karzai has said it is illegal to grow opium poppies and that they must be destroyed. I give you 48 hours to cut down your plants or I will return with Afghan police and Afghan soldiers and we will force you to destroy these fields."
The farmers protested. What about the money we have already spent to prepare the fields and irrigate the land? Why not let us harvest this year's crop and we will not plant next year? Imran was firm. "My hands are tied", he said. "If I let one farmer harvest his crop then I must let everyone harvest their crops. Everyone must be treated in the same manner."
The United States is pressing Pakistan to allow Afghan agriculture products to pass through its territory to India, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a trip to the war-torn country this week. Opening India’s huge and exploding market to Afghan farmers sounds like a perfectly logical thing to do. Their produce of dried fruits, nuts and pomegranates long made its way to India before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, immortalised in Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s classic story for children, Kabuliwallah.
Katrina Manson is a Reuters reporter based in East Africa. She recently accompanied the British government’s development agency, DFID, on a visit to Helmand province in south Afghanistan.
By Katrina Manson