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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The virtues of doing nothing: Why focusing on Afghanistan’s opium makes the opium problem worse

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Joshua Foust is an American military analyst. He blogs about Central Asia and Afghanistan at Registan.net . Reuters is not responsible for the content - the views are the author’s alone.

It would be an understatement to call opium cultivation in Afghanistan America's headache. The issue of illegal drug cultivation and smuggling has vexed policymakers for three decades, and led to a multi-billion dollar campaign to combat the phenomenon.

Opium causes all of our problems, so they say—according to a factsheet at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (pdf), opium creates instability, funds the insurgency, and wreaks havoc on the government. They’re not alone - entire books have been written on the subject.

The blame game on opium, however, ignores a critical - and quite uncomfortable - fact: it misses the point. The reality is, while the cultivation of opium does not help matters from a Western perspective, in Afghanistan it is actually a healthy economic activity. The concerns over its cultivation, too, are overblown: even a brief look at the numbers show it to be at best a trailing indicator of insecurity, insurgency, corruption, and economic malaise. Opium, therefore, is only an indicator of other, more substantial problems.

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