I've always loved poppy fields. Especially the ones in the old killing grounds of Europe that sway over fields once watered with blood. Or the deadly meadow of poppies that Dorothy and her friends fell asleep in on the way to visit the Wizard of Oz.
I suppose the poppy fields of Afghanistan fall somewhere in between. From the air they look beautiful, an oasis of green and red carpeting the dusty mountain valleys. But up close they can be deadly. And it's really easy to lose your way. Kind of fall asleep. And forget what you're really doing there.
That's why I was interested to see this report that criticizes Canada for supporting the American-led poppy eradication plan. I think the report is too fixated on the crazy Global War on Drugs. And comes across as too idealistic and even a touch hysterical. But I also found the response a touch hysterical too.
Blast them all you want for any factual errors, if it's true that we haven't accidentally killed any Afghan civilians. But admit that the poppy eradication program is a real problem. And that it is having an effect on how our troops do their job. Particularly on the reconstruction front. For more on the great poppy debate read this post from Canadahar.
There are two unavoidable facts about Afghanistan. One. If Pakistan doesn't stop directing, arming and providing a safe haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces, our military mission will be a bloody one. Maybe even an impossible one.
And two that unless the Afghan government can deliver on its promises, and provide enough money to compensate poppy farmers caught in the opium trap more and more of them will be driven into the arms of the Taliban and the war lords. The southern lands will be lost, and our whole mission will collapse.
Hamid Karzai understands that and he's not a happy man.
Funny place Afghanistan. Complicated. One moment someone is your friend. The next moment he's your enemy.
Which makes it even more important to remember who and what you're fighting for.
Stephen Harper now parrots Chimp Bush and says we're in Afghanistan to keep not just terrorists but drugs off our streets. He's wrong. We're there to help the Afghan people and put their interests first. And if that means suspending the poppy eradication program until a suitable replacement can be found, then that's what we're going to have to do.
If we want to win of course.
A counter-insurgency war is all about winning the hearts and minds of the population. And depriving the insurgents of the ocean of support they need to swim in and survive. Not blindly following the Americans and making that ocean even bigger.
You can kill all the Taliban you want. Turn it into a daily body count. But a lot of those bodies are going to be ours.
If the Afghan people turn against us, we don't stand a chance of winning the war.
We might as well lie down in those poppy fields.
And never wake up...