Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gaining Traction

That perspective, that things are gaining traction, came up briefly in the dinner conversation tonight. Ironically, the conversation took place at a restaurant that may be losing traction after being here since 2002…had a chance to talk to the guy who runs the restaurant after dinner and he was bemoaning that, but noted that his restaurant on the ISAF base was doing well, quite well. And that, in itself, may be a good indicator of what one recent thrust has been, towards more militarization…”more”, of course, being relative to the past 2-3 years (absent the escalating previous year) of relative calm.

There are several news items that also point to desperation. And I remember that being a common feeling among the expats last may, but this current desperation seems different. Back then, it was rooted in exhaustion and/or exasperation. A lot of it was negative and reeked of some neo-colonial patronizing attitude towards the protesters. But this time around, it seems a bit more sincere. At least I hope it is. The desperation is more of the desperate ‘what can we do now?’ attitude. And that may lead to some more positive policy changes, if, and hopefully, the attitude reaches the inner sanctums of the high-up’s expat compounds.

In the conversation, while a friend talked about the Taliban’s gaining traction, and rightly so, I talked about the changes that seem to be happening in the Afghan Gov’t’s attitude. He has a lot better tap on to common Afghan sentiment, I would expect, given who he works for. My links to common Afghan sentiment come from a very particularized, if not filtered perspective, I believe, or the news articles everyone reads. In many ways, the conversation could be simply characterized as a ‘fight or flight’ conversation, work contracts notwithstanding. Both attitudes seemed to be valid with equal amounts of evidence or justifications.

So you have many trends and movements gaining traction right now, during the typical winter lull. Everyone expects an interesting (perhaps not the best word choice there…a bit callous) spring. And though geographically, these movements are largely in opposite directions, one trying to move out from Kabul, and the others making tracks to Kabul, they both are largely for the same ends, a more complete control of this country. And with that race, with one finish line, either one or the other wins, or they crash into each other before getting to the end. I hope that the increased talks and trends toward militarizing this place don’t make the crash more likely, but have the intended effects.

The other item that is gaining traction, apparently and hopefully, is the talks of a more rational approach to the opium crop in Afghanistan. There was this BBC article on doctors in Great Britain calling for Afghan opium to be used for morphine. Then there was this article about Canada trying to stop an Agent Orange type plan.

Also, there is this article, from last December, that I seemed to have missed. This article, originally in the St. Louis Dispatch, talks about one Congressman’s efforts to change US policy in Afghanistan, and calls to make it similar to the opium production in Turkey and India (so that may be why they (India) aren’t pushing for it in Afghanistan, India isn’t a trafficking route, and they don’t want to cut their own legalized oligopoly position). But the quote from the US State Dept. personnel seems to indicate that any traction this idea may be gaining will end up leading it to a brick wall. I would believe that countries as big as India and Turkey have illegal opium production, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem there.

So despite the warming trend, weather wise, all the snow melting, the ground softening and the roads turning to mud—things are gaining traction here. The question on the forefront though, is which roads give better traction.

**P.S. Safrang(i.e. Hamesha) has a post about the drug stuff and the new US Ambassador to Afghanistan, who happens to be coming from Colombia, yes, the nation of "Plan Columbia".


Anonymous said...

Almost 100 years ago George Washington Carver discovered 300 uses for the peanut. If Europe can make biofuel out of rapeseed, why can't we set up non-narcotic markets for the poppy? Why do we let India corner the morphine market for the rich countries? -their tech support sucks!

Q. A. Shah said...

I have no knowledge about alternate non-narcotic markets for poppy, except for bagels. But the legal narcotic market is well established, and at least apparently underserved. It seems like any market incentives would be there and likely any barrier costs may small, especially here. Also, I would guess a fair amount of poppy farmers here would sell at a lower price through legal routes, given that they wont have to sell their daughters off when there are crop production problems.

From what I've read, there are (at least) three major regulated opium producers, India, Turkey and Australia (which apparently has a variant of poppy that can't be used for heroin, but can be used for other pain relievers). So tech support (and given that there probably aren't too many docs calling mumbai call centers for tech help) may not be the reason to push for another market player.

But given the energy needs here, biofuel would be an interesting route.