The New York Times has an actually decent piece on the opium trade in Afghanistan that pretty much foregoes the usual effort to exaggerate the role of the Taliban while ignoring the role of corrupt government officials and U.S.-backed warlords. Some excerpts:
The seemingly unbreakable allure of poppy profits — for producers and traffickers, government officials and Taliban commanders alike — has kept fighting opium at the heart of efforts to improve security….
Opium poppy, much like the coca grown in Colombia and Peru, poses a number of problems because there is so much money to be made that powerful political players, from police chiefs to governors, inevitably want a cut. The Taliban also support the drug trade, directly by protecting opium farmers, and indirectly by shielding traffickers, who pay off everybody in order to move their products quickly to the borders, according to narcotics experts at the United Nations and the Afghan government….
Among the continuing problems with corruption: information leaks that scuttle potential drug raids; political pressure that results in the release of major traffickers; and local politicians and police officers who participate in the poppy trade and use eradication programs to attack their rivals….
The Western emphasis was on driving the remaining Taliban fighters from the country, and with that in mind the Americans made allies of many of the old warlords who were also involved in the drug trade, entrenching a culture of impunity.
In 2005, British forces found nearly 20,000 pounds of opium in the office of the Helmand governor, Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, an ally of President Hamid Karzai. He was forced out at the behest of the British, but was later named to the Senate.
In 2006, as Americans began promoting eradication by specially trained Afghan forces, heroin was found in a car belonging Hajji Zaher Qadir, whom Mr. Karzai had been considering to lead the border police force. That appointment was scrapped, but Mr. Qadir is now one of the leaders in the lower house of Parliament. Many of the northern power brokers are also believed to be involved in the drug trade.
It still portrays the U.S. policy, of course, as being genuinely concerned about the trade and seeking to combat it, which is a dubious assumption, as I’ve written about for a long time.