AS if the British forces in Afghanistan did not already have problems enough, it became known yesterday that the country's poppy crop this year has proved to be a record and that the largest increase has been in Helmand province where British troops are now concentrated. The amount of land under poppy cultivation has grown by 40 per cent despite all efforts by the government in Kabul and the coalition forces to reduce the acreage; supplies of cheaper opium in European and American cities will be the inevitable result. About 40 per cent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product comes from the opium econmy. This staggering fact shows the size of the problem facing the western governments trying to change Afghanistan into a responsible and stable member of the international community. Indeed, the problem may be insuperable without resort to drastic measures to take poppy–growing land out of use; such measures would almost certainly meet with resistance on a scale that would test the coalition forces to the utmost. The only possible tactic is to persuade farmers to grow other crops and to compensate them for their loss but the cost of this would be unsupportable. It is in the nature of Western countries to think that any problem can be solved, and reform achieved, if the will is there. In the case of Afghanistan history has shown many times that this belief is a fallacy; it is probably about to do so again.


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