Justice and Customs Minister Senator Chris Ellison will have a big future after politics as a comedy straight man if judged on his performance yesterday when announcing that Australian is sending two Federal policemen to Afghanistan to combat the illegal drug trade.

“This is part of the AFP’s commitment to helping other nations in the fight against illegal narcotics,” the Minister proudly proclaimed. In his wonderfully understated deadpan style he commented that “the drug trade undermines Afghanistan’s security and has been one of areas targeted in Australia’s assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in conjunction with our international partners. It is important for Australia to support efforts by the Government of Afghanistan and the international community to deal with the problem.”

Meanwhile, back in Kabul this week, the Afghan Government has rejected a United States plan to eradicate opium poppies. Jason Straziuso of Associated Press reported that Afghan President Hamid Karzai decided against a Colombia-style program to spray his country’s heroin-producing poppies after the Cabinet worried that the herbicide glyphosate, sold as Roundup, would hurt legitimate crops, animals and people. Mohammad Azam, a spokesman for the Ministry of Counternarcotics, said this year’s effort will rely on “traditional techniques”—sending laborers into fields to trample or plow under opium poppies before they can be harvested.

A similar traditional campaign during 2006 saw, on United Nations estimates, opium production from poppies in Afghanistan rise 49% to 6,700 tons, enough to supply 90% of the world’s heroin, restoring the country to the position of the world’s number one producer.

But never fear. The AFP’s involvement follows a decision taken by the Government late last year and two scoping missions to Afghanistan to review the security situation and issues such as immunities, protections and Coalition facilities available for the AFP personnel. That should put the frighteners into illegal drug cartels.

It’s just a pity that those Dutch do not understand the help that will soon be at hand. Their minister of development, Agnes van Ardenne, said late Monday that the ultimate purpose of Dutch participation in the NATO stabilization force in Afghanistan is to promote reconstruction. “That’s only possible if the population is working with us, but the population won’t do that if people see that we, as it were, are playing along with the game of destroying the income stream, the only income stream of very many farmers.”

Peter Fray

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