April 20, 2008

Rice, Hash, and Afghanistan

There's been some interesting reporting the last couple days regarding rice shortages and food riots. Whether it be global warming, bad politics, or bad luck, these problems have more than a few strategic implications. In an email exchange, a friend of Charlie's offered the following commentary on Afghanistan and the complext nature of food aid, counter-narcotics, and development:
Since November of last year, it has become quite clear to me that food security is going to be a major issue in Afghanistan. As with much in Afghanistan, it is an issue that ISAF and UNAMA (not to mention the government of Afghanistan) have failed to grapple with and which will, I believe, further undermine the influence and authority of all those involved in the counter-Taliban effort.
Unrest in Pakistan has made shipment of goods into Pakistan more difficult. This was the original impetus for increasing grain prices in Afghanistan beginning November of last year. Moreover, in recent months, the Pakistani government in response to its own shortages and price inflation has sought to limit the export of wheat into Afghanistan. At times this has taken on elements of using food as a weapon to ensure continued instability in Afghanistan.
Failure to develop and implement a comprehensive counternarcotics policy (and to hold Karzai to account for government appointments of men involved in the narcotics trade to include his brother) has resulted in disincentivising the production of grains while incentivising the production of opiates and hashish (hashish production has been incentivized by some of the rewards for not growing opium that do not penalize crop replacement with hashish).
Meanwhile well meaning World Food Program grain imports into Afghanistan have pushed down the price of grains (further disincentivizing local production) while the UN's distribution system at the same time has put control of grain into the hands of local strongmen who have used cereal as one of many forms of patronage. This, in turn, tends to divide communities on the sectarian basis by which these strongmen have been appointed and further exacerbate divisions which the Taliban can exploit.
Maybe in our considerations on how to pressure Iran as a result of food prices (I would hate to point out that as our unsustainable oil consumption and irresponsible fiscal policies have driven up the dollar-denominated price of oil to inflation-adjusted historical highs which ensure that Iran is unlikely to starve whatever our food policies are), we can consider how to alleviate a food crisis in Afghanistan which, if generalized enough in effect, could be the spark for national uprising that has not yet occurred in spite of our uncoordinated and, often, counterproductive policies in the country. We should remember that radical land reform in Afghanistan ignited rebellion against Amin as a result of famine in addition to the challenge to traditional life. It was this that required Soviet intervention and the general nature of the uprising that ensured they could not win.