Ignoring Afghanistan’s Poppy Culture

US policy towards the crop is back to a laissez faire approach:

“I promise you we’re not here to destroy your field,” [1st Lt. Christopher] Gackstatter tells the men. He asks about their backgrounds and their families. He repeats his promise that he’s not here to eradicate any poppies. “We understand you’re just trying to earn a living.” It’s several minutes before Gackstatter gets around to asking about the Taliban. Have insurgents been coming around to the fields? No, says Khan Mohammad, one of the brothers. Are the men planning on selling their paste to the Taliban or another buyer? Mohammad says he’s not sure yet who they’ll sell to.

This intelligence-gathering mission seems to be going nowhere. But after half an hour or so Mohammad grows more comfortable and expansive. He explains that today’s poppy prices are down compared to the golden years of the late 1990s, when the Taliban was in charge, there was no eradication — token or otherwise — and U.S. troops weren’t hanging around trying to figure out how they felt about the crop. “People are still dreaming of the boom years,” he says.

True, the Americans might finally have figured out, after 12 years of war, that it’s best to leave poppies alone. But they’ve left behind them a patchwork legacy of eradication. In short, for millions of Afghans who rely on poppies for their livelihoods, the Taliban era was simpler.