Sunday, September 03, 2006

New York Times Ignores its Own Record : Opium Harvest at Record Level in Afghanistan

What's up with the New York Times?

The "newspaper of record" seems to be ignoring the very record it aspires to produce on a daily basis.

It reports today on the post-Taliban re-emergence of opium poppy cultivation, but blames that re-emergence on the return of Taliban influence in parts of Afghanistan. Reporter Carlotta Gall quotes the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, who said that

the increase in cultivation was significantly fueled by the resurgence of Taliban rebels in the south, the country’s prime opium growing region. As the insurgents have stepped up attacks, they have also encouraged and profited from the drug trade, promising protection to growers if they expanded their opium operations.

"This year’s harvest will be around 6,100 metric tons of opium — a staggering 92 percent of total world supply. It exceeds global consumption by 30 percent,” Mr. Costa said at a news briefing.

This is all very true. So what's my problem?
He said the harvest increased by 49 percent from the year before, and it drastically outpaced the previous record of 4,600 metric tons, set in 1999 while the Taliban governed the country. The area cultivated increased by 59 percent, with more than 400,000 acres planted with poppies in 2006 compared with less than 260,000 in 2005.

Ah. Well. Here's my problem. The Taliban banned the cultivation of opium poppies in 1997. The initial ban seems to have been fairly ineffectual. Afghanistan is, after all, an extremely poor country, and farmers had a steady and significant source of income in poppies. So the figure of 4,600 metric tons in 1999 appears to be correct. And it was a record set while the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. But the Taliban instituted yet another ban in 2000, one with "teeth," and the New York Times, and other news sources, reported on the success of that ban five years ago. In the February 7, 2001 edition of the Times, Barbara Crossette reported that
Initial results from a survey of opium-growing areas of Afghanistan in recent days indicate that the Taliban may have succeeded in sharply reducing the annual poppy crop, astonished United Nations narcotics-control officials say.

On April 25, 2001, the same reporter noted that
United Nations narcotics officials reported earlier this year that it appeared that the Taliban, a militant Islamic group that controls most of Afghanistan, had all but wiped out poppy crops under a ban announced last year. American drug experts have begun their own survey and expect to have final results by early summer. Until this year, Afghanistan was the world's largest producer of opium, the source of much of the heroin sold in Europe.

Crossette then reported on May 20, 2001 the acknowledgement of the US Government that the Taliban poppy ban had been successful:
The first American narcotics experts to go to Afghanistan under Taliban rule have concluded that the movement's ban on opium-poppy cultivation appears to have wiped out the world's largest crop in less than a year, officials said today. The American findings confirm earlier reports from the United Nations drug control program that Afghanistan, which supplied about three-quarters of the world's opium and most of the heroin reaching Europe, had ended poppy planting in one season.

But by October of 2001, after the events of 9/11 and immediately preceding the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, it was clear that poppy cultivation was still going on in Afghanistan, but NOT in areas controlled by the Taliban. Barry Meier, writing in the October 5, 2001 edition of the New York Times reported that
New data collected by the United Nations indicates that most opium grown in Afghanistan this year was in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance, a rebel
group now being courted by the United States and its Western allies as a means to destabilizing and even toppling the ruling Taliban. The United Nations study confirmed earlier findings by United Nations officials and United States narcotics experts that opium harvests in areas controlled by the Taliban -- said by the United Nations to be about 90 percent of Afghanistan -- have plummeted after a recent Taliban ban on the growing of opium poppies.

The invasion probably put the nail in the coffin of the Taliban's opium poppy ban. Tim Golden, in the New York Times, October 22, 2001:

A highly successful government ban on the growing of opium poppies in Afghanistan, which had been by far the biggest source of opium in the world, has begun to unravel as the United States presses its war against the ruling Taliban, American and United Nations officials say.

Reports from Afghanistan received last week by the United Nations show that farmers are planting or preparing to plant opium poppies in at least two important growing areas. Recent American intelligence reports also suggest that the year-old ban may be eroding as the military assault continues, United States officials said.

None of this is to meant to endorse or "support" the Taliban. It is merely meant to set the record straight; one that was first recorded by the New York Times itself. Now, the Times is contradicting its own reports.

Now I will have to listen to people like Howie, who take no notice of the news when it contradicts their fantasy-worldview, but will grab onto anything that supports their dangerous delusions.

The Times, I think, is getting either very sloppy, or very politically biased.

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