Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Rudd lobbies for fairer share of troop burden -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

LISA MILLAR: Australia may not be a member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but it
will be making its presence felt as the summit in the Romanian capital of Bucharest gets underway.

The focus of this NATO-plus conference will be what the alliance can and should do to help
stabilise Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is calling for a fairer share of the troop burden.

And he says eliminating the opium crop is a critical part of the strategy.

But just how important has been questioned by one of the foremost experts on Afghanistan, Professor
William Maley, the director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National
University.

He is in Bucharest for meetings tying in with the NATO talks and has just delivered a paper on the
challenges facing Afghanistan.

WILLIAM MALEY: The problems of Afghanistan are very complex and they can't easily be reduced to a
single-line response.

That's not to say that the objective of moving opium away from its position of salience within the
Afghan economy isn't a desirable objective, but it's a very complex end to achieve, because rather
than there being a single opium problem, there are a multiplicity of local conditions, in
particular districts and sub-districts, that can induce farmers to grow opium poppies, and rather
than there being one overall cure, one needs targeted responses at the district level which respond
to the specific circumstances that are leading people to grow the poppy.

LISA MILLAR: Some experts have suggested that by eradicating opium, it simply drives farmers into
the arms of the Taliban even more so.

WILLIAM MALEY: Well, I think that's true if one is talking about mass eradication campaigns of the
sort that, on occasion, have appealed to circles within the American Government.

There are about two million people within Afghanistan who benefit to some degree from the
cultivation of the opium poppy, but of these two million people, the vast majority benefit only to
a small degree. Of the revenue that comes from the poppy, about 80 per cent goes to the
traffickers, the people up the chain. Only about 20 per cent goes in at what's called the
"farm-gate level", to ordinary people.

LISA MILLAR: I imagine the local warlords would also have it... that it would be in their best
interests to keep the industry going?

WILLIAM MALEY: Well, yes, but of course, the opium barons, the people who are really making profits
from opium actually favour the idea of prohibition, because a war on drugs has the effect of
driving the price up and driving up the profits from which they themselves benefit extreme well.

What one actually needs is the disappearance of opium through a change in market conditions,
through the emergence of higher returns on things like wheat and vegetables, which are popular
crops in different parts of Afghanistan, but which at the moment can be difficult to market to a
wide market because of the problems of spoilage.

LISA MILLAR: Is there also a question about whether the West is requiring something of Afghanistan
which in reality is virtually impossible, given the history?

WILLIAM MALEY: Well, I think this is important when one hears talk about replacing dependence on
opium poppy with so-called "alternative livelihoods", because this kind of argument is mounted from
time to time, but too often what's happened is that people have given up planting opium in the
expectation that assistance in the form of alternative livelihoods will arrive, and it simply
doesn't materialise, because donor countries have proved unable to get their acts together.

And as a result there's a certain cynicism within Afghanistan about the seriousness that Western
countries have in approaching this issue. It's also the case that very few of the known drug barons
have actually been added to Interpol watched lists or had their assets in places like Dubai pursued
vigorously by the international community.

And that, again, creates a certain cynicism about whether there's a disposition to go for the
weaker people in the supply chain than for the really tough nuts, who are up to their necks in this
particular industry.

LISA MILLAR: The Prime Minister has also suggested at these NATO meetings that there needs to be
proper burden-sharing in Afghanistan. He's clearly indicating that he feels a few countries are
letting the side down. Who are those countries that he's talking about, and do you agree that there
needs to be more contributions?

WILLIAM MALEY: Well, I think there is a need for more contributions to Afghanistan, but it becomes
fairly evident fairly quickly when the specifics of the issue are raised with various countries
that the real constraint is the domestic politics confronted by the leaders of different states.

For example, while some have suggested the Germans should contribute more, the strong position of
the Germans is that they have gone really as far as public opinion within their own country will
permit. And that is a hard constraint as far as they're concerned.

Something that might actually deserve some attention would be how, rather than shifting the burden
between powers already represented in Afghanistan might be brought about, how instead one might
look at drawing new countries that could creatively contribute to stability in Afghanistan.

And there, I wonder whether there might be some virtue in seeing how Malaysia or Indonesia might
feel about offering contributions, particularly for Southern Afghanistan, where it would be
relatively easy to mobilise troops who are themselves Muslim and therefore alert to some of the
cultural complexities that exist in the southern part of Afghanistan.

LISA MILLAR: Professor William Maley from the ANU, speaking to us from Romania.