You have to admit, it's a good thing that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan when it did, sowing the seeds of Western-style democracy. I mean, if it hadn't, just think what kind of sordid, corrupt, drug-based society Afghanistan would have turned into. Whoops, hold on ...
Over dinner, [28-year-old smuggler] Abullah explained why he's not afraid to meet a foreign reporter, despite the fact that he makes his living by transporting illegal drugs. It's the same reason he doesn't fear the police, he said, and the reason Afghanistan remains the world's largest supplier of opium: corruption.
"Bribery is more and more common nowadays," he said, tearing into a chicken kebab.
"Business is good."
Smugglers, poppy farmers, addicts and anti-narcotics officials say precisely the same thing.
This week marks the start of early planting in Afghanistan, and the government is scrambling to persuade farmers that they should grow legitimate crops instead of opium poppies, which produce the main ingredient in heroin.
And how is that recommended career change going?
The efforts are undermined, however, by police and government officials who profit from what is Afghanistan's largest industry.
The United States and other donors, embarrassed by the idea that Afghanistan could turn into a narco-state, have been pushing President Hamid Karzai to remove governors and police chiefs who are complicit in the trade. Observers say Mr. Karzai wants to help his U.S. backers, but must tread cautiously because the government needs local strongmen to maintain control over rural areas.
Ah, about as well as every other U.S. foreign intervention. No problem, then. Carry on.