Afghanistan: A country on the brink
Tonight the Vail Symposium presents Afghanistan’s Future in the Balance, a panel discussion with journalist and author Gretchen Peters, Afghanistan business operator Jim Frasche and ABC News Correspondent Mike Boettcher, who has just returned to the U.S. after being embedded with the 101st Airborne. Local attorney Rohn Robbins will moderate. “All of the panelists for this discussion bring unique experiences and perspectives on Afghanistan. They would each be tremendous stand alone speakers, but we have the opportunity to hear them all in one place,” said Executive Director Liana Moore.Gretchen Peters is the author of “Seeds of Terror,” a book that traces the role the opium trade has played in three decades of conflict in Afghanistan. Peters seeks to broaden the public’s perception of militants in South Asia, and to track how they are morphing into powerful narco-mafia gangs that earn hundreds of millions of dollars annually from organized crime, and in some cases drug smuggling.Peters took time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily.Vail Daily: What sparked your interest the drug trade in Afghanistan, and inspired your book “Seeds of Terror”?Gretchen Peters: I felt like it was an issue that was being ignored by the media and the U.S. government. I wanted to broaden people’s understanding of the Taliban and the war in general to show the powerful role played by the opium trade and organized crime. VD: What are the largest hurdles that have to be overcome to create stability in Afghanistan?GP: Corruption and lack of good governance. This is true in any place that becomes a haven for organized crime and extremism. You don’t see these problems in places like Denmark and Norway. VD: You are currently working on a graduate degree at the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. What is your focus?GP: How transnational crime is becoming a major national security threat to the United States. VD: Since the publication of your book, it seems like leadership is taking heed. Have we made any changes that will help us address the issue of drugs funding terrorism?GP: Well, this issue is now getting the attention of the senior American commanders in Afghanistan, as well as a host of Department of Justice officials and investigators. I am just sorry it took so long for the problem to be recognized. It would have been a lot easier to stabilize Afghanistan seven years ago, before this got out of hand. VD: What can the U.S. do stop the drug trade in Afghanistan?GP: That’s a big question, and we often look at it through the wrong end of the telescope. The main goal should not be killing terrorists or fighting drug traffickers, but building a more stable alternative to extremism and crime. That’s not an easy or short-term solution. The whole region is a mess — Pakistan is perhaps a bigger worry than Afghanistan and the rest of the “stans” aren’t looking great either. You can get really depressed when you start thinking about what is needed to make it right. VD: What is the impact of the heroin trade on the Afghan people?GP: It’s important to realize that the opium trade is simultaneously destroying Afghanistan and keeping millions of Afghans alive. In a country where the drug trade represents as much as a quarter of GDP, wiping it out would be as dangerous as letting it continue. Shifting the country to licit alternatives will take time, probably a decade. I don’t think Americans are prepared for that timeframe. But I personally believe that walking away from the region will come at a great cost to our nation. No one wants this war to continue, least of all me, but I think pulling out too quickly would be a disaster.