As the current administration strengthens its ties with Pakistan and President Obama weighs his decision in Afghanistan, a noteworthy panel of Afghan and Pakistani scholars are getting set to convene at Stanford to give a talk about the region.
Among the panelists are Farzana Shaikh, as associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London; Tahir Andrabi, professor of economics at Pomona College who has done research on the quality of education in Punjab and is on a commission to evaluate the recovery of the areas devastated by the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan; Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, history professor at James Madison University; Amin Tarzi, Middle East studies professor at Marine Corps University and researcher of nation state-building in Afghanistan; Shahzad Bashir, religious studies professor at Stanford; and Fariba Nawa, an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in The San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, The Village Voice, and the Sunday Times of London.
Based in Fremont, Nawa returned to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2007 and reported on the rebuilding process.
“Afghanistan and Pakistan are fractured states,” she says. “In the case of Afghanistan, a combination of poverty, neglect, corruption, and meddling by its neighbors has destabilized the country.”
Nawa is currently writing a book on the drug trade in Afghanistan, and will discuss her recent research and work at the talk.
“Afghanistan is the biggest producer of opium in the world and its neighbors are heavily effected by it. Pakistan is a major trafficking route, and it is one of the largest consumers of Afghanistan’s opium.”
Ridding Afghanistan of opium production means addressing the issues that proliferate it, she says.
“Corruption and instability fuel the drug trade,” Nawa says, and while she feels that the military is not the answer, she says she doesn’t want to see NATO leave. “It would be complete carnage,” she says, referring to the civil war of Afghanistan that killed 500,000 and nearly leveled Kabul.
But clearly, Nawa says, the U.S. and its allies have made many mistakes in their handling of Afghan affairs. “They’ve looked the other way and let the drug trade continue. They partnered with drug lords to get information on terrorism. It’s been a trade off, but not one in which the Afghan people have done well in.”
Though, even with its many repercussions, Nawa says that it is possible for Afghanistan to benefit through its poppy crop. “I don’t see drug trade as an all-out evil. Opium can be legalized and regulated as the multipurpose crop that it is—it’s a producer of oil, soap, fuel, and licit drugs such as morphine and codine,” says Nawa. “It’s a hearty crop that doesn’t need much rain.”
But the consequences of letting the trade continue as-is are great, she says.
“I’ve met many opium farmers, and I know that if most of them knew what happened once the crop leaves their hands—the addiction and misery that it produces—they would not be morally comfortable with it.” Furthermore, some poppy farmers are being forced to grow the poppies. “The Taliban are incredibly organized with opium production. They know exactly what they are doing.”
Other discussants will address such topics as U.S. policy, war, religion, and identity. The talk is presented by the Abbasi Program of Islamic Studies.