Although the Taliban gets the most foreign media attention, it's the drug gangs that pose the greatest danger to the government and democracy. While the Taliban have a few hundred hired guns wandering around southern Afghanistan, the drug gangs have over 100,000 armed men on the payroll. Not all of these are out there looking for a fight, but they are all prepared to resist government programs or interference. Provincial governments are easily bribed, or intimidated, by the gangs to back off and leave the drug business alone. A survey of crop planting across the country finds poppy production is up in 13 provinces, stable in 16 and down in only three for this year.
This is not the first time poppy/heroin production has created drug gangs that dominated part of a country. This first occurred after World War II, when former Chinese soldiers set up heron production in northern Burma. They are still there, although worn down by decades of government attacks, and undercut by cheaper Afghan heroin. In South America, Colombia has had, for decades, large parts of its territory controlled by cocaine producing drug gangs. In the last few years, these gangs have been pushed back, but they are still a major factor in Colombian politics, and a big drag on the economy. That's because the drug business makes the gangsters rich, and everyone else poor. It is not the kind of economic activity that provides long term benefits. The drug gangs depend on the use of terror and bribery to control the local government and civilians. In a country like Afghanistan, with a gun culture and long history of independent operators, drug gangs are a natural. Defeating them will be more difficult than dealing with Islamic terrorism. The drug gangs make great use of bribes, which are more debilitating than the attacks and terrorism of the Islamic radicals.
March 6, 2006: NATO troops in southern Afghanistan have been on the receiving end of bomb and shooting attacks, but just enough to keep reporters busy, not enough to interfere with NATO security and reconstruction efforts.
March 5, 2006: In western Farah province, police arrested two Afghans and a Pakistani in a car full of explosives, 20 meters from the provincial governors office.
March 2, 2006: In a typical Taliban terrorist operation, they stopped two trucks carrying food aid in southern Afghanistan. The trucks and their cargoes of wheat were burned, and the drivers beaten. This particular shipment was headed for a road building project, where over a thousand locals were being paid in food for their work on the roads. The Taliban are particularly hostile to any reconstruction projects, seeing such changes as likely to make people less traditional and religious.