National Geographic : 2011 Feb
• so if there's a drought, I've got a real problem." I ask if he or his neighbors have received any of the millions of dollars being poured into Badakhshan Province by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other Western organizations in an attempt to lure Afghan farmers away from poppies. " ey prom- ised the Argo district's governor that they'd give us bags of wheat seed and fertilizer," he replies. "But they haven't." e remark is similar to one by an elder of the nearby Tashkan district: " e government said, 'We'll build roads, bridges, and canals, and you'll forget poppies forever.' at was ve years ago. ey've done nothing." In fairness, several things have been done---a newly paved highway from Feyzabad to Kabul, road construction projects in Tashkan, a saf- fron farm in Baharak, and 18 new district police o ces. But for every worthy project scattered throughout this vast northern province is a village like Sar Ab in Yamgan district, where the lack of a medical clinic led residents to use opium as their only medicine until half of the 1,800 villagers became addicts. Or the village of Du Ghalat, in Argo, where a hundred children huddle like cattle on the dirt oor of a collaps- ing schoolhouse built with opium money that has dried up as poppy eradication proceeds. Or the millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars earmarked to fund agricultural projects in Badakhshan, which, according to one counter-narcotics o - cial, "never got here---it disappeared." e team advances to another eld, and from a crumbling house a woman emerges, shriek- ing, "For God's sake, don't destroy it! We don't have anything else!" e men say nothing and keep swinging. A few minutes later, they discover another poppy eld, surrounded by brick walls. Two small children stand against the wall, crying loudly as the o cers approach. An older sister tries to comfort them as their mother hollers, " ese children have no father! How will I pro- vide for them now?" e chief looks stricken. Lowering his cane, he walks up to the older girl, murmurs a few sym- pathetic words and presses a few Afghan dollars into her hand. "Give his money back!" the mother hisses. The officers move on to another widow's poppy eld. She sits on a mule sobbing while they undo the labor of her dead husband---who she says had been a mujahideen against the So- viets and more recently fought the Taliban as a member of the Afghan National Army before being killed by a roadside bomb this past winter.