OPIUM SEASON by Joel Hafvenstein


A Year on the Afghan Frontier
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Long-winded, superfluously stuffed account of the author’s vain attempts to induce the Afghans to give up their primary cash crop.

From November 2004 to May 2005, Hafvenstein worked as a development coordinator for Chemonics International, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in the military outpost of Lashkargah near the Helmand River, deep in the heart of opium-growing country. His urgent assignment was to wean the growers from poppy while the Afghan government supposedly pushed for its eradication. The USAID team was charged with creating enough temporary paying jobs to cushion the economic damage to opium farmers. However, the scale of the 2004 harvest was hugely lucrative; the Afghans produced a whopping 87 percent of the world’s illegal opium. The author and his colleagues faced an arduous, dangerous task: to manage the walis (provincial governors) as well as the tribal groups and the remnants of Taliban rebels, while securing the safety of the agency’s personnel. They learned that this area was the site of a previous American reconstruction effort in the 1940s, the damming of the Helmand and Arghandab rivers by American engineering company Morrison-Knudsen, one of the contractors on the Hoover Dam. Hafvenstein’s team insinuated itself into the powerful Afghan government agency controlling the rivers’ modern irrigation system in order to secure local jobs clearing drainage ditches. They were threatened by warlords still tied to the Taliban and ultimately defeated by the government’s halfhearted commitment to eradication. Kidnapping and murders forced out the American agency, overwhelmed by the scale and significance of the project.

Not likely to win any new converts to America’s cowboys-and-Indians approach to fixing foreign countries’ deep-seated problems.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59921-131-2
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Lyons Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2007


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