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Opium Season: A Year on the Afghan Frontier
     

Opium Season: A Year on the Afghan Frontier

by Joel Hafvenstein
 

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A young American working on the brutal fault line where the war on terror meets the war on drugs. Joel Hafvenstein signed up for a year in Afghanistan in the heart of the country's opium trade, running an American-funded aid program to help thousands of opium poppy farmers make a legal living, and to win hearts and minds away from the former Taliban government.

Overview

A young American working on the brutal fault line where the war on terror meets the war on drugs. Joel Hafvenstein signed up for a year in Afghanistan in the heart of the country's opium trade, running an American-funded aid program to help thousands of opium poppy farmers make a legal living, and to win hearts and minds away from the former Taliban government.

Editorial Reviews

William Grimes
The sobering dispatches in Opium Season, a wrenching account of lofty hopes and bitter disappointments, shed a dismal light on American efforts to improve the lot of ordinary Afghans. All over the country development projects are under way aimed at winning over the Afghan people, depriving the Taliban of popular support and propping up Hamid Karzai's government. The obstacles are as steep as the surrounding mountains, as Mr. Hafvenstein discovered and ruefully recounts in this bitter but affectionate book about his three stints in Afghanistan from October 2003 to May 2005.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In May 2005, four employees of Chemonics International, a Washington, D.C.-based contractor with the U.S. Agency for International Development, were among 11 Afghans killed in two separate attacks on aid workers operating in Afghanistan's Helmand province. First-time author Hafvenstein was then a young administrator for Chemonics, having eagerly joined in 2003 a small team working on U.S.A.I.D.'s Alternative Incomes Project, aiming to create thousands of jobs building a new infrastructure to offset planned eradication of the opium poppy, the mainstay of the rural economy and the raw basis for heroin sold around the world. Beginning with the news of his colleagues' deaths, Hafvenstein retraces his rapid immersion into the deeply fractured and danger-strewn politics and society of post-Taliban Afghanistan. His personal narrative gracefully introduces this complex and troubled land, measuring the impact of warlordism and police corruption on what he comes to see as the ultimately misguided U.S. emphasis on poppy eradication. While that conclusion will hardly surprise those following the escalating violence since 2005, Hafvenstein offers a revealing if narrowly critical insider perspective on the workings of U.S.-sponsored international development schemes in Afghanistan and worldwide. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 has resulted in another wretched chapter in the recent history of that volatile country. Six years after the overthrow of its fundamentalist Taliban government, chaos and uncertainty characterize daily life there. Notwithstanding elections that have led to the establishment of a nominal central government in Kabul, the country continues to exhibit all the hallmarks of a failed state. The opium trade has once again become the most important source of revenue in Afghanistan, where a combination of opium growers and the so-called warlords exercise more political and socioeconomic control than do the country's elected officials and its government. This very readable and engaging book recounts the harshness of daily life in Afghanistan, as seen from the vantage point of an American who spent a year in the country's rugged Helmand province for an aid organization seeking to train farmers to cultivate other crops than opium. The author, who has published articles on Afghanistan, describes in a diary format his experience of violent political intrigue and criminal alliances resulting in the murderous drug trafficking, and the impossibility of his mission, in that country. Recommended for public libraries.
—Nader Entessar

Kirkus Reviews
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 towin any new converts to America's cowboys-and-Indians approach to fixing foreign countries' deep-seated problems.
From the Publisher
"A wrenching account of lofty hopes and bitter disappointments."—The New York Times "A strong first book laden with urgent information and stinging political insights."— Booklist "His personal narrative gracefully introduces this complex and troubled land."— Publishers Weekly "The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11 has resulted in another wretched chapter in the recent history of that volatile country. Six years after the overthrow of its fundamentalist Taliban government, chaos and uncertainty characterize daily life there. Notwithstanding elections that have led to the establishment of a nominal central government in Kabul, the country continues to exhibit all the hallmarks of a failed state. The opium trade has once again become the most important source of revenue in Afghanistan, where a combination of opium growers and the so-called warlords exercise more political and socioeconomic control than do the country’s elected officials and its government. This very readable and engaging book recounts the harshness of daily life in Afghanistan, as seen from the vantage point of an American who spent a year in the country’s rugged Helmand province for an aid organization seeking to train farmers to cultivate other crops than opium. The author, who has published articles on Afghanistan, describes in a diary format his experience of violent political intrigue and criminal alliances resulting in the murderous drug trafficking, and the impossibility of his mission, in that country. Recommended for public libraries."—Nader Entessar, Univ. of South Alabama, Mobile, Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781599216218
Publisher:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
05/05/2009
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

A GOOD IDEA GONE TERRIBLY WRONG. “We’re getting out, mate.” Charles’s composure was belied by the taut lines in his face and the two Afghan guards flanking him, their rifles unslung and ready. “Get your things. If what we’re hearing from Zabul is true, we’ve been sitting here like bloody ducks for too long already.” If true, the rumors from Zabul province confirmed that someone was trying to kill us, but we didn’t yet know who: the struggling remnants of the Taliban, opium smugglers who found our work an inconvenience, or local militia commanders with some unknown grudge. We didn’t know if they planned more attacks, or if they could strike us in the city of Lashkargah itself. So we were running. There was a small U.S. military outpost on the edge of town, next to the graveyard. By the afternoon our office and staff houses would be empty of everyone but guards, and our Western staff would be inside a bunker. —From the Prologue

Meet the Author

Joel Hafvenstein is an international development consultant, an analyst of South and Central Asia, and a writer. He has written on Afghanistan for The New York Times and Commonweal magazine, and been interviewed on National Public Radio's "The Story." OPIUM SEASON is his first book.

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