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Opium feeding the Taliban's ranks and its banks

Afghan farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in Khogyani district of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, May 10, 2013. Opium poppy cultivation has been increasing for a third year in a row and is heading for a record high, the U.N. said in a report. Poppy cultivation is also dramatically increasing in areas of the southern Taliban heartland, the report showed, especially in regions where thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops have been withdrawn or are in the process of departing. The report indicates that whatever international efforts have been made to wean local farmers off the crop have failed. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)When it comes to illicit activity, the Taliban are known primarily for their violence and acts of destruction. As Taimoor Shah and Mujib Mashal describe for The New York Times, however, each spring many in the terrorist organization take a break from fighting to engage in a different sort of crime. You see, that's when the opium harvest occurs, and the Taliban takes a fairly large share of the roughly $3 billion trade. This year's harvest was especially bountiful after the winter brought more rain than usual, with some estimating a four-fold increase over last year's production.

The UN describes the Taliban as being "more like 'godfathers' than a 'government in waiting,'" and their relationship with the local farmers often seems like something out of a mafia movie. As one farmer in the Musa Qala district described, "There is no security concern for a single laborer being checked or robbed by the police . . . The entire district is under Taliban control and the bulk of the harvesters are Taliban." To the farmers who depend on the opium harvest to survive, the presence of such terrorists is preferable to that of the Afghan government.

And while the Taliban's preoccupation with opium grants the government forces a much needed break after a disturbingly poor year on the battlefield, the success of the harvest portends difficult times ahead. Not only will the Taliban have more economic resources to pour into their campaign against the Afghan government, but the harvest also provides a fertile recruiting ground to fill their ranks with new fighters.

As thousands of men descend on the poppy fields from across the country seeking temporary employment, they are met with friendly faces and stories of heroic victories in the service of Allah. Considering they spend, on average, twelve to fifteen days working the fields each harvest, the terrorists are given ample time to make Taliban life sound like a pretty good alternative to the poverty and joblessness awaiting many back home. Ultimately, the new finances and recruits are expected to add up to "the toughest summer season of fighting" either side has seen to date.

Corrie Ten Boom once said, "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength." Faced with the prospect of an escalating conflict in which the Allies-backed government forces have often been on the losing side, it would be natural for those soldiers that have spent the spring training while hearing reports that their enemy grows richer and stronger to fear the fight to come. However, such worry would do little to help their odds whenever the battles recommence.

The same is true with the conflicts we face in our lives as well. While most of us are unlikely to encounter the kind of life-or-death situation in which the Afghan soldiers will soon find themselves, the temptation to let fear and worry weaken us, both for today and for tomorrow, is universal to the human experience. The same God-given creativity that allows us to imagine possible solutions to our problems also enables us to envision the myriad of ways in which those problems could get the best of us. The latter is an inseparable consequence of the former, and whether that ability to envision future possibilities leads to courage or fear is a choice our heavenly Father requires each of us to make.

According to Scripture, the best way to choose our attitude about the future is to remember the past. God commands us to remember all that he has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 8). It's why he could tell Joshua to "be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed" even though Moses's death had made Joshua the one responsible for leading God's people into an otherwise unwinnable war against the Canaanites (Joshua 1:9). It's why Paul could tell the Christians at Rome that "we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" shortly after describing the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword that every believer could potentially face for remaining faithful to Christ (Romans 8:37 and 8:35 respectively). And it's why we can face every facet of a potentially daunting future with the courage that comes from the knowledge that no trial we might face or any difficulty that may come is greater than the God who has proven himself faithful time and time again.

So the next time you begin worrying about an uncertain future, remember the times God has proven himself faithful in the past. Do that, and you'll have plenty of strength to face whatever tomorrow might bring because it will be his rather than yours.

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