Pubdate: Mon, 06 Feb 2006
Source: Daily Star, The (Lebanon)
Author: Emma Bonino
Note: Emma Bonino is a member of the European Parliament
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Last month, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on
Afghanistan that could pave the way for a new and more open-minded
approach to counternarcotics strategies worldwide.

In fact, the resolution called on the participants at a conference of
donors, which took place in London at the end of January, "to take
into consideration the proposal of licensed production of opium for
medical purposes, as already granted to a number of countries."

This proposal was originally made by the Senlis Council, an
independent organization based in Paris, during a workshop in Kabul
last September. The text introduced by the European Liberal Democrats,
with the support of virtually all political groups in the European
Parliament, is revolutionary, not only because it goes against
conventional thinking, but also because it raises the issue above the
stagnant reality of the "war on drugs." In Afghanistan, that so-called
war has essentially been based on eradication campaigns and
alternative livelihood projects, which have achieved only scant results.

The European Parliament's new stance may, I hope, mark the beginning
of a radical policy shift by all actors involved in rebuilding

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, despite
concerted efforts at eradication and crop substitution, Afghanistan
produced 87 percent of the world's opium in 2005, generating $2.7
billion of illegal revenue, which amounts to roughly 52 percent of the
country's GDP. The 2005 Afghanistan Opium Survey, released last
November, estimates that the total value of this opium, once turned
into heroin and distributed around the world, could reach more than
$40 billion.

Moreover, in recent years, factories and laboratories for processing
opium into heroin have been sprouting in Afghanistan, producing 420
tons of heroin last year alone.

The increase in domestic production has provided a massive boost to
the local retail market, giving rise to concerns about HIV-AIDS
spreading in a country with poor infrastructure and nonexistent health

In addition, the itineraries used by the export convoys are no longer
limited to the infamous "golden route" through Pakistan and Iran, but
have multiplied, employing exit points in former Soviet Republics,
such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This is helping to
promote further instability in already volatile political contexts.

International counternarcotics policy is currently driven by pressure
for rapid and visible results.

But eradication and alternative livelihood projects mainly affect the
lowest end of the value-added chain - the farmers - with no real
impact on those higher up, such as large landowners and local
traffickers, not to mention the extremely powerful drug lords and
international cartels and mafias.

Most landless farmers find it difficult to switch to different crops,
being caught up as they are in the illegal opium-denominated market,
which forces them to live at the mercy of the drug traffickers, who
provide them with access to credit and market outlets.

The result of this was laid out in a report by the European Union's
Election Observation Mission that I presented in Kabul last December:
Afghanistan risks becoming a "rentier" state with easy access to
resources that lubricate corruption throughout its entire political
system, finance illegal armed groups, and fuel regional
destabilization. Illicit Afghan networks, replicating well-known
methods that organized crime gangs have applied successfully for
decades in other parts of the world, are mobile and resourceful, and
can plug into a range of legal economic activities to sustain themselves.

This might lead Afghanistan into a situation of no return: becoming a
narco-state that drifts away from any form of rule of law and
disengages itself from the fragile social contract with its own
citizens that it has started to establish.

As New York University's Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghan society,
has put it: "Afghanistan cannot be stabilized while the most dynamic
sector of its economy is illegal, nor if more than half of its economy
is destroyed."

So what should be done? Because of the serious threat that the illegal
drug economy poses to stability and democracy in Afghanistan, we must
start thinking in terms of regulated poppy growing for medical
purposes, in particular for painkillers, with the active participation
of donor countries and the United Nations itself.

Indeed, the UN estimates that just six countries prescribe 78 percent
of the total legal production of opiates, implying shortages of
opium-based painkillers in many of the UN's 185 other member states.

Hence the potential legal demand is huge.

Moreover, the UN also estimates that there are 45 million people
living with HIV-AIDS in countries where health systems are either
absent or very poor, and that over the next 20 years there will be
some 10 million new cases of cancer in the developing world.

These estimates, together with poor countries' additional needs when
natural catastrophes strike, imply that the potential legal demand for
medicinal opiates is even higher.

An increase in production of "medical" opium would address its lack of
availability worldwide.

It would also provide Afghan peasants, who have been growing poppy
despite forced eradication of the plant and incentives to change
crops, with an option that is regulated by law and that, in time,
could have an impact on the heroin trade.

Governments, international organizations and individuals that
participate in the London conference must not dismiss the call made by
the European Parliament, for it offers a far more workable strategy to
promote Afghanistan's future than the current counternarcotics
policies permit. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake