Pubdate: Wed, 29 Aug 2007
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Declan Walsh and Ian Black, The Guardian
Referenced: The UN report
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Senlis Council)

Eradication or Legalisation?


The UN reported on Monday that there had been a "frightening" 
explosion in opium production in Afghanistan with Helmand province, 
where Britain has 7,000 troops deployed, leading the way. A record 
crop means that the country now accounts for 93% of the world's 
supply and the situation is getting worse daily despite billions 
being spent to eradicate the trade since 2001. Here the Guardian asks 
experts in the field what can be done to bring production of the drug 
to an end.

Chris Alexander, Deputy special representative of the UN secretary 
general to Afghanistan

The report is astonishingly downbeat and rightly so. But it does 
point to some solutions. This year we have doubled the number of 
poppy free provinces from six to 13. The incentives for others to 
follow suit must be massively strengthened. We need structured 
investments in governance, law enforcement, agriculture and infrastructure.

The next step is for the government of Afghanistan and donors to get 
serious about removing known traffickers from positions of 
responsibility. This does not require trials and conviction; it can 
be done on the basis of administrative responsibilities. Everyone in 
the government from President Karzai down knows this has to be done 
.. They know who these people are and, with the right support from 
the international community, can take action.

Thirdly our counter-narcotics and counterinsurgency strategies need 
to be much more closely linked. Drug trafficking is benefiting from 
the muddy waters created by the Taliban in the southern provinces 
where most of the poppy is being grown. The Taliban have an interest 
in preventing rule of law and governance from emerging. Those who 
insist on making an alliance with them should be treated with the 
same seriousness.

On legalisation, we have real questions about the credibility of that 
proposal. You cannot legalise something in the absence of the rule of 
law. Legalisation would merely add a notionally legalised component 
of production.

Joanna Nathan, International Crisis Group, analyst

The crucial place to start is at the top because you get much more 
bang for your buck. Targeting poor farmers means less overall effect 
and causes enormous discontent when they can see the hypocrisy of 
government and local administration officials brazenly flaunting 
their drugs wealth. A culture of impunity has been allowed to 
flourish which has been a corrupting influence on the new state 
institutions as well as fuelling the insurgency. This means some 
officials have an interest in keeping the countryside lawless and 
facilitating alliances with the Taliban. That is scary.

Aerial eradication of poppies is not the solution. While some 
ground-based manual eradication is important as a stick, to 
discourage particularly new growers, it hits the poorest hardest. 
Aerial eradication can be too indiscriminate and would enrage a large 
sector of the population possibly driving them into the arms of the 
insurgents. On the other hand the proposal to license opium for 
medicinal use is unfeasible at this stage. Most of the drugs grown in 
Afghanistan are in Helmand which they haven't been able to stop when 
it is completely illegal. How would you then insert a massive 
licensing bureaucracy there and stop those who continue to grow for 
the black market? The price differentials would be so large there 
would be no incentive to grow for a licensed market.

Norine Macdonald, The Senlis Council

The international community is spending millions of dollars on flawed 
strategies. Poppy crop eradication was reinforced this year but in 
the current environment of rural poverty and lack of sustainable 
alternatives, eradication is wholly ineffective. The crisis is a 
problem of economic development. Farmers are cultivating poppy 
because there are no profitable alternatives. In such an environment, 
crop eradication puts the future of Afghanistan and the entire region 
in jeopardy.

Opium is the raw material for morphine and other essential medicines. 
To start tackling the economic nature of the crisis, we presented in 
June a village-based Poppy for Medicine model whose crux is the 
production of painkilling medicines. Such a programme would allow 
farming communities to produce morphine locally, bringing added value 
to the villages and providing rural communities with viable economic 
opportunities. This would trigger alternative livelihood programmes, 
foster rural development and generate economic diversification.

The Senlis Council wants international support for our request to run 
scientific Poppy for Medicine pilot projects in the next planting 
season. The alarming UN figures should be reason enough to try a 
different approach, tailored to the realities of Afghanistan in terms 
of security and development.

The Senlis Council is a security and development policy group.

Daoud Sultanzoi, MP for Ghazni Province

A lot could have been done earlier but was not. Now the situation has 
reached the point where we are in a vicious circle. Drugs, bad 
management, rule of law, poverty, terrorism and weak government - all 
of these things have haunted us over the past six years. The 
international community is pouring billions of dollars, at least on 
paper, into Afghanistan. But our government is weak and there is 
corruption at every level. If the foreign friends are not involved in 
corruption themselves, then they are failing to ensure accountability 
inside the government. So they are also responsible.

There is so much waste and so little coordination. The foreigners 
come here for just one year and call themselves experts. They go on 
vacation 10 times, draw fat salaries and conduct themselves one inch 
lower than the clouds. They are not in touch with the real problems 
of the country; they become their own problem. We could start to 
resolve this with rule of law and good governance. The international 
community should have been urged to coordinate with us. We should 
have revamped our agricultural industry to offset the need for 
cultivating poppy. I am not hopeless about drugs but I sense 
hopelessness among many people across the country.

Barnett Rubin, Centre for International Cooperation, New York University

The UN report is about cultivation, not the entire Afghan drug 
economy. So it doesn't have a lot about trafficking or heroin 
refining, which are extremely important. The most important people 
are those in high-level positions who are given money but are not 
involved in drugs themselves and therefore have deniability. They are 
getting political contributions so certain trucks aren't searched or 
certain people appointed to key positions. The point about the 
northern provinces being opium-free is correct, but there is still a 
lot of trafficking there and leaders are making plenty of money from the trade.

Eradication was only done in Thailand 10 years after starting 
alternative development. In Colombia success was due to building up 
the police and state structures. If you attempt massive eradication 
in Afghanistan while the state is so weak and there are no 
alternative livelihoods people will simply not allow the government 
into the area.

There's a value chain in the drug business and you have to start at 
the high end. Concentrate your limited forces where the value is and 
then you have to win over the peasantry. You have to give aid to 
provinces that eliminate or reduce poppy. That's a good idea, but 
they're just starting it now. And people don't consider alternative 
livelihoods just because the US has started a programme. If they are 
switching to growing fruit trees it can take a few years to get them 
established. We have done a poor job on eradication but an even worse 
one with alternative livelihoods. It's outrageous to accuse Afghan 
farmers of being greedy. Controlled buyback may be possible in a 
period of transition, but it's not a silver bullet.

Senior Nato Official

Nato, under pressure to take a more aggressive role, says publicly 
that its Isaf mission in Afghanistan does not include 
counter-narcotics but operates in support of the Afghan government. 
Alliance sources privately blame widespread corruption for hobbling 
Kabul's efforts. But the key, they insist, is security.

"The more lawless the area the bigger the drug production, so though 
we've had an explosion of poppy production in Helmand, the more 
orderly areas are now producing less," says one senior figure. "If 
you can bring law and order poppy is a problem you can start to 
grapple with. The Senlis argument that if you buy up the crop 
everything will be OK is misleading. The crop in Helmand has already 
quadrupled in a few years. If poppy becomes legal then people will 
stop growing other crops and start to grow poppy instead. Also 
illegal poppy is always going to sell for more than a legal crop. And 
anyway, why would the Taliban let people switch? This is about power 
and control: you are challenging their authority in another way. 
They'll tell the farmers: sell poppy to the government and we'll kill 
you or rape your daughters; sell to us and we won't." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake