Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pervez Musharraf Backs Purchase of Afghan Opium

This interview with the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, is from Prospect magazine's March edition. Musharraf is open to ideas which seek to solve the convergent problems of Al Qaeda/Taliban and the Afghan poppy crop, which at least part funds the Taliban. "Buying the crop is an idea one could explore. Pakistan doesn't have the money for it. We would need money from the US or the UN," he says.

The idea is something of a non-starter for the same reason eradication and alternative devlopment are - demand for illicit opium would remain; production would just expand elsewhere - whether in Afghanistan, other Central Asian states, or somewhere else in the world (the balloon effect). The same idea was actually suggested by the UK drugs Tsar Keith Hellawell some years back, and a variation of it is being promoted by the Senlis Council (to license the opium for medical use).

Even if not feasible it does at least represent engagement of key stake holders with policy alternatives, and is arguably progress from that of the Americans who according to the article would be "unlikely to back an official common agricultural policy-style purchase" and seem hell bent on eradication, despite the decades of failure for similar efforts to eradicate coca cultivation in Colombia.

The wider theatre in which Musharraf must operate is tidily examined in this interview with the conclusion that the West must concentrate on diplomacy and practical solutions rather than simply gunning for more war and wasted efforts at opium eradication.


Bob said...

Yes, in real terms buying Afghan opium isnt going to do a lot for the black market, the demand is still there so production would move or just expand. But thats somewhat missing the point I think, it would help stabilise the country, would allow farmers to grow it without having to get protection from warlords... and so on.

Steve R said...

I dont think it would - it would just create a massive demand for more opium that would be addressed by increased production - potentially making things worse. the same war lods and profiteers would be sure to control the production just as they do now. Its a total non starter.

Bob said...

So we should continue with crop erradication?
Granted buying from farmers is going to be difficult, but it could at least be tried.

Steve R said...

Id suggest we should produce opium under license elsewhere in the world as we already do, for medical and prescription purposes - and take it out of the afghanistan eqation altogether. Whilst it is bringing in money to the economy, at the moment that cheifly serves to fuel conflict and destabilisation because it is all illicit - there is nothing we can do to stop that apatrt from collapse the market - the only wa y to do this is to produce the opium legally cheaper elsewhere.

Without opium they would have a significant obstacle to developement removed.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, the country is not really stable enough to organise the collection of legitimate opium. Wide spread presciption here would make the bottom fall out of the market. But it would mean even poorer farmers in Afghanistan, at least in the short term.
Depending on who you ask legal coca in Bolivia is either a big success or a massive failure.

Steve R said...

I agree with that. Afghanistan undoubtedly faces huge development challenges. It is unlikely that opium can have a significant role in the solutions. Rebuilding the country will be a generational undertaking.

Bob said...

I have trouble being hopeful for the future there, the Taliban is the only organisation ever to have brought 'stability' to the country in its entire history.