Monday, October 16, 2006

More bad news from Afghanistan

Yet more depressing news from the front line in the "drugs war" as the Afghan counter-narcotics minister, Habibullah Qaderi, admits that neither opium production nor the Taliban insurgency can be defeated separately. This will be cheering news for the troops on the front line who have focused on defeating the Taliban separately without undertaking significant counter-narcotics operations for fear of further alienating the local Afghan people.

The reality is that even if the insurgency could be dealt with - and there is little to suggest it can be anytime soon - this would not mean that the opium crop could then somehow miraculously be eliminated. Eradication efforts have never succeeded on such a large scale anywhere - whether it is coca production in South America, opium production in Central and SE Asia, or cannabis production pretty much everywhere. The economics of the illegal market mean that whilst demand remains high and extraordinary profits are on offer to criminal entrepreneurs, eradication efforts will just shift production to another region. Afghanistan has particular problems because of its troubled history and lack of social and political infrastructure. These are exacerbated by its sprawling and remote geography that make it effectively impossible to police; remember that it is roughly the size of Europe, and for many poverty stricken farmers opium cultivation is an obvious choice. Eradication is simply not a practical suggestion.

In related bad news the BBC reports that the Senlis Council is being booted out of Afghanistan. The Senlis Council is a drug policy reform organisation that has been working hard to promote the idea of legalising the Afghan opium crop by buying it up for use in the medical opiates market . The idea is bascially that such a move would provide income and stability for Afghan opium farmers, removing them from the illegal market and preventing profits from flowing into the hands of military groups, whilst simultaneously helping respond to a chronic shortage of opiate drugs for medical use in Asia. This seems like a positive idea and even if it is not practical or very realistic, and would certainly not result in a long term fall in global opium production (which would inevitably just move to other regions in central Asia or elsewhere in the world) it has certainly been useful in promoting debate on alternatives to futile eradication programs. The idea has had a lot of high profile coverage including an editorial in the New York Times.

Given the disastrous failure of current efforts it would be a great shame if the Senlis were kicked out just for suggesting something new.

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