|Question: Why wouldn't
every farmer want to grow opium under your proposal? Wouldn't this
turn our country into a giant opium plantation?
Senlis Council head Emmanuel
Reinert: It is not our intention to turn Afghanistan into a monocrop
economy. Instead, a licensing system will allow Afghanistan to diversify
the economy and build a sustainable farming system.
Question: Won't this
proposal just result in more opium going to the black market?
Honorary head of INTERPOL
Raymond Kendall: No one should think you can realistically prevent
leakage, but on the other hand, right now 100% of the crop goes into the
illicit market. Anything we can do to reduce that 100% will be an
Question: Why do you
want to do this instead of helping Afghanistan by eradicating this bad
Reinert: The licensing
system would complement other responses to the drug crisis in Afghanistan,
not replace them. In Turkey, France, and India, where there are licensed
poppy fields, they understand that opium can be used for good.
Kendall: What we need
is a much more flexible approach. Eradication and cultivation can
be done at the same time. Let us be realistic. Right now, all
of the cultivation is going to organized crime. Does any one realistically
believe that in this moment in these conditions, that eradication is possible?
It is not possible; maybe in 10 years it will be possible. We need
to give the feasibility study a chance, and we also need to ask:
What are the real needs for opioid pain medications? People in Afghanistan
don't have access to these drugs.
Colombian drug policy expert
Francisco Thoumi: The fact is, you can have legal cultivation that
is not in contradiction to anti-drug policies. In Peru and Colombia,
while there is illegal coca destined for the drug traffic, there is also
a significant amount of coca grown legally for traditional uses.
Question: Why are you
doing this? Our government said in the newspapers this morning that
they will reject this idea.
Reinert: As a matter
of fact, we just released the feasibility study today, and I have to wonder
how they got through 700 pages and to the conclusions about what we found.
Also, I don't think you want to say it was rejected, but that the government
said it was too early.
Question: Senlis is
making this effort to legalize opium. What is the guarantee that
our youth will not use the drugs?
Dr. Mohammed Zafar, head
of demand reduction for the Ministry of
The Afghan government has its own policies and strategies to reduce drug
use, but we have not been able to make guarantees. The government
has to decide what to do, and each decision reached will have to reflect
the benefits to the people.
Question: What is the
government doing about drugs? We had more treatment beds under the
Taliban than now.
Zafar: We are doing
the best we can. We hope to expand the treatment capability.
Question: Drug treatment
doesn't work. Please don't work on legalizing the poppy. Tell
Senlis not to work on this.
Zafar: We think we
can help some people with treatment.
Question (from Minister of
Women's Affairs Habiba Sorabi): We don't want this licensed opium.
It has never been accepted by the people of Afghanistan, and thanks to
God, God does not allow this; it is forbidden in Islam. We should
clean our lands and ask God almighty to forgive us for what we have done.
His excellency President Karzai is emphasizing poppy eradication and it
should be eradicated at any cost. A licensing system would be misused,
and we thank the US for explaining this matter and working on eliminating
the poppy. We got rid of terrorists and the Taliban, and now we face
another challenge -- getting rid of the poppy. We want the international
community to help us with this. We caution Karzai to be careful about
this, and we agree with his narcotics fight.
Reinert: That wasn't
a question. Thank you for your frank comments.
Question: How would
this licensing work?
already exists in a number of countries, each of which has its own system.
There are some international requirements. For example, you would
have to set up a national opium agency that would issue licenses to certain
entities, whether it is individual farmers, groups of farmers, state farms,
or whatever. It is up to each country to decide. In India,
for instance, the government issues licenses to individual farmers, but
it would be up to the Afghan government to decide how it would be done
here. This will require local community involvement and control,
but in order for a licensing plan to be successful, you have to have the
central government in Kabul involved.
Question: Won't this
just confuse farmers? We are telling them that it is bad to grow
opium, but now you want to tell them they can grow it with a license?
Kendall: Human nature
being what it is, the conditions to persuade farmers not to grow opium
do not exist here. We hear a lot of talk about eradication, but that
is eradication, not persuasion.
Reinert: You also have
to understand that there is a clear difference between illegal opium and
Question: A large number
of farmers are benefiting from illicit cultivation. How many would
benefit from licensed cultivation?
Reinert: It is too
early to say how many farmers would benefit, but we believe that shifting
even a small part of the production to licensed production, we will begin
to break the vicious cycle of the illegal economy and disrupt the illegal
trade in Afghanistan. We don't necessarily intend that all farmers
in the trade will be licensed.
Kendall: You have to
remember that it is not the farmers who reap the big benefits. It
is traffickers and people like that who really benefit from illegal opium.
Question: What is the
benefit from licensed opium production?
Kendall: It would move
farmers from an illegal activity to a legal activity, and that's a big
Reinert: Any licensing
system will have to have farmers at the center and the licenses must be
organized around the needs of Afghan farmers and contribute to the development
of the country. This proposal would give the Afghan people the opportunity
to reorganize this illegal production and to divert it from the traffickers
and the mafia. Also, if you compare illegal production and a licensed
system, you can see that while the price for illegal opium averages about
$113 per kilogram, the farmers have to pay bribes and other costs, so the
net gain for them is much lower. While licensed prices might be lower
than the illicit price, the farmers could also benefit from the profits
made in transforming opium into morphine. And there are not only
financial incentives, but also the chance for farmers to work in a legal
environment and be part of the reconstruction of their country.
Question: In Europe,
they are trying to outlaw cigarettes. Why do you want us Afghans
to legalize opium?
Reinert: This is not
about legalizing opium. We are talking about licensed production
for the medicinal market, not about legalizing opium.