Opium Production

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EU Pledges Aid to Afghanistan to Fight Corruption, Drug Trade

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Deutsche Welle (Germany)
URL: 
http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,2330632,00.html

AP Interview: Former Afghan customs chief says Afghanistan losing war against drugs

Location: 
London
United Kingdom
Publication/Source: 
International Herald Tribune (France)
URL: 
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/01/29/europe/EU-GEN-Britain-Afghan-General.php

Afghan government won't spray poppies

Location: 
Kabul
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Canadian Press
URL: 
http://www.canada.com/topics/news/world/story.html?id=1e00c9cb-4e8a-4cfc-b72f-9ae140579008&k=41498

Is the Bush Administration Getting Nervous About Afghan Opium Licensing Schemes?

When the European drug policy and defense think-tank the Senlis Council in late 2005 unveiled its proposal to deal with illicit Afghan opium by licensing growers and diverting production to the global legal medicinal market for opioid pain medications, just about nobody thought the idea had a chance of going anywhere. Since then, as opium production there has continued to increase—Afghanistan now accounts for 90% of the global illicit opium supply—and Taliban insurgents have gathered strength, the licensing scheme has picked up support from politicians in Canada, England, and Italy, but still remains a long-shot. This week, as I will report in the Chronicle on Friday, the licensing notion gained new support, as the British Medical Association is suggesting that Afghan opium be used to produce medicinal diamorphine (heroin) for use in the National Health Service. The licensing idea also made it to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post last week, when columnist Anne Applebaum wrote a piece, "Ending an Opium War; Poppies and Afghan Recovery Can Both Bloom, arguing that the US should do in Afghanistan now what it did so successfully in Turkey under President Nixon. Then, faced with an influx of Turkish heroin (the stuff of the infamous French Connection), the US worked with the Turkish government and farmers to regulate poppy production. Now, Turkey is the main supplier of medicinal narcotics to the US. The current US administration, however, is adamantly opposed to any such effort in Afghanistan. Instead, drug war extremists in Washington are pushing the Afghans to make stronger efforts to eradicate the poppy crop and are even trying to push herbicidal eradication down the throat of the Karzai government. That idea has little support in Afghanistan or even among our NATO allies. Both groups fear a sustained attack on the country's economic mainstay will lead to political upheaval and end up benefiting the Taliban, a not unreasonable worry. But it seems like the Bush administration is starting to worry that the licensing scheme is gaining too much ground. Or, at least, it has bestirred itself to attack the notion. In a letter from James O'Gara, the drug czars deputy for supply reduction in today's Washington Post, the administration tried to fight back:
The Wrong Plan for Afghanistan's Opium Anne Applebaum's proposal to foster legal Afghan opium ["Ending an Opium War; Poppies and Afghan Recovery Can Both Bloom," op-ed, Jan. 16] is based on a misdiagnosis of the problem. First, there is no licit demand for Afghanistan's enormous supply of opium, currently more than 90 percent of the world's illicit market and almost double the world's entire licit production requirement. The United Nations reports a current global oversupply of opium-based products from existing licit producers. Pouring vastly more legal opium into the world system would cause prices to plummet, making the illicit trade that much more attractive to farmers. Second, Afghanistan produces opium because some regions remain under attack and lack security, to say nothing of the controls that are a prerequisite for any legal trade in narcotics. In the absence of such institutional controls, the distinction between legal and illicit opium is meaningless. Afghanistan needs peace, a flourishing economy and the rule of law. Each of these conditions is undone by narcotics production. Nowhere in the world do narco-warlords willingly relinquish their stranglehold on poor opium farmers, and nowhere in the world do such farmers become rich. The opium trade must be broken, not fostered, before it undoes the rest of Afghanistan.
O'Gara first claims there is no global need for more opioid pain relievers, citing the International Narcotics Control Board. That claim is debatable. In its proposal, the Senlis Council begged to differ, citing serious undersupplies, especially in the underdeveloped world. Second, O'Gara suggests that opium is being grown in Afghanistan only because of a lack of security and an effective national state. But the US government's insistence on attacking the poppy crop is precisely what contributes greatly to continued insecurity and political conflict within the country. Does he really think an all-out assault on the poppies is going to bring peace and tranquility? Whether the idea of licensing Afghan opium production is a good idea is open for debate. It is certainly as reasonable a response to the problem as heavy-handed repression efforts, and is much less likely to incite peasant resistance and support for the Taliban. But what is really interesting about all this is the fact that the drug czar's office feels a need to attack supporters of the idea. That suggests the idea is getting enough traction to pose a threat to the drug war as usual. We'll be staying tuned to this debate.
Location: 
United States

Opium war revealed: Major new offensive in Afghanistan

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
The Independent (UK)
URL: 
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article2171656.ece

Colombia "good model" for Afghan drug war, US says

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N19329346.htm

The West Should Buy Afghanistan's Opium Crop

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
The Sunday Herald (UK)
URL: 
http://www.theherald.co.uk/features/features/display.var.1122177.0.0.php

Debate Over Afghan Opium Medicalization Coming to Washington

The pressure to medicalize poppy cultivation in Afghanistan won't go away. The idea continues to find new proponents because it sounds considerably less absurd than asking Afghan families to give up on feeding themselves.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

After a year of escalating Afghan heroin production, calls are mounting for a shift in U.S. policy aimed at turning Afghanistan's poppy into an economic asset by using it to produce medicinal painkillers.

Backers of the proposal include several leading scientists and economists, as well as some in Congress.


"You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," [Rep. Russ] Carnahan said Thursday. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."

Congratulations, Russ Carnahan! You solved the riddle. Extra points if you can dumb this down enough to explain it to the drug policy experts at the State Department.

Tom Schweich, a senior State Department official who is spearheading U.S. efforts to curb Afghan narcotics, said he welcomed "creative ideas" but found this one to be unrealistic.

He said Afghan farmers wouldn't have enough economic incentive to turn away from illegal poppy cultivation. He added that Afghanistan lacks the required business infrastructure for processing, manufacturing and distribution, and that the oversight needed to prevent illicit drug trafficking would be near impossible.

Ok, we're listening. Yes, it's complicated situation. So what do you propose?

"You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.

Darn, he blew it. For a second there I thought he understood something.

Schweich rattles off a list of reasons why eradication won't work and then, like some sort of involuntary reflex, spontaneously proposes eradication. He sees all the reasons eradication won't work, but he cites them as arguments against Carnahan's plan rather than his own. Such rank incompetence might be funny if the fate of a nation weren't hanging in the balance.

Location: 
United States

Feature: Afghan Opium Dilemma Sparks New Calls for Alternative Development, "Normalizing" the Poppy Crop

With Afghanistan's opium crop reaching record levels last year and seemingly destined for a repeat performance this year, lawmakers and officials on both sides of the Atlantic are looking for innovative solutions. Or at least some of them are. Seemingly bereft of new ideas, the US government's official line is that the solution is eradicating as much of the crop as possible with herbicides, as drug czar John Walters announced in Kabul two weeks ago.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/poppy2.jpg
incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)
While the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai has endorsed the notion -- though not yet put it into effect -- it has done so reluctantly, knowing that eradication will infuriate the hundreds of thousands of poor farmers who depend on the poppy harvest to feed their families. As the Karzai government knows full well, angry poppy farmers mean bad times for the government and good times for the resurgent Taliban, which awaits the aggrieved growers with open arms.

But while the US government and a grudging Afghan government are embracing standard drug war tactics, the situation in Afghanistan has created the political space for the consideration of other solutions. Some, such as alternative development proposals, are almost as shop-worn a response as eradication, while others, including various schemes to legitimize the poppy crop, represent a break with the global prohibitionist consensus.

Alternative development -- the substitution of other cash crops for opium poppies and the creation of new economic activities -- is the preferred solution of a number of scholars and non-governmental organizations, as well as the international community as represented by the United Nations and the World Bank. In a highly detailed report on the Afghan opium economy released at the end of November, the World Bank called for a "smart" counter-narcotics strategy featuring both alternative development and law enforcement action against the trade, but even as it did so, it underscored that alternative development would be a long-term -- not a short-term -- solution.

"A 'smart' counter-narcotics strategy will be essential for the effectiveness and sustainability of the fight against drugs," the report noted. "The diversity, flexibility, and dynamic character of the drug industry have been amply demonstrated in recent years. It must be recognized that counter-narcotics efforts -- whether enforcement actions or development of alternative livelihoods -- inevitably cannot be anywhere nearly as nimble or quick as the activities they are targeted against, and they inevitably take time, measured in decades rather than years in the case of alternative livelihoods programs."

But evidence of a "smart" counter-narcotics strategy being implemented is severely lacking. As Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin noted in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, the US government failed to consolidate gains it made with a small reduction in the area cultivated in 2005. "Although the decrease was due almost entirely to the political persuasion of farmers by the government, the United States failed to deliver the alternative livelihoods the farmers expected and continued to pressure the Afghan government to engage in counterproductive crop eradication," Rubin wrote. "The Taliban exploited the eradication policy to gain the support of poppy growers."

The problem of support for alternative development is not limited to isolated opium growing communities, as Barnett noted. "As numerous studies have documented over the years, Afghanistan has not received the resources needed to stabilize it. International military commanders, who confront the results of this poverty every day, estimate that Washington must double the resources it devotes to Afghanistan. Major needs include accelerated road building, the purchase of diesel for immediate power production, the expansion of cross-border electricity purchases, investment in water projects to improve the productivity of agriculture, the development of infrastructure for mineral exploitation, and a massive program of skill building for the public and private sectors."

And that is the Catch-22 of eliminating the poppy crop through alternative development. While the lack of roads, electric power, and other infrastructure for development make it difficult to get off the ground, let alone sustain alternative development, the opium economy, with its hostility toward interference from the central government and the West and its de facto alliance with insurgents and freelance gun men, makes the creation of such crucial developmental infrastructure almost impossible. In fact, in the face of a revitalized Taliban, some of the non-governmental organizations working on alternative development have fled the opium growing regions.

Rubin is harshly critical of US counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan, noting that the US at first ignored trafficking by warlords it wanted as allies, then, as the uproar over increasing opium production grew louder, called for crop eradication. "To Afghans," he wrote, "this policy has looked like a way of rewarding rich drug dealers while punishing poor farmers."

After noting that the current global prohibition regime does not reduce drug use, but does produce huge profits for criminals, armed insurrectionists, and corrupt government officials, Rubin recommends treating the opium problem as a security and development issue. But then we are back to Catch-22. Still, he makes certain concrete recommendations: "[R]ural development in both poppy-growing and non-poppy-growing areas, including the construction of roads and cold-storage facilities to make other products marketable; employment creation through the development of new rural industries; and reform of the Ministry of the Interior and other government bodies to root out major figures involved with narcotics, regardless of political or family connections."

But the continuing expansion of the Afghan opium economy, combined with the reemergence of the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies and the need for US and NATO soldiers to fight and die to try to stop them, has led to increasing calls for an approach that transcends both repression and alternative development. Most recently, in the past few days, a US congressman and British Member of Parliament (MP) have called separately for diverting the poppy crop into the legitimate medicinal market for opioid pain relievers.

The European defense and drug policy think tank Senlis Council was first out of the gate with that notion, unveiling a comprehensive proposal to do just that. But that proposal has so far gained little traction, garnering the support of only a handful of Western politicians. Still, rising fears in the West that attempts to eradicate the crop will lead to increased political instability and violence by driving Afghan farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban appear to be leading to a new receptivity to the notion -- or something similar.

Here in the US, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) said last week that he would use his newly acquired seat on the House International Relations Committee to raise the issue this month. "You can't just cut off the poppies because that's the livelihood of the people who live there," Carnahan said. "But providing them with alternative legal markets for pain-relief medication is a way to help cut back on that heroin supply."

Carnahan cited the successful experiences of Turkey and India in the early 1970s, when US officials were worried about a rising tide of heroin from poppy crops in those two countries. Officials in the Nixon administration drafted a treaty that blunted the threat by allowing Turkey and India to sell their crops to make pain medications as part of their legitimate economies. Carnahan is also exploring the idea of using altered, morphine-free poppies containing thebaine, which can be turned into a number of therapeutic compounds, including oxycodone, oxymorphon, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. The altered poppies that produce thebaine are the strain that is used in Australia, where they are grown under license for the medicinal market.

"The idea of creating a trade for morphine-free opium is very worthwhile and needs to be thought through carefully," said Toni Kutchan, a biochemist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. "It should not be pushed off the table by a knee-jerk reaction against it."

"I'd certainly like to see a study on how feasible that is," said James Dobbins, director at the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp. "I do think that the current US and international effort is at best a kind of a band aid that can't have more than a marginal impact."

"I think the government should give serious consideration to attempting to implement that type of program," said Dr. Charles Schuster, former head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Current US policies alone "are never going to be the solution for this," he added.

But the senior State Department official heading US efforts to fight the Afghan drug trade scoffed. Tom Schweich said the idea was "not realistic." Instead, he counseled more of the same. "You really need to keep it illegal and eradicate it," Schweich said.

Meanwhile, a British MP last week was calling on the British government to just buy up the Afghan opium crop and use it around the world for pain relief. South West Beds MP Andrew Selous asked the House of Commons why not? "Why, given that heroin can have legitimate medical uses, cannot we buy up the Afghan heroin crop and use it around the world for pain relief? That would stop it flooding into this country illegally. We need much serious thought on that issue."

Selous cited the murders of five addicted prostitutes in Ipswich last month. "I read the biographies of the women who were so brutally and horrifically murdered and I cannot have been the only one to be struck by the fact that they were all heroin addicts," he said. "It is a problem that affects all our constituencies -- there will not be a single Member of Parliament who does not have a heroin problem in their constituency. Given that we know that 90% of the heroin on UK streets comes from Afghanistan and that we have a major military presence there, it is extraordinary that we cannot do more to stop the poppy crop ending up here."

While the Bush administration is pushing for tougher measures and chemical eradication of the crops, and the UN, World Bank, and some academics are advocating intensified development and state-building strategies as an adjunct or alternative, the chorus of critics looking for a better way is growing, and they are implicitly -- if not explicitly -- challenging the global prohibition regime itself.

Rebels Boosting Poppy Business in Myanmar

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Indo-Asian News Service
URL: 
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/7454_1882064,000800050001.htm

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