Opium Production

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Who's Profiting From Afghan Opium Trade?

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Al Jazeera
URL: 
http://www.aljazeera.com/me.asp?service_ID=12262

Spray Plan Sparks Fear (Afghanistan)

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
Edmonton Sun
URL: 
http://www.edmontonsun.com/News/World/2006/10/02/1935624-sun.html

Southwest Asia: Leading Scholar Takes Senate Foreign Relations Committee to School on Afghan Drug Trade

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kabul2.jpg
war-torn Afghanistan (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith, 2005)
While Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in Washington this week for meetings with President Bush and other officials, and politicians of both parties were calling for increased anti-drug spending in Afghanistan to deal with that country's burgeoning opium crop, a little noticed Senate hearing last week provided a real crash course on a rational drug policy in Afghanistan. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on September 21, New York University Professor Barnett Rubin, perhaps the country's leading Afghanistan expert, provided a strong critique of the obsessive focus on crop eradication and even suggested policymakers consider regulating the opium trade. Rubin is most recently the author of Aghanistan: Uncertain Transition from Turmoil to Normalcy, published by the Council on Foreign Relations in March.

Rubin addressed the issue both in his prepared remarks and in a brief question and answer session at the end of the hearing. His remarks are worth quoting extensively. Here is what he said in his prepared remarks (available only to paid subscribers):

"On narcotics, I would like -- sometimes when people call for a stronger counternarcotics policy, which I fully endorse, they focus on crop eradication, as if crop eradication were the central point of counternarcotics. I would submit that that is an error.

"First, we have to be clear about what is the goal of our counternarcotics policy in Afghanistan. Where does the harm come from? We are not trying to -- or we should not be trying to -- solve the world's problem of drug addiction in Afghanistan. If we, with all our capacity, cannot stop drug addiction in the United States, we are certainly not going to use law enforcement successfully to eliminate half the economy of the poorest and best armed country in the world.

"Therefore, we must focus on the real harm which comes from drug money. Now, 80% of the drug money inside Afghanistan, regardless of the 90% of the total income from drugs which goes outside of Afghanistan -- 80% of the drug money inside of Afghanistan is in the hands of traffickers and warlords, not farmers. When we eradicate crops, the price of poppy goes up, and the traffickers who have stocks become richer. Therefore, we should be focusing on the warlords and traffickers, on interdiction and so on, while we are helping the poor farmers. That is also consistent with our political interests of winning the farmers over and isolating those that are against us.

"Furthermore, it is a mistake to consider the drug problem in Afghanistan as something that is isolated in the major poppy growing areas. For instance, now there is fighting in Helmand province, which is the major poppy producing area in the world. Because there is fighting going on, it is not possible to implement a counternarcotics strategy in Helmand. We need to implement rural development throughout Afghanistan, especially in the areas where there is no poppy, in order to show people what is possible and build an alternative economy."

And here is an exchange between Rubin and Sens. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Frank Lugar (R-IN):

VOINOVICH:

"Mr. Chairman, could I just ask one last thing? You alluded to the issue of the drug problem in the United States. And I got the impression that some of these drugs are coming into the US. Is that...

RUBIN:

Well, I perhaps should have said the developed world. I believe actually the bulk of the narcotics produced in Afghanistan are consumed in Iran and Pakistan.

VOINOVICH:

OK. So that's why the Iranians are so interested in making sure it stops.

RUBIN:

Yes.

VOINOVICH:

The reason I bring it up is I just had our local FBI director visit with me from Cincinnati, and he said, "Senator, the issue of terrorism is one that we're gravely concerned about." But he said the biggest issue that we've got here in the United States that we're not paying attention to is the drug problem, and that our resources are being, you know, kind of spread out. And we really have got to look at that. It's still there, and we need to deal with it. And we're not directing our attention to it. And I think you remember the other hearing we had a year or so ago, we had the folks in here and they were talking about how active the Russian mafia is in the United States and seemed to be doing about whatever they want to do, because we don't have the resources to deal with that problem. So from my perspective, you're saying the biggest market is in those countries you just mentioned...

RUBIN:

That's in physical quantity. The biggest market in money is in Europe and of course in the United States. If I may add, if you don't mind my mentioning something that I heard in the other house yesterday, Dr. Paul, a Republican from Texas, mentioned at the hearing yesterday that in his view we had failed to learn the lessons of prohibition, which, of course, provided the start-up capital for organized crime in the United States, and that, in effect, by turning drug use into a crime, we are funding organized crime and insurgency around the world. And it may be that we need to look at other methods of regulation and treatment.

VOINOVICH:

Thank you.

LUGAR:

Thank you, Senator Voinovich. It's a fascinating thought that you just imparted, that although the bulk of the drugs may be utilized by Iran and Pakistan, that the greatest value for those that are not imbibed by these countries comes from Europe and the United States. Why? Because the people surely don't receive it for free, but what is the distribution? Why are Pakistan and Iran so afflicted by drugs from...

RUBIN:

Well, they're closer. Basically, the cost of production is a negligible portion of the price of narcotics.

LUGAR:

So it's transportation...

RUBIN:

No, no. It's risk because it's illegal.

LUGAR:

I see.

RUBIN:

If it were not illegal, it would be worth hardly anything. It's only its illegality that makes it so valuable.

LUGAR:

Another fascinating topic. (LAUGHTER) Well, we thank you again for your help (inaudible). The hearing is adjourned."

Another fascinating topic, indeed. At least someone is trying to educate our elected officials about the economic and political consequences of drug prohibition -- in Afghanistan, anyway.

Barnett Rubin Lectures the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Afghan Opium

On Thursday, I crossed back into the US from British Columbia and spent the day listening to all the back and forth over Chavez's "devil" comments as I drove across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. About 4am, I checked into a motel in Broadus, Montana—which is about 150 miles from nowhere in any direction—flipped on the tube, and lo and behold, there was Afghanistan scholar Barnett Rubin giving the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a tutorial on the complications of US Afghan policy. What really caught my attention was Rubin's closing remarks. Unfortunately, the C-Span video link to Rubin's remarks isn't working as I type these words (but perhaps is by the time you are reading them; give it a try), but the good professor basically lectured the committee on the foolishness of attempting to wipe out the opium crop. Addressing the senators as if they were a group of callow undergrads at a seminar, Rubin explained that the only way to deal with the opium problem was to regulate and control it. That caused Sen. Frank Lugar (R-IN) to stir himself from his lizard-like torpor long enough to mutter something to the effect that "this is a big issue for another day." Here is what Rubin had to say in his prepared remarks:
"The international drug control regime, which criminalizes narcotics, does not reduce drug use, but it does produce huge profits for criminals and the armed groups and corrupt officials who protect them. Our drug policy grants huge subsidies to our enemies. As long as we maintain our ideological commitment to a policy that funds our enemies, however, the second-best option in Afghanistan is to treat narcotics as a security and development issue. The total export value of opiates produced in Afghanistan has ranged in recent years from 30 to 50 percent of the legal economy. Such an industry cannot be abolished by law enforcement. The immediate priorities are massive rural development in both poppy-growing and non-poppy-growing areas, including roads and cold storage to make other products marketable; programs for employment creation through rural industries; and thoroughgoing reform of the ministry of the interior and other government agencies to root out the major figures involved with narcotics, regardless of political or family connections. "News of this year’s record crop is likely to increase pressure from the US Congress for eradication, including aerial spraying. Such a program would be disastrously self-defeating. If we want to succeed in Afghanistan, we have to help the rural poor (which is almost everyone) and isolate the leading traffickers and the corrupt officials who support them."
What he actually said at the end of his testimony was even stronger. Check it out if that damned C-Span link ever actually works.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Hamid Karzai: Afghanistan Not a Narco-State

I caught an awkward exchange on Meet the Press this Morning between Tim Russert and Afghan President Hamid Karzai:

Tim Russert: Is Afghanistan becoming a narco-state?

Hamid Karzai: No…

I find both the question and the answer problematic. It should have gone more like this:

Tim Russert: So, quite a narco-state you’ve got over there, huh?

Hamid Karzai: Yeah, no kidding…

In fairness, Karzai subsequently acknowledged that he’s got a major opium cultivation problem on his hands. Still, you gotta wonder what a narco-state looks like if Afghanistan isn’t one.

Among his excuses for this year’s explosion in Afghan opium cultivation was the observation that poppies seem resistant to drought conditions.  I didn’t know that, but it doesn’t surprise me. Drug plants tend to grow vigorously; yet another reason that sending soldiers after them is a ridiculous waste of time.

Maybe we should utilize these resilient flowers instead of fighting over them.


Location: 
United States

Southwest Asia: Proposal for Turning Afghan Opium Into Legal Morphine Gains Support

A proposal to license Afghanistan's illegal opium production and turn it into morphine for the legitimate global medicinal market picked up more support this week as the Italian Red Cross and the Afghan Red Crescent launched a campaign to promote the idea. While so-far scoffed at by the governments of Afghanistan, the US, and the NATO countries, the carefully researched licensing proposal from the Senlis Council, a European security, development, and drug policy think tank, has already won backing from some political figures in England and from the Italian government.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium-smaller.jpg
the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
The United Nations reported less than three weeks ago that despite ongoing eradication efforts, Afghan opium cultivation had increased a whopping 60% and would produce an all-time record 6,100 tons of opium this year. Afghanistan currently accounts for 92% of illicit opium production worldwide.

According to the UN, some 2.9 million Afghans are involved in opium growing, representing more than 12% of the population. The crop will bring in an estimated $3 billion this year, with farmers pocketing about $750 million and the rest going to traffickers and their allies, who range from the Taliban and Al Qaeda to government ministers, members of parliament, and provincial governors and warlords.

In a Monday press conference, the Italian Red Cross joined the campaign for the Senlis Council proposal. "This system we advocate provides for one part of the Afghan opium to be used to make legal morphine, rather than illegal heroin," Massimo Barra, president of the Italian Red Cross told reporters in Rome. To transform illicit poppy fields into licit ones would "reduce the importance of illegal practices in Afghanistan and would address the pain crisis in developing countries," where opium-based painkillers are needed to treat patients with cancer, AIDS and other diseases, Barra said.

The Afghan Red Crescent is also joining the call to adopt the Senlis proposal. The Crescent, the Italian Red Cross, and the Senlis Council also used the Monday press conference to announce the opening of a 50-bed hospital wing in Kabul for the treatment of drug addicts.

For Senlis Council executive director Emmanuel Reinert, who also addressed the press conference, eradication has proven ineffective and counterproductive because it is taking livelihoods away from hard-pressed farmers.

"Farmers right now do not have a choice; if they could, they'd want to do the right thing," he said, adding that it wouldn't be difficult to pay licensed farmers the equivalent of their net income from illegal cultivation. "The farmers will have the same financial incentive," Reinert said.

US Raps Venezuela, Myanmar on Illegal Drug Trade

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Reuters
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/18/AR2006091801303.html

Afghan Fighting Blamed for Opium Bonanza

Location: 
Afghanistan
Publication/Source: 
The Daily Telegraph
URL: 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/09/15/wafg15.xml

Hastert's Office Balks at Counter-Narcotics Plan

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Hill
URL: 
http://www.thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/Business/091206_narcotics.html

Many Partisans on Both Sides Get Drug Policy Wrong, Blogosphere Shows

Last Friday the blogosphere provided a good example of how readily even political progressives can fail to see the important points in drug policy. A post in Bob Geiger's U.S. Senate Report titled "Bill to Cripple Taliban Drug Trade Passes -- After GOP Tries to Kill It" informs us that Republican senators had unsuccessfully tried to block an amendment by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to put $700 million into the latest defense appropriations bill for suppression of Afghanistan's opium trade. Schumer explained, "The Taliban draws its strength from the drug trade and in order to prevent them from reclaiming the country, we need to crack down the drugs that fuel their regime. We need to ensure that the Department of Defense has the resources available to attack this problem before it becomes far worse." Geiger, a partisan whose web site solicits "liberal love" and "conservative castigation" by e-mail, described the Republican effort as "inexplicable," remarks that it "will leave you shaking your head and asking yourself whose side Republicans are really on," and reports that "[f]ortunately... it passed with the support of a handful of Republican votes." Anti-war liberals like Geiger ought to also oppose the Drug War. An article we published in Drug War Chronicle Friday discusses in depth why opium eradication in reality is an extraordinarily bad idea that will strengthen the Taliban mightily by pushing countless poor farmers who are surviving on opium growing into their hands. Opium production is literally the backbone of Afghanistan's economy, and wiping it out at this point, even if that could be accomplished, would plunge the nation into chaos beyond anything before seen. While I doubt Geiger will be moved by the fact that libertarian free-marketeer Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute thinks the only satisfactory way of addressing the situation is through legalization, perhaps he'll pay some attention to the Brookings Institution fellow or the Univ. of Nebraska Afghan scholar we quoted. At a minimum he ought to at least note for his readers that not everyone thinks eradication is a good idea and that a radically different scheme, licensing the opium for the medical market, which stops short of legalization, is being fairly extensively discussed, including by high-level people in our NATO ally countries who are suffering an increasing share of the casualties. This is simply not the cut-and-dried issue Geiger has taken it to be. Geiger's piece was republished in the widely-read Huffington Post blog -- ironically, given Arianna Huffington's own longstanding opposition to the drug war. I don't know that she has specifically written about the Afghan opium conundrum, but in both her conservative past and her liberal present she has been a strong voice on the issue. The summer 2000 "Shadow Conventions" in Philadelphia and LA, in fact, which Arianna spearheaded, adopted opposition to the drug war as one of the three primary issue tracks. Nothing in this post should be interpreted as implying that the Republican Party is good on the drug issue either. Just in case I'm about to get slammed as "right-wing," look a little bit up on this web page in the "Higher Education Act Reform Campaign" block for a photo from the press conference we organized where ten Democratic members of Congress spoke. Or click here for a picture of me and outspokenly liberal Congressman Jim McDermott chatting last year at our Seattle event. And just in case anyone thinks we're soft on the Taliban -- be aware that we condemned them back in 1997, when the UN and the Clinton administration were working on funding them.
Location: 
United States

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