Inspired by recent pronouncements by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the Bush administration is working on a "master plan" modeled on Plan Colombia to deal with Afghan opium production, a leading European drug policy think tank has urged the US to think again. While agreeing that that opium production funds warlords and private armies on all sides of Afghanistan's lingering armed conflicts, the Senlis Council (http://www.senliscouncil.net) called this week for a radically different approach.
Both the US and the international community must treat the drug issue as the number one priority in reconstructing Afghanistan's war-ravished economy and political institutions, the Council said this week. "It is the drug trade, with the lucrative illicit market that it creates that is behind the instability in Afghanistan because it creates corruption and gives power to individuals or groups that threaten democracy, such as warlords and private armies," said Council executive director Emmanuel Reinert in an October 7 statement.
But US-style "war on drugs" policies are a "failed policy model" that only fuels the drug trade in countries like Afghanistan, the Council said. "The United States has traditionally been the driving force behind the purely law-enforcement based 'war on drugs' approach which has been dominating the international drug control system for the past 40 years," Reinert said. "The fundamental problem which lies behind Afghanistan's drug crisis is this failed policy model. It does not provide the solution to the drug problem in Afghanistan or elsewhere."
According to the United Nations, opium accounts for more than half of the Afghan economy, with revenues estimated at $2.3 billion. The West cannot eradicate or repress its way out of the problem, said the Council. "Military action or the eradication of opium crops may perhaps make a small dent on the opium production in Afghanistan, but it will not solve the root of the problem, which is the flourishing illegal economy created by the sale of opium," said Reinert. "Even military power is not enough to defeat the force of the extremely lucrative illegal drugs economy."
Instead of tried-and-failed prohibition policies, said the Senlis Council, the West should turn toward internationally integrated policies such as a health-based approach to heroin consumption combined with regulated drug production that would allow for economic development and the establishment of the rule of law in countries like Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan needs sound solutions, not eradication plans," said Reinert.
And given the past performance of the US, the initiative should come from Europe, the Council said. "Considering past experiences and erroneous policies of the US, which does not appear to be learning from its mistakes, Europe seems best placed to continue the initiative to assist Afghanistan," said Reinert. "Afghanistan is unfortunately a perfect example of how the powerful market created by illicit drugs can totally disrupt, destabilize and jeopardize a whole country, even a whole geographical region."