Using the occasion of a visit to Afghanistan this week by Conservative Party leader David Cameron, several leading Tory Members of Parliament urged him to push for legal, licensed opium production in that war-torn country, The Guardian reported. The calls came as at least six British soldiers have been killed this summer battling a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan's southern opium-producing provinces and echo the position first elaborated last year by the Senlis Council, an international security and development group.
"The poppy crops are the elephant in the room of the Afghan problem," Tory whip Tobias Ellwood told the Guardian. "We're in complete denial of the power that the crops have on the nation as a whole, and the tactics of eradication are simply not working. Last year we spent $600 million on eradication and all that resulted was the biggest-ever export of opium from the country."
Instead, Ellwood said, opium farming should be licensed, with the harvest being sold legally in the open. That would help farmers, address a global shortage of opioid pain medications, and limit the supply of opium to the black market, where, after being processed into heroin, much of it finds its way into the veins of European junkies. According to Ellwood, the licensed opium plan has the support of several Conservative MPs and senior military figures in Afghanistan.
Conservative leader Cameron has been open to outside-the-box thinking on drug policy issues. He has called for prescription heroin and even urged the United Nations to consider legalizing drugs.
The Guardian quoted one unidentified NGO worker who has traveled extensively in Helmand province as saying that eradication efforts were merely driving peasants to join the Taliban. "The better-off farmers pay local commanders bribes so they don't have to eradicate, but the others have their main source of income cut off," said the worker, who did not wish to be named because of the danger of being identified in southern Afghanistan. "Then the Taliban come to their villages and say, 'We will pay your son to work for us and give him weapons and food.' If you look at the timing of the eradication programs and the flare-ups of the violence, often it happens in the same week."
The NGO worker said Taliban members had been spotted walking the streets armed in broad daylight in Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gar, and that Arab fighters had been spotted within 10 miles of the capital. "We're pouring gas on the flames of the violence with this eradication campaign. By alienating the locals we're playing into a sophisticated political plan on the part of al-Qaida and the Taliban to destabilize southern Afghanistan. The political naivety of the international community in doing this is mind-boggling," the worker said.