A stolidly mainstream Canadian think tank, the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute, is calling for an international marketing board for Afghan opium in an effort to defang the Taliban insurgency and deflate the booming drug trade in Afghanistan. The recommendation came in an Institute report on Canada's involvement in Afghanistan that warned that the war against the Taliban could be lost.
Last year, Afghanistan accounted for more than 90% of the global supply of illicit opium, creating more than $3 billion in revenues. While much of that money goes to national and international traffickers, the crop is worth at least $750 million to Afghan farmers.
Attempting to eradicate Afghan opium crops, which is official US and NATO policy, only drives farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban, said the report authored by Gordon Smith, Canada's ambassador to NATO between 1985 and 1990. A better approach would be to create an international clearinghouse to purchase opium crops and resell them in the legal medicinal market.
According to the report, Canada in Afghanistan: Is It Working?:
"Innovative alternatives are urgently required to replace current counterproductive policies of poppy eradication by force that only alienate farmers and drive them into the arms of the Taliban. Poppy production in Afghanistan has been a problem for over half a century and has consistently defied international control efforts. Meanwhile, the world's hospitals face a major shortage of opiate-based medicines like morphine. Canada should advocate for the creation of an international marketing board for Afghan poppy producers, whereby farmers are paid fair prices, and overseen by the auspices of a governmental body that would ensure central regulation, legality, and security. Production marketed through this body would be used solely for medicinal purposes on the international market."
As the West finds itself hung on the horns of the Afghan opium dilemma -- eradicate it and increase support for the Taliban; ignore it and watch the Taliban grow rich off the trade while the world's junkies drown in cheap smack -- calls for an innovative response like the one outlined by the Institute are coming with greater frequency. But there is little indication that they're listening in Washington.