drug war/terror war confusion in Afghanistan

The British online publication "Spiked" noted in a larger story, citing a March article in the Guardian, that there is confusion over whether NATO troops are fighting a "war on drugs" in Afghanistan" or a "war on terror." Philip Cunliff wrote:
[T]he British mission objective is further confused by the question of whether the British army is fighting a war on drugs or the war on terror. Former British defence secretary John Reid argued that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is "absolutely interlinked" with the war on terror (though in fact, it was the Americans who endorsed their local allies’ poppy cultivation after the Taliban curtailed it) (4). On the other hand, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General James Jones, has said: "You won’t see NATO burning crops, but you will see us gather intelligence and support the national effort as best we can."
Reid is ignoring the obvious realities of the situation. The opium trade is only linked to terrorism (to the extent that is actually the case, probably non-zero but less than Reid claims) because opium and the drugs derived from it are illegal. Legalization would bring opium out of the underground economy and allow governments to regulate it -- if Afghanistan couldn't control the money flow to keep it out of the hands of Taliban and Al Qaeda and other violent organizations, consumer nations in Europe and the Americans could simply require the stuff be bought elsewhere. Instead, we have a no win situation in which fighting the poppy will alienate the populace whose help we need, in which wiping out the crops (an impossible task) would generate economic catastrophe, but leaving them aids our enemies and hinders the goal of attaining political instability for that troubled nation. There's a reason why the medical opium crop doesn't cause violence or help terrorists -- because it's legal. The Senlis Council has organized at least two conferences in Afghanistan to propose licensing the crop for that market.
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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