If we are to succeed in the worthy goal of defeating the Taliban (This mission remains far from accomplished, Leader 22 August), we need to change our policy, rather than to simply pour more money into the British military presence in Afghanistan. The Taliban also have to spend money on their war effort, and their money comes from the opium farmers. 90% of the heroin on our streets comes from Afghanistan. There is no realistic hope that poppy growing will be stopped by military force, since it provides more than 40% of Afghanistan's GDP, so the poppy industry will continue to be the lifeblood of the Taliban and assorted criminals. Meanwhile, some 6 million people a year die in pain of cancer in less developed countries, without the benefit of opiates to relieve their agony. International medical agencies should buy the Afghan opium corp, just as we currently buy Indian and Turkish opium, and apply it to humanitarian medical use.
Our Government refuses to consider this policy, objecting that some of the purchased opium might be diverted from government agencies to the black market. This is a meaningless objection given the fact that at the moment 100% of the trafficked crop finds its way onto the black market. They also object that the Afghan Government does not have the necessary resources, institutional capacity and control mechanisms in place to ensure that they are the sole purchaser of opiate raw materials. This begs the question of what tiny fraction of the cost of military action would be needed to set this up. The Government does not address the question that the drug trade is one of the main sources of revenue for terrorists.
A change of policy from prohibition to legitimisation and humanitarian application would surely be seen as a statesmanlike choice.
We should all join the growing number of agencies, including the Afghan Red Crescent and the Italian Red Cross, who are pressing for this solution.