Why are we not winning hearts and minds of the Afghan opium farmers by purchasing the Afghan opium crop and using it to relieve terminal pain?
This is not rocket science. It can be understood in four simple steps:
1 To win an insurgency, we need to win hearts and minds.
2 The way to win hearts and minds of the Afghan opium growers is
(a) to stop killing Afghan civilians and
(b) to buy their crops for a good price.
3 People in Africa are screaming out, literally, for opiates to relieve terminal pain.
4 The Green Party and others say buy the opium and turn it to good use, thus enabling our troops to withdraw from Afghanistan as soon as the new market is set up.
These are the expected results of this policy:
a) Taleban lose both influence and revenue, thus being put on the back foot, enabling more fruitful and decisive negotiations to take place.
b) Corruption in Afghanistan falls as drugs trade is linked to corruption.
c) Soldiers and their families are safely reunited.
d) Afghan farmers get to feed their children.
e) Afghan economy gains to the tune of 40%.f Public spending is reduced.
f) Prospects for a stable democratic Afghanistan improve.
Of course there will be losers too, as is the case with all policy changes. We have mentioned the Taleban, but we should remember too that the following groups will lose out
1 Drug Barons
2 Those receiving money from the drug barons.
The task for politicians is to make a choice.
Choices are made by weighing up the pros and cons. In the light of the balance of winners and losers in the above list, it looks like a no-brainer.
So why is legalizing opium not of the Afghan agenda?
They must have pretty strong reasons not to do it, no?
No. They do not have a strong counter case.
Their main case is this:
1 Some of it may leak onto the black market.
2 It would be difficult to set up.
I have seen even weaker arguments deployed:
- Opium is haram
- It would be an unwarranted interference in the Free Market.
A prize of a £30 donation from the owner of this blog to Practical Action will be sent to the person who produces the wittiest, pithiest (as judged by the owner of this blog) rebuttal of all or any of these arguments, or promotion of the cause of peace in Afghanistan through buying the opium and using it to relive terminal pain. All submissions to be in 146 characters or less. Judges' decision is final. NOTE: The winner does not get any money, just the warm satisfaction of knowing that it went to help some people to help themselves.
[Update 7 Nov 2009: Interesting review here
The total revenue generated by opiates within Afghanistan is about $3.4 billion per year. Of this figure, according to UNODC, the Taliban get only 4% of the sum. Farmers, meanwhile, get 21%.
And the remaining 75%? Al-Qaeda? No: The report specifies that it "does not appear to have a direct role in the Afghan opiates trade," although it may participate in "low-level drugs and/or arms smuggling" along the Pakistani border.Instead, the remaining 75% is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers — in short, many of the groups now supported (or tolerated) by the United States and NATO are important actors in the drug trade.
Update 2: Karzai's brother paid by CIA]