Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Afghan Opium Debate £30 Prize Money Special Offer

Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg, like Gordon and Dave are all missing the point in the matter of Afghanistan:

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]


punkscience said...

You're forgetting that buying opium would be cast by wingnuts as giving in and rewarding the PEDDLERS OF DEATH!!!

Noam has repeatedly pointed out that there is no such thing as a war on drugs. There is just war.




I think it was in an episode of the Now Show when it was pointed out that the Afghan occupation was costing something ludicrous like $10 billion a month and the opium crop was worth a total of $50 million per annum from the farmers. There's clearly something else going on there.

Sorry I couldn't be wittier. Tired now.

Canada Guy said...

Instabilty and war are the primary factors responsible for increased opium production in Afghanistan. Before the Soviet invasion, and during the brief rule of the Taliban, opium production was either very limited, or deliberated curtailed. Soon after the war is over, production is likely to plummet.


DocRichard said...

Hi guys
Thanks for the links. I will study them innabit and see if anyone has won a prize...

DocRichard said...

Canada Guy, that was a good link, showing that the war stimulated the opium, and that when we leave, production is likely to fall.

However, 6,000,000 people this year have a desperate need for opium production to stay high, in order to relieve their terminal pain. Afghanistan has a major resource here; we want to legitimise it.

There was a line in the watching history piece suggesting that the US was complicit in the drugs trade when the USSR was in Afghanistan. Hmmm... some thoughts are better left unwritten.

Pep, punkscience; there is no such thing as war on drugs, nor war on terror; all war is waged against people.

Canada Guy said...

DocRichard, good point. Until the war is actually over, this is a situation that stills needs to be dealt with.

I'm not sure if legalizing opium is the answer, but it is reasonable to consider it. I'm not sure it's doable, though.

This approach could also backfire. If the west promoted legalization, down the road many Afghans might blame the west for their problems with opium. I can see the average Afghan thinking something like "Under the Taliban, they banned opium, when the westerners came, opium exploded and they legalized it. I will support the Taliban to get rid of this menace."

DocRichard said...

It will be doable if the WHO gets on board. They will have their work cut out, as opiates are regarded as a no-no by doctors in the global south. In the past, i have found the WHO to be impenetrable to ordinary citizens.

Someone will also have to set up "leak proof" collection and processing plants, but there is a model for this in Turkey and India.

For the Afghans, the opium trade amounts to about 50% of their GDP. If as the link suggests, the opium trade disappears after the war, this will not be good.

The big losers from legalisation and medicalisation will be the drug barons, and I suspect that therein lies our chief obstacle.