Nick Clegg and Paddy Ashdown rightly believe that failure is inevitable in Afghanistan unless we change our current policies and attitudes (On the brink of failure in Afghanistan, Friday 18th September). However, the Liberal Democrat solution is to change the seating arrangements around the committee tables, with a Minister for Afghanistan, a war cabinet, a high level team, more aid money, and more air operations, for which read more bombing of Afghan civilians. Oh, and more “straining of sinews”, which hopefully means more effort, rather than bringing back the rack for interrogation of captured Afghans.
Paradoxically, the Green Party, which never supported this war, and wishes us to withdraw as soon as possible, offers the real key for victory. The Afghan opium crop, which at present supplies 90% of the heroin used on our streets, should be bought up by the World Health Organisation, purified to medical grade, and used to treat terminal pain. Our leader, Caroline Lucas, has been conducting a long correspondence with the Foreign Office, who respond with the absurd argument that some of the produce “might leak onto the black market” – absurd because at present all of it is leaking onto the black market. Government is deaf to the argument that it is impossible to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan farmers when their livelihoods are dependent on the opium crop, which is valued at up to 50% of the Afghan economy. It is deaf to arguments that to legitimise and purchase the opium would pull the financial rug out from under the feet of the Taliban. It refuses to understand that medical use of the crop would slash the criminal activity and health problems associated with illegal Afghan heroin. It is blind to the corruption associated with the drugs trade, which penetrates high into the Afghan administration. And Ministers turn their backs on the immense suffering associated with untreated terminal pain in Africa.
The Green Party’s policy is shared by the European Parliament, the International Council on Security and Development, the Afghan Red Crescent and the Italian Red Cross. The core objection by the Government to the plan is that the Afghan Government does not have the necessary control mechanisms in place; but this puts the cart before the horse. At present, the Afghan Government’s writ does not run in opium producing areas because the crop is illegal, and the Taliban is the farmers’ buyer. If the Government were to become the buyer, the allegiance of the farmers would change.
To win in Afghanistan, we need a new view on the problem, not a new managerial structure in Whitehall.
Dr Richard Lawson