Friday, September 18, 2009

Clegg, Ashdown, Afghani deck chair attendants

The Editor
The Guardian

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


Anonymous said...

Paddy Ashdown got it right in Bosnia. Thousands of Muslim Bosnians are alive today because of Ashdown’s personal intervention. Don’t be too quick to dismiss his opinion. He is very importantly saying get the development right, and protect the development work.

Since when has the government’s writ of any regime in Afghanistan extended beyond the city limits of Kabul, it has always been shifting alliances between tribe clan and ethnic group.

DocRichard said...

Did I say Paddy Ashdown did not get it right in Bosnia? No I did not. Did I say thousands of Muslim Bosnians are not alive today because of Ashdown’s personal intervention? No I did not.

What I am saying is that he and nick Clegg, like the Government, is missing out on the bleeding obvious: to win an insurgency, we need to win hearts and minds. The way to win hearts and minds of the opium growers is to buy their crops. People in Africa are screaming out, literally, for opiates to relieve terminal pain. The Green Party and others say buy the opium and turn it to good use. Please explain what part of this policy you do not understand.

Thanks for commenting. Have a nice time in Bournemouth.

DocRichard said...

What I meant to say in my last comment:

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 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
(a) to stop killing Afghan civilians and
(b) is 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 these two groups
1 Drug Barons
2 Those receiving money from the drug barons will lose out on this deal.

Why do Messers Ashdown, Clegg, Brown, and Cameron find it so difficult to get their heads around this question.