Friday, August 25, 2006

Can some one explain?

Afghanistan is overwhelmingly the world's largest grower of opium poppy. Since the deposal of the Taliban, a short lived slump in production has been bountifully reversed. Some 95% of the heroin in Britain originates from Afghanistan. What can we do about this?

Most coalition attmepts to resove this problem have failed. This is to an extent understandable, Opium is a cash crop, with great retail value and is relatively easy to transport. Attempts to make Afghan farmers grow tomatoes or maize are never going to be likely to succeed. Nor are plans to buy and destroy the crops - we could never afford to out-price drug cartels, and it would be a fantastic waste of money. The Taliban's solution - killing/limb amputation - seems a bit drastic even by NATO standards.

So what do we do? Well, can anyone tell me why this wouldn't work? At present the world's largest producer of legal opiates is the Australian state of Tasmania. Poppy grown there is refined into morphine and medical heroin. The largest developer is Glaxo-Smith-Kline. Equally importantly, in the developing world there is a severe shortage of analgesics. When I was in Africa the state of public hospitals was deplorable, with every basic drug usually unavailable. In this context, it is clear that there is space in the global market for greater production of opiates.

How could it be more expensive or less productive for the coalition forces in Afghanistan to introduce a legal market in opiates in Afghanistan, bringing in private sector expertise (and even capital) to assist in the transformation of a criminal industry into a medical one? It would, of course be a difficult, expensive and lengthy project, but at least it would offer the Afghan farmers money for their poppy, rather than less valuable incentives not to grow it.

I really would welcome reasons why this wouldn't work - or at least would work even less well than current policy.


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