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ICOS urges President Karzai to focus on alternatives to drug war policies

ICOS urges President Karzai to focus on alternatives to drug war policies 6 December 2004

World’s legal opium market should be reorganized to allow Afghan farmers and businessmen to produce; Afghan warlords currently profiting most from illicit opium market

International Narcotics Control Board should give special license to Afghanistan for opium production for morphine

Reorganizing Legal Opium Market, Which Exists for the Global Production of Morphine, ‘Can Only Help Build the Afghan State,’ says ICOS Executive Director Emmanuel Reinert
PARIS – ICOS, an international drug policy think tank said that President Karzai’s priority should be to tackle the drug problem in Afghanistan with new policy initiatives as the current situation risks undermining the fragile newly formed Afghan democracy.

“President Karzai is right in opposing the chemical spraying for crop eradication which has been proposed by the United States,” said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of ICOS. “Any kind of action against Afghan farmers would be catastrophic, especially before the Parliamentary elections. Even manual eradication would have very negative effects on the community as it would discourage allegiance to the state and encourage deeper ties with war lords who would be seen by farmers as more understanding of their plight.”

ICOS said that realistic solutions to the drug problem in Afghanistan need to be proposed by the international community and that measures such as forced eradication should not be considered as they would be very damaging to the fragile democracy.

“After war comes crime,” said Mr Reinert “And so we need to be careful of what action will be taken in a fledging democracy such as Afghanistan.”

ICOS called for a reorganisation of the world’s licit production of Opium for morphine, saying that morphine production and the markets that go with it should be taken away from rich countries and handed over to Afghanistan. At present, any country can apply to the International Narcotics Control Board for a license to produce and sell opium for morphine.

“The situation in Afghanistan is a crisis. Putting the opium market in the hands of Afghan businessmen and farmers instead of in the warlords can only help build the Afghan state,” said Emmanuel Reinert. “Drug production in Afghanistan is a global problem which demands global cooperation to find the solutions.”

ICOS said that this year’s 64% increase in Afghan opium production as illustrates a massive failure of the U.S.-led ‘war’ approach to drug control, and that the current strategy for drug control endangers the future of Afghanistan.

Global Shortage of Morphine for pain relief

“On one side there is a shortage of Morphine in the world for medical purposes,” said Mr Reinert, “and on the other hand there is too much illegal opium being produced. We need to find a balance between the two; and this can be done whilst alleviating the crisis in Afghanistan.”

ICOS said that one of the off-shoots of the licence and legal production in Afghanistan of large amounts of opium for world morphine supply would be a reduction of the amount of opium turned into heroin for the illegal market.

The think tank said that countries with heroin consumption problems should be also encouraged to develop heroin maintenance programmes for the treatment of drug addicts, which cut the illegal market and allow for better reintegration of drug users into society.

“The medical use of heroin, would take a very large part of the market out of the hands of war lords and drug traffickers–the people who are threatening the newly formed democracy in Afghanistan,” said Reinert. “A pilot project for heroin prescription is being launched at the moment in Canada. More initiatives like this are needed.”

Colombian Strategy Failed

The Council said that recent experiences in Colombia, where enormous sums of money have been put into military action to little effect should not be repeated in Afghanistan, saying that this money could be spent on the organization and implementation of schemes like those in Canada for heroin prescription.

“We have seen in Colombia that even military power is not enough to defeat the force of the extremely lucrative illegal drugs economy,” said Reinert. “We must learn from the mistakes made in Colombia and under no circumstances repeat them. For the moment, the same policies that failed in Colombia are being proposed by the United States. It has not worked in Colombia, where drugs represent 2.5% of the GDP, so why would it work in Afghanistan, where they represent 60%?”

Mr Reinert was referring to U.S. and U.N. proposals of using troops to eradicate poppy crops. The proposal has included recommendations for the chemical spraying of crops and a crackdown on farmers who produce opium.

ICOS supports President Hamid Karzai’s recent declaration that he is against crop eradication by the aerial spraying of chemicals, which has damaged to farmers and the ecosystem in Colombia.

“It may be possible to eliminate the Taliban,” said Professor Francisco Thoumi, a Colombian-American Economist. “But unfortunately you cannot eliminate the illegal drug trade as easily.”

Europe to take the lead, UK not to blame

The UK, which is responsible for drug control in Afghanistan, has come under heavy criticism because it has not been aggressive enough in implementing tactics like the aerial spraying of poppies to eradicate them. ICOS said that the international community must not be coerced into implementing “quick-fix” solutions in order to get the desired results, without considering the harm this could cause the Afghanistan people and their livelihood.

International Community Must Question Current Approach

ICOS said that the international community must question the very policy that has created the situation in the first place.

“Current international drug policy, which has been dominated by the US-led ‘war on drugs’ for the past 40 years, is a strategy that is deeply flawed and will never provide the solution to the drug problem,” said Mr Reinert.

“Treating the drug issue as a ‘war’ creates nothing more than a vicious circle of illegal trade, violence and the seriously endangers the future of the rule of law in Afghanistan” said Reinert. “We need to redirect the policy response to this extremely lucrative illicit market if there is to be any chance of democracy winning the fight over corruption. If you continue this “war” approach, you will have the military domination of the country. What Afghanistan needs is more democracy and less war.”

Now Is Prime Opportunity for Change

In 1998, the United Nations set the goal for a “drug free-world” by 2008. Since then, drug production and use has increased dramatically along with drug-related corruption, violence and economic and political instability. Afghanistan epitomizes this global catastrophe.

“The Afghan crisis is the opportunity for the international community to assume its responsibility for the failure of the current drug control system and to address the issue in a rational, responsible way,” said Reinert.

In 2008, when the UN meets to review the global drug policy situation, lessons learned in Afghanistan will be instrumental in finding an effective drug policy model. It is evident that the current policy is not working and that the UN 1998 goal of a “drug free world” will not be achieved.

Link to the 2004 United Nations Opium report on Afghanistan:
http://www.unodc.org/pdf/afg/afghanistan_opium_survey_2004.pdf

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