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Prime Minister Brown wastes opportunity to address Afghanistan’s opium crisis

Prime Minister Brown wastes opportunity to address Afghanistan's opium crisis 12 December 2007

‘Black hole’ in British counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan

Poppy for Medicine scheme urged to win back Afghan hearts and minds
LONDON – British Prime Minister Gordon Brown missed a golden opportunity to address Afghanistan’s opium crisis in his statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday, said ICOS. Despite opium production rising by a further 34% in 2007, Prime Minister Brown stated his intent to continue with partial crop eradication in Afghanistan.

“It is incomprehensible that eradication is still part of the British Government’s strategy for counter narcotics in Afghanistan, despite evidence clearly showing that it is failing dramatically,” said Paul Burton, Head of Policy Analysis at ICOS. “There is now clearly a policy black hole. Poppy crop eradication is pivotal in hindering stability, security and development in Afghanistan’s poorest areas, destroying the one crop that serves as the main income to millions of Afghan people. It has driven rural populations into the arms of the Taliban, which has made the work of our troops serving in Helmand even more dangerous,” he added.

Poppy for Medicine urged in southern Afghanistan

According to ICOS, a sound, free-market economic response to the crisis is available in the implementation of its Poppy for Medicine initiative in southern Afghanistan. By allowing farmers in the rural communities to grow opium poppy for the production of essential medicines such as morphine would support the creation of a legitimate agricultural economy, , giving farmers a strong financial incentive to sever ties with the insurgents. The scheme would also address the global pain crisis; 80% of the world’s population currently has no access to morphine, the most effective pain medicine.

“It is clear that a long-term, sustainable solution is required to solve Afghanistan’s opium crisis – and prevent the funding of the Taliban by illegal opium cultivation,” said Burton. “Poppy for Medicine would allow farmers to diversify their crops, and give Afghanistan an opportunity to be part of a legal pharmaceutical industry. We need the Afghan people on our side if we are to be successful there, and this initiative could go a long way to winning back much-needed hearts and minds, which would have dramatic positive consequences for our troops fighting there.”

The Council’s Poppy for Medicine initiative was overwhelmingly endorsed by the European Parliament in Strasbourg in October . ICOS released a technical dossier offering a blueprint of how such a scheme could be implemented in June.

A nationwide poll commissioned by ORB on behalf of ICOS revealed that 8 in 10 members of the British public supported the Poppy for Medicine initiative. 73% of the 1,000 polled believed that Prime Minister Brown should personally endorse the proposal. Furthermore, the British public demonstrated their rejection of eradication by a margin of 47-42%.

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