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Can incoming prime minister Gordon Brown defeat the Taliban?

Can incoming prime minister Gordon Brown defeat the Taliban? 25 June 2007

More British troops now in Afghanistan than in Iraq

Taliban using civilian grievances to their advantage
LONDON – In the run up to Gordon Brown’s takeover as Prime Minister, ICOS urges the incoming Prime Minister to immediately distance himself from failed Bush-Blair politics in Afghanistan and to take leadership in the international community by dramatically overhauling its development, aid and counter narcotics policies.

“Despite our good intentions, we are seeing that the Afghan people are accumulating a growing number of legitimate grievances against the international community. The Taliban are taking advantage of our errors and are using these grievances to become an increasingly legitimate political movement in Southern Afghanistan,” said Norine MacDonald QC, president and lead field researcher of ICOS.

Gordon Brown must immediately move away from the failed Bush/Blair politics in Afghanistan and deal with the legitimate grievances of the Afghan people. The increasing number of civilians killed by foreign troops in bombing raids, the forced poppy crop eradication which leaves farmers unable to feed their families, and the lack of food aid in the face of a starvation crisis are all turning the Afghans against the international community and into the arms of a resurgent Taliban political movement.

“We are winning the local military mission, but not the strategic political mission. Incoming Prime Minister Brown must move quickly with new approaches or President Karzai will lose Southern Afghanistan,” said MacDonald, who lives and works in Afghanistan.

UK troops in Afghanistan now outnumber UK troops in Iraq

There are around 37,000 troops from 37 countries in Afghanistan. There are now more UK troops in Afghanistan (7,000) than in Iraq (5,000). There have been 61 British servicemen killed in Afghanistan to date.

“Gordon Brown must make changing the policies in Afghanistan his first priority in the early days of his mandate. If Brown continues to follow Bush style policies in Afghanistan, he will soon find himself confronted with the same unmanageable chaos that is now seen in Iraq,” said MacDonald.

In a survey ICOS conducted three months ago on 17,000 Afghan men, 50 percent stated they believe the Taliban will win the war. Over 80 percent said they worry constantly about feeding their families.

Unacceptable Civilian Casualties

One of the main issues is the growing number of Afghan civilian casualties. This fuels local resentment against the foreign presence in Afghanistan and seriously undermines Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s political power base. This weekend President Karzai has spoken out against the indiscriminate and imprecise aerial bombing campaigns which do not distinguish between civilians and insurgents.

Since January Nato led forces have killed 245 civilians but that figure could be much higher because there is no accurate body count.

“After a bombing mission, no one goes to the villages to count how many civilians died, and to make it worse, there is no medical response to treat the injured, nor any aid in rebuilding the bombed homes.” said MacDonald.

“These bombing raids are approved by NATO governments – there has been no discussion in the international community about undertaking this military strategy with these consequences to the Afghan people, and no commitment of assistance to those villages that are bombed.”

There is the Humanitarian Relief Fund established by NATO- ISAF but only the Netherlands, Sweden, The Czech Republic and Lithuania have contributed.

As a result of these bombing campaigns, many people leave their villages and end up in informal camps, with no shelter, food, or medical aid. The refugee camps are full of desperate and starving people, and have become easy recruiting grounds for the Taliban, who are offering good wages to the men to fight.

Failed Bush counter-narcotics policies now promises chemical spraying

The United States has taken the lead in counter-narcotics strategies in Afghanistan with a forced poppy crop eradication programme. Forced crop eradication has left the poorest farmers with no means to feed their families, and makes them easy prey for Taliban recruiting.

The United States is now pushing for chemical spraying operations for the next planting season.

“We believe chemical spraying will add to the growing hostility against the international presence and the Karzai government. There should be no crop eradication, manual or chemical, until the poverty stricken farmers have other means to feed their families,” said MacDonald.

Employment opportunities remain extremely scarce, and there has been no substantial food aid into southern Afghanistan since March 2006. ICOS called on the British government to urgently provide coordinated and substantial humanitarian and development aid to the local population to gain their support and trust.

“The Afghan people have many legitimate grievances and we must take them seriously. Misguided development and counter-narcotics policies provide the Taliban with increased support in the local population,” said MacDonald. “We have to prevent the Taliban developing a legitimate political base in Southern Afghanistan.”

Technical Dossier released on Poppy for Medicine Initiative

ICOS is proposing an economic solution which can lead to better security. Today it is releasing its technical dossier which details the implementation of poppy for medicine projects for Afghanistan.

This new proposal calls for the transformation of the poppy into morphine in the communities where the crops are grown to then be sold as the medicines morphine and codeine in the international market.

“We propose using the poppy crop for medicinal purposes because such a licensed cultivation would ensure that profits from medicine sales remain in the village and offer farmers a real and profitable alternative to the heroin trade, “ said Emmanuel Reinert, the executive director of ICOS. “This is intrinsic to the very success of the Afghan political and military mission.”

Poppy grown in Afghan villages would supply affordable essential morphine medicines for which there is a global shortage. Six of the world’s wealthiest countries use more 80 percent of the global morphine supply, while 80 percent of the world’s population account for less then 5 percent of annual morphine consumption, according to the International Narcotics Control Board.

”Our field research indicates that a village-based Poppy for Medicine project is feasible, but the only way to find out if it really works is to test it in carefully selected villages in Kandahar and Helmand,” said Reinert. “We are willing to undertake such a pilot project and to share the research findings and expertise with the international community.”

Case Study Released on Indian Experience with Poppy for Medicine

A similar system has been in place for decades in Turkey and India, where it has successfully contributed to drug control. The United States supported the conversion of opium cultivation in those countries from an illegal market for heroin to a legal market for medicines, and Turkey and India now are the primary suppliers of opiates for medicine to the United States.

At the press conference, Romesh Bhattacharji, India’s Former Narcotics Commissioner who was responsible for the poppy for medicine programmes, supported the proposal and presented a Case Study on the Indian system.

“In my experience, cutting down crops impoverishes and alienates cultivators. The cultivator must know that the State is not his enemy, only the Taliban is. Forced eradication has not worked at all,” explained Bhattacharji, who has travelled extensively around Afghanistan. “Lessons from India can contribute to an economic renaissance in rural Afghanistan.”

“These proven counter-narcotics initiatives will trigger the economic diversification necessary to phase out illegal poppy cultivation,” said Bhattacharji. “To bring peace, the UK should be concentrating on laying the groundwork for sustainable economic prosperity in Afghanistan.”

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