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US Makes “Historic Shift” in Counter-Narcotics Policy in Afghanistan

US Makes "Historic Shift" in Counter-Narcotics Policy in Afghanistan 1 July 2009

Move to End Poppy Crop Eradication Hailed as Monumental Step by ICOS

Finally Some Important and Positive News, but “Not Enough” to Win Back Hearts and Minds of Afghan Farmers, ICOS Says

ICOS’ Poppy for Medicine Proposal is Crucial Part of Solution to Afghanistan’s Opium Crisis
LONDON – The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) today hailed the monumental move by the US to stop the failed policy of poppy crop eradication in Afghanistan, and it called on the US, UK and the rest of the international community to back its Poppy for Medicine proposal in the war-torn country.

On Saturday, the US announced that it would withdraw its support for efforts to eradicate opium cultivation in Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that eradication “didn’t reduce the amount of money the Taliban got by one dollar.” Shortly after the Taliban fell in 2001, the US-led international community in Afghanistan adopted eradication as part of their counter-narcotics policy in an attempt to curtail the opium crisis.

Since then, eradication policies have been inefficient and counter-productive in winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

“Eradication provides the Taliban insurgency with an even more valuable currency than money, and that is loyalty,” said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of ICOS. “Farmers have turned against the US and ISAF military when their livelihoods were destroyed; with the US stopping its own eradication policies, the West has a real opportunity to turn the situation around and build trust with the Afghan people.”

“This move by the US represents a ‘historic shift’ in its counter-narcotics policy, yet it won’t go far enough to alleviate the opium crisis in Afghanistan,” said Reinert. “In addition to ending poppy eradication programs, our Poppy for Medicine proposal is a crucial step to successfully cutting off Taliban supplies and provide sustainable and viable livelihoods to Afghan farmers.”

After the US announcement, the UK government spoke out against the new stance by the US and vowed to continue its own eradication efforts.

“I would urge the UK and the entire international community to eliminate poppy crop eradication from their counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan, and to support a truly viable alternative based on scientific study, namely, Poppy for Medicine,” said Raymond Kendall, Former Secretary-General of Interpol and a Member of the ICOS Advisory Board.

The Council called on the US to implement its proposed Poppy for Medicine programme to license the growing of the poppy crop in Afghanistan for localised, tightly controlled production of morphine, currently unavailable to 80% of the world’s population.

Since 2005, ICOS has conducted intense research on its Poppy for Medicine initiative. The proposal was endorsed by the European Parliament in October 2007, yet was rejected on several occasions by the Bush Administration since 2005.

“In the run up to the Afghan elections on 20 August, the US’s decision to reverse this failing counter-narcotic policy and open discussions about drug policy is an extremely timely one,” Mr Reinert said.

“The Poppy for Medicine programme, if implemented, would function as a counter-insurgency initiative which would end Taliban funding through drugs trafficking and drive a wedge between insurgents and poppy farmers. Changing Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics policy is a first bid to win back the hearts and minds of Afghanistan´s 2.4 million farmers currently dependent on illegal poppy cultivation,” he added.

“Following the planting season later this year, ICOS recommends that poppy farmers be offered a one-harvest Reconciliation and Morphine Production Programme, which would be a first step towards the implementation of a Poppy for Medicine initiative,” said Reinert.

The Reconciliation and Morphine Production Programme offers farmers the ability to sell their opium exclusively to the Afghan Government during one harvest in order to start producing an Afghan brand of morphine, which remains the gold standard of pain relief around the world. The year after, farmers would receive a license to start legal production of poppy under a tightly controlled Poppy for Medicine scheme, which should build on successful experiences in India and Turkey that virtually eliminated the illegal production of opium in those countries.

According to the UNOCD World Drug Report 2009, “Highlights Links Between Drugs and Crime,” Afghanistan currently provides 93 per cent of the world’s illegal opium, most of which is refined into heroin and sold on the illicit drugs market. Drug-related crime on the streets of Europe is a common consequence, and can be tackled only at its root cause, in Afghanistan.

In 2008, the UNODC reported that the world’s illegal opium production had doubled between 2005 and 2008 because of Afghanistan’s record opium harvests. This was during a period of heavy international funding for poppy crop eradication programs throughout Afghanistan.

Executive summaries of the ICOS-proposed Reconciliation and Morphine Production Programme and Poppy for Medicine Programme are below, and more information can be found on www.poppyformedicine.net.

About Poppy for Medicine
Poppy for Medicine is a village-based economic solution to Afghanistan’s opium problem. It is based on successful counter-narcotics interventions in India and Turkey since the 1960s and 1970s – both actively supported by the United States – but is adapted to Afghanistan’s specific culture and its security and development characteristics. It links Afghanistan’s two most valuable resources – poppy cultivation and strong local village control systems – through the controlled cultivation of poppy for the village-based production of morphine. Based on extensive on-the-ground research, ICOS has developed a Poppy for Medicine project model for Afghanistan as a means of bringing illegal poppy cultivation under control in an immediate yet sustainable manner. It is the intention of ICOS to use this model as the basis for open and in-depth discussions with the US State Department in order to assess options for implementation, including the possibility of first implementing a one-harvest “1389AP Reconciliation and Morphine Production Programme” before testing other elements of the proposal. More information can be found on the Poppy for Medicine website at www.poppyformedicine.net.

The one-harvest “1389AP Reconciliation and Morphine Production Programme”
As an alternative to a Pilot Project, a one-harvest “1389AP Reconciliation and Morphine Production Programme” could be investigated. After the planting season has concluded at the end of 2009, farmers could be offered a ‘package deal’, consisting of a combination of amnesty (until the next planting season) and the possibility to sell their entire opium harvest to the Afghan Government. This opium will be used in the first half of 2010 (the Afghan year 1389AP) to test the local in-village morphine production proposed under the Poppy for Medicine programme. This option will be limited to one harvest only to avoid any possible incentives for more poppy cultivation in the next growing season. The main advantage of this option is that it immediately will decrease illegal opium on the market while producing morphine and the corresponding revenue for the Afghan government. At the same time, farmers will be given a first real choice between the legal and illegal economy. In the next growing season, farmers who meet the so-called Minimum Qualifying Yield, to be established for each different region, will be able to continue to benefit from further implementation of Poppy for Medicine under any ensuing licensing system. Farmers who do not participate in this One Harvest initiative will be blacklisted from participating in a future licensing programme and this will be made clear to all parties at the outset of the programme.

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