Archive for June, 2007

All indications are that the U.S. has decided to pursue aerial spraying of Afghanistan’s massive opium crop as a way of trying to choke off the Taliban’s financial resources.

Nick Grono and Joanna Nathan of the International Crisis Group throw cold water on both opium eradication and legalization as solutions to the drug problem in Afghanistan.

… For example, large-scale forced eradication (for example, by aerial spraying of crops, as advocated by some US policymakers), will not work. It might cause a temporary dip in production – but it will also force prices higher, thereby increasing incentives to produce more the following year. Indeed, it will probably benefit the drug traffickers who have a stockpile to sell at inflated prices, while farmers whose livelihoods are destroyed could be driven into the arms of insurgent groups.

Another superficially attractive solution that has been getting increasing attention is that of legalizing, or “licensing,” the production of opium for medicinal purposes.

… The sole reason that opium fetches high prices is that it is illegal. Licensed opiates fetch a fraction of the price. Farmers would have no incentive to produce opium legally as long as there is a black market offering much higher profits for the illegal output. And the logistical challenges are immense. Licensed poppy crops would need to be carefully regulated. But who could realistically expect the fledgling Afghan government to implement this complex and bureaucratic process – particularly in the violent and lawless south, where opium production has exploded despite an absolute ban for the past six years?

Excellent points, all. However, their recommended solution consists of targeting the top 25 traffickers, destroying international drug networks, expelling corrupt officials, developing the countryside, and government reform.

Long experience with the drug trade in South America shows that points 1 and 2 are achievable. The last three, however, are typically forgotten and yet the most critical to long-term success. That’s why Plan Colombia has been a failure – and yet we seem to be rushing to embrace Plan Afghanistan. Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind.

edit: Registan blasts the ICG’s pessimism on legalization, but shares my own distaste for their much hazier solutions.


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This report on Somalia from Ted Dagne from the Congressional Research Service provides a good background sketch on the situation before the Ethiopian invasion. It is quite skeptical of allegations that the Islamic Courts Union hosted al-Qaeda or terrorists in any significant number.

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