Public Comment

Commentary: Proposals Regarding Afghan Narcotics

By Jerry Mandel
Thursday October 01, 2009 - 09:20:00 AM

It’s heartening to know that Afghan Narcotics has at last drawn a letter to the editor in both Berkeley weeklies, but dismaying to read Harry Gans’ proposals. It is impossible to imagine how to “pay poppy farmers ... to not grow poppies.” How can the million Afghan families who live off the opium trade be identified, or paid? If farmers are paid full-market value—five to ten times that of any other crop—everyone will grow poppies next season; but if less than full value is paid, why would any farmer join the program? If the United States buys the entire crop , we will look hypocritical, for in May 2001 the State Department paid the Taliban $43 million for destroying the opium crop. 

On a more serious level, Senlis, a British think tank, has received a sustained, basically favorable response the past two years for its proposal to buy Afghan opium to produce medicinal morphine—which is currently in short supply in the world. However, similar problems plague Senlis’ as they do Gans’ proposals. Neither addresses Afghan opium grown for the illegal market. If only a fraction—say 10–20 percent—of the annual production is bought and destroyed or turned into morphine, this only reduces supply, thus increasing the price for the other 80–90 percent of the crop, making the illegal drug trade even more popular to Afghans. 

Both the Gans and Senlis proposals give the illusion of reasonableness, but in fact they are frivolous diversions from the contemplation of a reasonable drug policy for Afghanistan. In recent months, Obama has lent his stamp of approval to a new drug policy in Afghanistan—rotating 85-person teams of specially trained U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency narcs to Afghanistan, which has already resulted in a vast increase of hashish as well as opium/heroin seizures. Having failed to create an Afghan-manned U.S.-style War on Drugs despite having spent over a billion dollars from 2005–08 to do just that, we have decided to send our own guys to show them just how it’s done. If you like paying $60 an eighth of an ounce for pot, you’ll love what the DEA is doing in Afghanistan. 

The past eight years of U.S. policy has not changed the basic equation in Afghan-istan—a war cannot be won when the major employer and income generator is deemed a criminal enterprise, this then used to justify the destruction of that economy. In a country as poor as Afghanistan—still among the 10 poorest in the world despite the profits from the drug trade—the destruction of half the economy by a foreign power seems to be a crime against humanity. It is that policy—a U.S.-conceived, staffed, paid for and executed War on Drugs in Afghanistan—not the frivolous and impossible suggestion of buying their entire opium crop, that Berkeley, the real-politick conscience of the nation, should contemplate. 

My suggestions? Briefly: 1.) Withdraw the DEA and funding for all privately-funded anti-drug projects from Afghanistan; 2.) Withdraw the UN’s drug agency from Afghanistan (they’ve been more gung-ho War on Drugs than the United States, until the just-initiated Obama policy); 3.) Declare Afghanistan a neutral zone in the War on Drugs for the next three years or until the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, whichever comes first. 4.) Despite my best wishes, end support for Obama if he persists in escalating the insane, insatiable War on Drugs. 


Jerry Mandel is Emeritus Professor at Sonoma State University.