Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Ultimate Big Pharma: Legalizing Opium Warlords

Nov 16, 2005 5:57 am

The Ultimate Big Pharma: Legalizing Opium Warlords

Afghani opium is about to be declared medicinal. A partial triumph for the boys at the Cato Institute! As a Bush administration advisor declared last year, reality within the Empire is whatever they declare it to be.

The emerging drug regulatory agency in Afghanistan reminds me of the "Anti-Counterfeiting" agency in Taiwan with whom I met some years while on a Fulbright studying economic development in Asia.

They did give out the nicest gifts, but it was apparent they weren't really trying to "stop" the pirating of books, films, recordings or other products, but rather to regulate them a bit as would any good cartel.

Perhaps Halliburton/KBR will be given a no-bid contract to regulate the opium distribution. They are ever so useful! Wonder if Medicare will give it away to seniors? Given the competition with Chavez in Latin America, perhaps Cocaine will also be declared a medicine! Free Opium/Coke Dens, now that would really narcotize the American public. No need to worry about hurricane damage, inflation, corruption, Iraq. Whee!

So now we can begin to see what a Bush looks like; coca leaves and poppy flowers.

Asia Times Nov 16, 2005
Afghan drug problem solved, praise the laudanum
By Ramtanu Maitra

Reports indicate the West is now working toward a "solution" to the opium explosion in Afghanistan, namely the licensing of legal opium production for medical purposes.

The formal proposal was floated in September by the Senlis Council, a French think tank on narcotics. The council's study was conducted in partnership with Kabul University as well as academic centers in Europe and North America, such as Ghent University, Lisbon University and the University of Toronto.

The proposal comes in the wake of a general admission by Washington, its adjunct in Kabul and the United Nations that eradication of drugs in Afghanistan cannot be accomplished by the warriors against terror.

Touching a sensitive chord, however, Afghanistan's Counter-Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi questioned the timing of the Senlis report. "We don't want to confuse the Afghan people, because while the government on the one hand wants to control and stop cultivation, we are talking about licensing."

What Qaderi did not say was that the West, being unable to eradicate opium, is moving to repackage Afghanistan's uncontrollable scourge as a legalized and regulated industry, to be included along with elections among the "democratic successes" in that benighted land.

Scale of the problem:
The massive annual growth in opium production coincided with the "liberation" of Afghanistan from the Taliban by US occupation forces in the winter of 2001. Having registered unprecedented growth in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the 2005 harvest showed a slight reduction. But if the numbers made public are correct, the reduction will not affect the drug users of Europe significantly.

In its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that the area of opium cultivation in the country decreased by 21% from a record high of 131,000 hectares to 104,000 hectares. In other words, one out of five opium fields cultivated in 2004 was not replanted in 2005. This decline in cultivation was attributed to several factors: the farmers' choice to refrain from poppy cultivation, the government's eradication program, the ban on opium and law enforcement activities.

But according to UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, despite the overall decline in cultivation, Afghanistan remains far and away the world's largest supplier of opium (87%). According to the UN survey, opium production in Afghanistan in 2005, by comparison with the production figures in 2004, dropped by only 2.4%. Favorable weather conditions resulted in a 22% higher yield. Cultivation also increased in some provinces. In 2005, the drug economy accounted for 52% of the country's gross domestic product.

If you can't beat it ...
At least a year before the Senlis Council stuck its neck out on behalf of the United States and NATO, hand-wringing in Washington over the West's inability to curb opium production in Afghanistan had begun in earnest.

After the record production of more than 4,200 tons of opium in 2004, not only officials serving the Bush administration - the Pentagon, in particular - but also behind-the-scenes policy directors lodged in various think tanks, began putting forward arguments against taking on the drug warlords.

For example, Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute (a non-profit public policy research foundation headquartered in Washington) and a former special assistant to Ronald Reagan, writing soon after the presidential elections in Afghanistan last fall, acknowledged that "controlling opium trafficking has not been the top US priority in Afghanistan".

Therefore, the opium explosion in Afghanistan during the US occupation should not be considered a US failure. Although the Defense Department is careful to appear to be cooperative, Bandow points out, US forces have largely ignored drug trafficking unrelated to enemy action. "Attempting to suppress the drug trade with more than rhetoric will make it even harder to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda," he said. "Yet Washington's most important goal today remains destroying transnational anti-US terrorist networks, led by al-Qaeda."

Soon after the Senlis Council came out with its study, a view similar to Bandow's was expressed by another Cato Institute academic and vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, Ted Galen Carpenter. In a recent article he argues that the US military must not become an enemy of Afghan farmers whose livelihood depends on growing opium poppy.

"If zealous American drug warriors alienate hundreds of thousands of Afghan farmers, the Karzai government's hold on power, which is none too secure now, could become even more precarious," he wrote. "Washington would then face the unpalatable choice of letting radical Islamists regain power or sending more US troops to suppress the insurgency."

Throwing an economic spin into his argument, Carpenter pointed out that for many Afghans involvement in the cultivation of opium poppy crops and other aspects of drug commerce is "the difference between modest prosperity and destitution. They will not look kindly on efforts to destroy their livelihood."

According to Carpenter, US efforts to eradicate Afghanistan's opium crop actually amount to beating plowshares into swords: such efforts drive Afghan farmers, who have so far helped in the "war against terror", straight into the arms and camps of anti-American terrorists.

Naivety or avoidance?
If Bandow and Carpenter could be considered apologists for burgeoning opium production in Afghanistan under the US and NATO's close watch, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's statements prior to her October 2005 visit to Kabul demonstrated that, indeed, Washington has nary a thought about the opium explosion in Afghanistan.

In her news conference en route to Kabul from Kyrgyzstan, Rice heaped praise on the US "success" in Afghanistan and congratulated the Karzai administration for bringing about "remarkable progress".

On the narcotics issue, however, all she could come up with was the following: "I'm going to have a meeting with the members of the cabinet who are responsible for the narcotics problem and to discuss with them how we might accelerate those efforts. We and the British - the British, of course, have the lead on this - [want] to help the Afghans to root out narcotics. If they can do that then I think they really have made a major step forward in stabilization - they will have made a major step forward in stabilization."

Several hard realities raise questions about Rice's words. To begin with, Rice was fully aware that the US Department of Defense had made it clear that they would not antagonize the warlords and thus forsake their friendly alliance by going after opium cultivation.

Secondly, Rice is fully aware of the lack of strength of the Hamid Karzai presidency. It has been observed again and again that the writ of the US-backed Karzai does not extend beyond Kabul. It is ridiculous to try to make others believe that a president, who has to depend for his personal security on a foreign country - the occupying forces, really - would be able to go on a campaign to eradicate opium, battling hundreds of powerful warlords and about 30% of all Afghan families.

Finally, opium is not domestic garbage. Unfortunately, it is valuable, indeed, almost as expensive as gold, if not more so in some countries of the West. Those who bring it into western Europe, and carry it further west, generate enough money to corrupt not only the security infrastructure but the entire political economy of Europe. To suggest that a weak president, without any real help from US and NATO forces, will be able to eradicate opium in Afghanistan is simply a cruel joke.

Moreover, while Carpenter concludes that terrorist and other anti-government forces are hand in glove with the opium growers and traffickers, and that the connection between drug trafficking and terrorism is a direct result of making drugs illegal and, therefore, extremely profitable, Rice chose to remain mum. During her talks with reporters, she did not bring up the close nexus between drugs and terrorism.

And along comes the Senlis Council:
As Washington and London came to the conclusion that opium eradication in Afghanistan is neither useful nor of immediate importance, the Senlis Council conveniently trotted out its proposal and supporting study.

Prior to the feasibility study, funded by a dozen European social policy foundations, the council held a series of seminars to hone its arguments. Because the Blair government in the UK has been the loudest voice heard on eradication of opium poppy in Afghanistan, the council held one seminar, "The Opium Policy Challenge in Afghanistan: Current Responses and New Strategies," at the British House of Commons on July 20.

The seminar brought together British policymakers and senior officials responsible for UK reconstruction policies in Afghanistan, with representatives from United Kingdom-based policy centers and organizations, and academics engaged in research work on Afghanistan, according to news reports. At the seminar, Senlis Council Executive Director Emmanuel Reinert presented the "Feasibility Study on Opium Licensing in Afghanistan for the Production of Morphine and other Essential Medicines", ostensibly a ground-breaking project to consider the licensing of opium production in Afghanistan for medical uses.

In his opening remarks, Chris Mullin, a British MP who is chairman of the council, made clear Afghanistan's reconstruction has been threatened by the failure of current counter-narcotics policies and that there exists no simple solution to the drugs problem. Mullins told the audience to take a good look at the study.

In response to questions raised, Reinert explained the benefits the Afghan farmers would gain within the proposed legal and controllable framework. He also explained the importance of non-governmental organization involvement in achieving a successful and viable intervention, especially with regard to economic development, farming and health treatment.

Though Western countries have begun pushing the Senlis Council's concept as a viable proposition, it was greeted with opposition by Afghanistan. Afghanistan's Counter-Narcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi stated plainly that the country's security system was still too weak to police the legal production of opium.

"Without an effective control mechanism, a lot of opium will still be refined into heroin for illicit markets in the West and elsewhere. We could not accept this," Qaderi said in a statement.

UNODC, careful not to antagonize the Western countries, said the proposal would offer little attraction to opium farmers because they would earn less selling their crop on the legal market than on the black market.

The fallacy:
To sell the concept, Reinert points out that the plan is modeled on programs in India and Turkey, which have helped reduce illegal opium production through a strictly supervised licensing scheme backed by the US Congress. In addition, legal opium production programs are already in place in several other countries, including Australia, France and Japan. With India and Turkey these nations provide the bulk of the world's legal opium for medicine, notably morphine and codeine.

The salesman in Reinert allowed him to suppress the obvious. Neither in India nor Turkey, nor any of the other countries that produce legal opium, does opium make up 52% of the gross domestic product. None of these countries has ever produced 87% of world's opium annually. The fact of the matter is that apart from Turkey, which did have a problem concerning illegal production of opium poppy, no other country mentioned has had any opium-related problems. And none were ever under the control of drug warlords.

The fact of the matter is that the political system that has evolved in Afghanistan following the US invasion is extremely fragile, and verges on being a joke. What really has been strengthened in Afghanistan since 2001 is opium production. Afghanistan now has "pro-democracy" drug warlords who raise illegal opium by the hundreds of tons every year. But pro-democracy sentiments notwithstanding, they have so far remained illegitimate in the eyes of the world.

Now, along comes the Senlis Council to give legitimacy to what is otherwise a political embarrassment. In their study, the council recommends the government fast-track the establishment of a national authority to license opium producers and research an amnesty that would "integrate illegal actors into the opium licensing system".

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More Comments:

Jeanine Ring - 11/19/2005

"Vices are actions we take that tend to promote our unhappiness."

If that was true, then making yourself miserable my marrying for socail status, taking a respectable job you despise, going along with religious convictions your mind refuses, and abstaining from things that give you pleasure out of guilt, social pressure, and fear would all be 'vices'.

This is not what 'vice' means, and everyone knows it. 'Vice' as a terms slips in a general notion that pleasurable things and bad (in themselves or for you) withour actually arguing it. Trying to neutralize the concept ignores the kind of moral weight and intimidation which is precisely what the term is good for.

Most real self-harm is not only socially acceptable but socially encouraged, yet promoting the word 'vice' will never in a thousand years touch these, logic-pinching aside. The term 'vice' sticks only against socially unpopular, actually or purportedly *pleasant* experiences. The very term, while undefined, serves powerfully to link pleasure to moral fear.

Perhaps "vice" could have had a philosophically reputable Aristotelian use before Chrisianity, but I doubt it- suspicion of happiness and a negative definition of happiness as the abscence of pain were popular already in Aristotle's time. But 'vice' is now a term theo/logically corrupted, of use to those comfortable with the hoary suspicions of the status quo. I do not think it is part of the ethic of any rational philosophy.

BTW, you have no arguemnt with me on libertarian grounds- I'm an individualist anarchist and auuredly no friend of the state. But I consider libertarianism spoken with the tongue of conservative morality no friend of mine. Liberty is an ideal I do not expect to see really succeed in my lifetime, but conservative worlds of language threaten me now.

And Life is for the Living.


Keith Halderman - 11/19/2005

Vices are actions we take that tend to promote our unhappiness. As to whether or not using opium is a vice that depends entirely upon the individual who is using it and only that person can make the determination. For government to make the determination is imoral because government is then denying the individual self knowledge.

Jeanine Ring - 11/18/2005

I don't see opium as a "vice" at all- I personally think the term is an anti-concept. I think druga are valuable for several purposes- including recreation and medicine, as well as the exploration of alternative states of consciousness.

And let's not forget- opium *is* used medicinally, under the name 'morphine'. I was on heavy morphine sedation for eight days after having transgender surgery done in Thailand. It knocked out what would otherwise be Hellish pain, certainly, but it was also simply a fascinating experience- slipping between waking and dreaming by minute degrees so that one state is hardly different from the other, or rather one's awareness combines aspects of both. Independently of the medicinal use, I'm very glad to for it.

i'd be curious to try opium again at some point, myself. Incidentally- for those who accept the myth of addiction- I haven't used any opium nor much in the way of anything else since. (not that there would be a problem if I did)

Keith Halderman - 11/18/2005

The first comment was for Charles Johnson. This one is for William Marina. I do not believe I understood your post correctly at first and agree with you that nothing other that a strengthening of the theraputic state is likely to come from the proposals we are discussing. Therefore they are bad drug policy, however, I believe they are good foreign policy if the alternative is a US led war against the opium farmers.

Keith Halderman - 11/18/2005

I believe that vices should not be treated as crimes. Therefore when someone uses a drug, any drug, government has no role to play because there is no intention to harm another person. Now the reality is that the state plays a huge role when it comes to drug use. I favor any policy which will reduce that role. So, the answer to your question is no.

William Marina - 11/17/2005

I would like to see complete legalization of all drugs and also beer, wine and spirits so that one could raise, brew, distill such products at home.

What the US intends in Afghanistan appears to be a
cartel based on the medicinal idea because the reality is that "our" warlords are raising and exporting opium as a basis of their power.

Charles Johnson - 11/16/2005

Cocaine and marijuana should not be banned, either.

Are you trying to suggest here that it's wrong to decriminalize ANY drug unless you simultaneously decriminalize ALL of them? Or that it's wrong to decriminalize a drug if you think the people who stand to benefit financially are bad people?

William Marina - 11/16/2005

Of course it was legal years ago, and should be legalized now. But, declaring it medicinal for the Afghani Warlords is, it seems to me, a different kettle of fish. If opium is a legal medicine to keep them happyl, why not cocaine and marijuana as well? I'd love to be growing a little grass up here in the NC hills, but only moonshine has local approval!

Keith Halderman - 11/16/2005

Professor Marina you had better hope that you or someone you love never develops a chronic medical condition involving severe pain because no doctor, from fear of the DEA, will prescribe you effective medical relief and this fact stems from the very attitude that you display in your post. Opium does not need to be declared medicine by the empire or anyone else it has been relieving pain and helping with other conditions for literally thousands of years. In 19th century America opium was as common in peoples homes as aspirin is today. Any five year old child could go into a drug store and purchase it. Yet, the nation's paper of record, The New York Times, did not find it enough of a problem to write a single article about it from 1852 to 1875. Virtually all problems associated with opium stem from its prohibition not the drug itself.