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Just Say "No": Time to End the War on Drugs in Afghanistan

November 3, 2014 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter, Christopher A. Preble

Ted Galen Carpenter and Christopher A. Preble

A new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) confirms that the war on drugs in that country has been a failure, although few within the Obama administration are willing to admit it publicly. After more than a decade of reconstruction, and over $7 billion spent on counternarcotic operations, opium poppy cultivation reached an all-time high in 2013, surpassing its previous peak in 2007.

And, with the United States slated to reduce its presence in Afghanistan, the problem is likely to get worse. Special Inspector General John F. Sopko, in a cover letter to the report, predicts that, given the “deteriorating security in many parts of rural Afghanistan and low levels of eradication of poppy fields, further increases in cultivation are likely in 2014.”

The situation in Afghanistan should come as a surprise to no one. For more than a decade, Afghanistan has been the leading supplier of opium (the raw ingredient for heroin), displacing Myanmar (Burma) and other once-dominant source countries.

As the 2014 World Drug Report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime indicates, global consumer demand for heroin (and other illegal drugs) remains robust. With regard to heroin, modest declines in Western Europe have been largely offset by increased use throughout much of Eastern Europe and South Asia. The problem of “injectable drugs,” (primarily heroin), the report emphasizes, is “particularly stark in Eastern and Southeastern Europe.”

The failure of the drug war in Afghanistan is merely the latest iteration of the frustrating results so common in other regions where Washington has led campaigns to drastically curtail trafficking.”

Afghanistan is ideally positioned to fulfill that demand, both because of its relative proximity to the main consumer markets compared to other source countries, and because the volatile internal security environment allows drug trafficking to flourish. But it would be a mistake to assume that the drug trade is exclusively the province of the Taliban and its allies. As noted in a September 2009 Cato Institute White Paper, there were strong indications that supporters of the government in Kabul under then president Hamid Karzai were deeply involved in the drug trade. Afghans witnessed the proliferation of new mansions in the capital and other major cities, which they dubbed “poppy palaces.” That situation has not changed for the better in recent years.

Given the tens of billions of dollars …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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