Obama and the Afghan narco-state

January 29, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

To understand why the war in Afghanistan, now in its eighth year, is not going well for the United States and its NATO allies, take a look at two statistics.

One is Afghanistan’s ranking on an international index measuring corruption: 176 out of 180 countries. (Somalia is 180th). The other is Afghanistan’s position as the world’s Number 1 producer of illicit opium, the raw material for heroin.

The two statistics are inextricably linked and, a year ago, prompted Richard Holbrooke, the man President Barack Obama has just picked as special envoy for Afghanistan, to write: “Breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential or all else will fail.”

Holbrooke, who was not in government service at the time, took particular issue with the counter-narcotics strategy the Bush administration pursued in Afghanistan.

“The … program, which costs around $1 billion a year, may be the single most ineffective policy in the history of American foreign policy,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “It’s not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban and al Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan.”

Exactly what the Obama administration intends to do about that, and how it might break the narco-state, has yet to be articulated. Sending more troops to fight a growing insurgency does not necessarily translate into progress towards dismantling the “narco-state,” eliminating corruption or cutting down on the opium production whose proceeds help finance the Taliban.


The counter-narcotics strategy Holbrooke criticized so harshly centers on the eradication of drug crops, and has been the main weapon in the “war on drugs” the United States has been waging for decades around the world. That war failed to curb the production of illicit drugs and often proved counter-productive.

In Bolivia, for example, Evo Morales, a left-wing opponent of the United States, rose to political prominence and finally the presidency because he rallied a protest movement against U.S.-sponsored attempts to wipe out the cultivation of coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine.

De-emphasizing eradication in Afghanistan would amount to an implicit admission of the failure of policies pursued since the 1970s by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, described Afghanistan as “our greatest military challenge right now” but said there could be no purely military solution — not even with the additional 30,000 troops Obama plans to dispatch over the next 18 months.

So if there’s no purely military solution, what are the chances of progress on the political front? An unnamed White House official sounded hopeful this week that the United States could push Afghan President Hamid Karzai into extending government control beyond the capital and stepping up the fight against corruption.

It is the same Karzai who declared jihad (holy war) on the drugs trade in 2004, a few days after he was sworn in as Afghanistan’s first democratically elected leader. That holy war made no dent in opium production and corruption blossomed.

“Karzai was playing us like a fiddle,” Thomas Schweich, a former top anti-narcotics official in Afghanistan, wrote in the New York Times last summer. “The U.S. would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure improvement; the U.S. and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai’s friends would get rich off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009 he would be elected to a new term.”


In other words, Karzai is not part of the solution, he’s part of the problem. As to solutions: One novel idea on opium-and-corruption comes from James Nathan, a political science professor at Auburn University in Alabama and former State Department official. He argues in a forthcoming paper that the most efficient way to tackle the problem would be for the United States or NATO to buy up the entire Afghan opium crop.

“Purchasing the whole crop would take it away from the traffickers without cutting more than half the economy of Afghanistan,” Nathan said in an interview. “Such a purchase would directly confront Afghanistan’s most corrosive corruption. It would end the Taliban’s money stream.”

And the cost? By Nathan’s reckoning, between $2 billion and $2.5 billion a year, no pocket change but not a large sum compared with the around $200 billion the U.S. taxpayer has already paid for the war in Afghanistan. The idea may sound startling but its logic is not far from the farm subsidies paid to U.S. and European farmers.

On a more modest scale than Nathan’s buy-it-all idea, a European think tank, the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), is lobbying for an alternative to traditional counter-narcotics policies dubbed Poppy for Medicine.

That involves granting international licenses to poppy farmers in Afghan villages, where the crop would be turned into opiate-based medicines such as morphine or codeine, and then shipped out to the legal market.

It would place Afghanistan alongside Turkey (where the United States helped to introduce a similar program in 1974), India and Australia as legal producers of opium. Could it work? When ICOS, formerly known as the Senlis Council, first came up with the idea, the State Department cold-shouldered it.

But that was before Obama, who promised to listen to new approaches. Both the buy-it-all and the licensing concepts deserve a hearing.

For previous columns by Bernd Debusmann, click here.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

For goodness sake, let’s stop being so stupid as to support all these corrupt regimes. Let money solve the
problems money has created. This suggestion would save
many lives and promote peace! We have been so stupid so far…

Posted by Russ | Report as abusive

History already taught us Prohibition doesn’t work.

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive

…the most efficient way to tackle the problem would be for the United States or NATO to buy up the entire Afghan opium crop…
________________________________________ __

Guess what? The demand for illicit opium would be still there. If there’s demand, supply will follow – that’s Economy 101. So yet more agricultural land in Afghanistan and/or elsewhere will go to poppy growing.
The only way to stop illegal drug business is to make drugs legal. Nobody would take a chance to buy stuff of unknown quality from a drug dealer if there’s an alternative to buy that drug – guaranteed to be clean of dangerous additives, have precise active ingredient content, and costing less – from local pharmacy. Dropping the Prohibition didn’t make the whole population into alcoholics, and so wouldn’t narcotics. Too bad this idea is too hot a political potato for any lawmaker to touch.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Bernd, we have been waging a worldwide war on drugs for decades now and it has never worked. I feel that the first and best defense against the worldwide illegal drug trade is for Americans to stop buying illegal drugs. Maybe Mr. Obama can use his magic to convince the American people to stop using. Sadly I don’t see such a thing happening anytime soon. The US government buying the opium crop would surly change the dynamics of the opium market. The purchase would take the existing supplies off the illegal market on the one hand, but the opium producers will have another major purchaser pushing up the price of their product. The higher price will result in more opium production in new areas of the world. I see such a dynamic pushing the cost from $2 billion to $10 billion or more and still not reduce the funding for the Taliban.
I can see the current recession doing more to reduce the demand for opium then any action governments can take.

Posted by Craig Coal | Report as abusive

Heroin /= beer.

Although I’m pretty open to drug policy changes there is no way we could allow for a large portion of our population to become addicted to Morphine derivatives. Personally I think the western countires should allow “soft” drug use while at the same time dropping the hammer on “hard” drugs use. And by that i don’t mean just dealers. I mean put the fricken fear of god into all though young kids who think they can “just try it” and walk away with a slap on the wrist

Posted by eron | Report as abusive

Buying the opium crop outright is the most simplistic and least effective way to get the crop out of the hands of the Taliban. Much more effective is the original Harm Reduction articulation of the crop purchase idea by the International Council on Security and Development which is to give the local farm communities the ability to grow the crop and convert it to medicine in local factories for sale to the third world. This way all of the profits go back into the local agrarian communities and the farmers are given a better life than the Taliban can offer them. SEE: http://www.poppyformedicine.net/

This is half the solution. The other half requires the U.S. and the west to adopt other Harm Reduction policies that have been proven successful by the Swiss in order to get control of the massive addict population that has been created on the past few years by the Afghan opium production. The Swiss have shown that prescribing heroin to hard core addicts can get many of the addicts off the streets and less dependent on crime for economic sustenance. Crime including selling drugs to new generations of potential addicts. This reduces both crime and addiction. SEE: http://www.swissinfo.org/eng/front/detai l/Swiss_heroin_model_reporting_benefits. html?siteSect=105&sid=7032610&cKey=11573 66472000

With these two programs the west can win the war against the Taliban, who get some 70% of their funding from opium and heroin. And do so without adding more troops to the Afghan battlefield.

Posted by Pat Rogers | Report as abusive

Who believes that an alcoholic can be created by their environment? Addiction is not created by environment. Millions of people use opiates and never become addicted. You do not create an addict by giving them a substance. Yes sum substances lend themselves to an addictive personality but they do not create that personality. With alcoholics there are both physical and psychological prerequisites that must be met before they are an alcoholic. The psychological is the predominate indicator. There are many people with addictive personalities. These people need psychological help. But to outlaw these substances like marijuana, opium and cocaine is not right. The hell that creates is far worse than dealing with the addictions within the healthcare system. The costs we incur in this war on some drug would pay for the necessary medical treatment many times over. We should have remembered that from prohibition. By legalizing opium in this country will put a dent in the cash flow heading out of this country but legalizing marijuana and cocaine also would put a huge dent into this negative cash flow at a time this country needs this and would stimulate new business in this country while crashing the profits of black marketers. We need to let this administration know that the social experiment called the War on Drugs needs to end and legalization and treatment needs to be the next direction.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

Now, how much opium is it that we need? It is produced (and able to be produced) all over the world. Why are we refusing to see how much power we have over the market for this substance?

I will leave it at that.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

We have burned up their Poppy fields and again they grow. It is the main source of income. So..we either make opium legal OR give money or build something there that will be more financially productive. We could send GM there, Citigroup, Gov.of Illinois , many to go and figure out what is financially good for Afghan.
They have been killing each other for 100s years and are not going to stop just because we spend billions and our soldiers die. They have decent weapons that we GAVE them to fight off the Russians, now they kill others.

Posted by Journe | Report as abusive

I believe that we verbally fight drug trading, but physically we use them as a business cmmodity.

Posted by M. Y. Saaed | Report as abusive

You could combine the above strategies. Purchase all the heroin in Afganistan and stockpile the purchase. If that didn’t do the job, sell the heroin in the US at a loss through pharmacies at a deep discount to those patients physicians have certified as being already addicted, and drive all levels of the narco industry out of business by undercutting their prices. It’s win / win / win. The sleazeballs are put out of business, the Taliban has to find a new revenue stream, and US street crimes go down. Even heroin addicts benefit by getting known doses of pure product, with a big drop in street crime and overdoses. Oh, and if anybody is convicted of theft, mugging, burglery, prostitution, or any other crime with financial motivation after legalization, pull their license to purchase legal heroin. Heroin addicts will do anything to protect their supply-even give up crime.

Posted by Tim Dunn | Report as abusive

Burn the poppy farms. Grow food there instead. If drug barons threaten villages, find them and take them out.

Seems simple enough.

Posted by Spooky | Report as abusive

So simplistic, Spooky. Tried and failed over and over again. Poppy for Medicine would turn the opium into what it’s good for, pain medication. Legal product. And how about addressing the demand side too? Find a junkie, put him in mandatory treatment, treat it like a public health problem instead of a crime. Too much simplistic moralizing makes for bad policy.

Posted by jimbo | Report as abusive

Read a book recently about how the Bush policy their has seen an dramatic increase in production while the military must look the other way so as to not antagonize the good drug warlords.

Posted by So Cal Surveyor | Report as abusive

There are numerous reasons why buying the opium crop is a non starter. See:
http://transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2007  /09/guardian-article-on-afghanistan-fro m.html
The even simpler if more long term solution is to end the drug war entirely and allow nation satets who wish to, the opportunity tolegally regulate production and supply of currently illegal drugs. However, because of US Administration’s addiction to the drug war for perverse domestic and foreign policy objectives, this will take at least ten years to achieve.
We should be taking every opportunity, including the upcoming UN drug strategy review to explore alternatives to the failure of global prohibition, with or without US Government sanction.
For more see:
http://transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2008  /07/un-asks-ngos-for-our-view.html

Posted by Danny Kushlick | Report as abusive

It’s true that heroin != beer. Heroin is much safer than beer, and less addictive. Alcohol kills more than 100 times as many people as heroin. It is silly to say that legalization would result in wide-spread addiction: People who want to do heroin are already able to do it, and legalizing it does not increase the number of people who want to use it by any significant margin. Indeed, legalization removes much of the cachet.

In reality the main reason drugs are illegal is that the intelligence community uses drug money to fund their other illegal activities. Corruption keeps drugs illegal, and illegal drugs keep corruption in power.

Posted by Andrew McGuire | Report as abusive

You want to win the war on opium. Legalize it like alcohol but no taxes to be placed on it. Once it is not worth anything, no one will plant it. As long as illicit trade on opium goes on and corruption is worthwhile there will be continued problems in the country and the world.

Radical idea, yes indeed but why should we take the responsibility in regulating human behavior in Opium while allowing people to be a drunk on alcohol. Make opium cheaper than alcohol and see whether the Warlords want to have the armies to protect their opium business. Supply the US market with cheap opium in say,Walmart, over the counter like cigarettes and see whether opium trade will survive.

Think about it. After in terms of damage, alcohol have many more dangerous side-effect than the addictive heroine but is alcohol and nicotine in cigarettes. Have reality checks on the dangerous side-effects of opium versus alcohol and cigarettes.

Posted by siburp | Report as abusive

“I see such a dynamic pushing the cost from $2 billion to $10 billion or more and still not reduce the funding for the Taliban.
I can see the current recession doing more to reduce the demand for opium then any action governments can take.” This is true basic economics. A decrease in supply will raise prices. However, to assume that the Taliban funding will increase is to assume that heroin and opium based products are inelastic. Or in other words that the demand will not respond to a change in price. You have to consider the possibility it would work b/c consumers of the product would not be willing to pay such a hefty price. (non-addicts or new users)

Posted by Tim Clark | Report as abusive

It seems to me that buying it all would cause more to be produced in Afghanistan and elswhere. Their will still be the global demand from addicts that will be met by a supply from somewhere. It seems like an incomplete solution unless they buy it all AND medicalize its use in most countries AND increase methadone clinics AND increase the availability of beds in drug rehabs. The first step in a comprehensive solution would be to make sure that any drug addict anywhere can get a bed in a drug rehab immediately.

Posted by Winchester73 | Report as abusive

it is time to wake up America, we all like to catch a buzz. I was a smuggler from 1970 to 1978 in Mexico. During this time I smuggled pot, not a big deal. But I did learn that in 1975 or so the God Father movie was educational and from farmer to mob boss is how we moved in the trade. Thank you Hollywood. And we also stopped the cartels from using ether and moved them to benzene which created crack and the cost of crack babies and failed health. Thank you DEA.
To legalize pot would take income away from the gangs that move it. It would allow those that drink to smoke and that would decrease, many issues like wife beating, child beating, drunk drivers. It would save dollars that could be used for better services for all of us. Allow registration for all drugs a person wants to use and increase penalties for use while driving or whatever. We can purchase all raw materials or let the countries which produce base material to process for sale to any one. Raw opium is better than morphine for your system and the pain is gone. In Viet Nam the old man filling our sand bags would smoke his bong about every 30 minutes and keep working. He was happy so what was wrong with his way of life. Lets move on to the 21st. century and not worry about some person getting stoned for whatever reason and allow the buzz to be clean, safe and cheap. Tax it and allow it and medical pot is better than chemicals from a pharmacy. There are too many movers and shakers to worry about a few that can not or will not chase the dime. Ever hear about a stoned person robbing a bank? Nope but we are in this mess do to greed from educated bankers and the rest. Be good to all of us and allow for smart access and education.

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

The last thing a drug baron would want is legalization of their illegal substance. And governments are as pointed out by many above are addicted to ‘legal drugs’ like tobacco and alcohol so do not want to acknowledge they are dangerous. And after all America is incredibly precious and conservative in its thinking about taboos.

Posted by michael Breen | Report as abusive

i read most off the comments here. legalization and control of the opiates is the only thing that will work. it is the only way our boys will stop dieing and come home.

Posted by bum | Report as abusive

The legal drugs like alcohol and Tobacco are heavily regulated and taxed and are perfectly legal within the guidelines. And each one of them carries a personal responsibility along with them. It should be no different for hashish, marijuana, opium, or whatever….. It’s kind of hard to believe that with today’s “intellect” we still have laws against such things and we’re willing to go to such lengths to keep it so. “Both the buy-it-all and the licensing concepts deserve a hearing.” It’s amazing to me that we allow such people to control and influence us. Obama should be looking into opium farming in America before Afghanistan. Ridiculous.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

Considering that drug use is rooted deeply within the human experience, and always has been, I think that the focus should not be on the drug addicts’ heroin. Focus should be handling our own, and the US’s own internal affairs, because there lies the issue. Not some poor farmer in a far away land. Get out of Afghanistan, enough of our children have died invading some country that had not invaded us first. Military spending on this ridiculous mission should go towards our own internal affairs, rehabilitation of the addicts, policing the drug world, after all we all use drugs and this affects us all.

Posted by Juin | Report as abusive

Why would I give a flying [care] if somebody chooses to smoke or shoot drugs? If the U.S. was a civilized country, we would have an amendment along the lines of “Congress shall pass no law imposing morality on the people. Adults shall be able to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt others.”

Posted by Hubert Cross | Report as abusive

I have to admit that the war on drugs is a flop all the money that was spent on it could have been spent on better projects most of the people doing the drugs are trying to escape the horrer of there life by useing drugs if the people who are useing the drugs are able to get better paying jobs and become a responcible provider for there household then alot of people who do these drugs will see the error of there ways and if not I say tax them like beer and tobacco take the money out of the hands of the dealers and those who supply them and you will see a difference just like Holland where the drug use dropped because of it not being aginst the law and that most of those who are doing the drugs are in defience of the law

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

I work in the pharmaceutical industry and my employer sells opiate-based painkillers, among many other products like antidepressants and antibiotics. We sometimes joke that we are in direct competition with the illegal drug dealers to ease the pain and suffering of the world. In the testing lab, when a batch of painkillers is particularly poor quality, we say it is “Taliban grade”. It is pathetic that if you produce drugs illegally the US government will send the Marines after you but if you produce the same molecules with FDA approval you can make billions of dollars legally.

Bringing the Afghan drug trade into the legal, regulated marketplace would do far more to improve the security in Afghanistan than sending in another 30,000 US troops to run around the mountains trying to find “terrorists”, most of whom are Afghan citizens trying to resist what they perceive as an invading army.

I hope Obama reads this.

Posted by Bob Johnson | Report as abusive

Let’s see….opium production down to nil under Taliban. Downstream profits for governments, banks, and other criminals lost. Solution? Remove Taliban and viola! everybody’s back in business! Funny how that works isn’t it?

Posted by Johnny | Report as abusive

It is clear that Karzai needs to go and soon his replacement should be someone that all people in Afghanistan can look upto perhaps the old kings lineage?

Posted by simon | Report as abusive

The solution for all the problems including Afghanistan and drugs one is that the US deals with corrupt leaders and unqualified heads of states in the east.
Bring people who has have some brain not only Dollar’s worshipers!!
I do not see what was the benefit for the US or for Pakistan during Musharraf’s rule?! and after 8 years what did Karzai make for the benefit of his country other than stealing every pound paid for infrastructure etc!!! I am sure he didn’t invent any new idea which woud help Afghanistan to stand on its foot other than asking western governments to arrange and organise funding conferences to his pocket.

Posted by Poppy | Report as abusive

Bernd, have you spent any time in Afghanistan? If you had, you would, of corse, realize that the narcotics trade is a small dimension of an overarching problem. The problem is that, traditionally, Afghans are not used to being ruled via a representative democratic government and that power relationaships are tribal and familial in nature. You would also realize that in 2008 the price of wheat was higher than opium, if you had talked to any Afghan farmers. Also if you had spent any time in Afghanistan, you woud realize that Aghanistan is ethnicly Pashtun as is the Waziristan region of Pakistan, thus creating a safe zone where narco-warlords can trade in violence and drugs with no, realistic, punitive deterrent. You should go to Afghanistan, and apply your mind to the problems faced by a proud people. I invite a response, if you are so inclined.

Posted by Jed | Report as abusive

It is so incredible how theUS allows narco-economy to grow in Afghanistan. The only people benefit from narco trade are the government ministers and the Taliban. To top the insult, Bush spent billions on a war for little result.

Posted by ed | Report as abusive

Ask any economist whether legalizing drugs in the united states would bring the value of poppies up or down. The value of poppies is artificially high because of U.S. prohibition. This is an elementary fact.

Ask any street person whether there is any difficulty procuring opium products due to prohibition. The obvious answer is that the drugs are very available.

Ask domestic accountants how much money is spent on arresting and imprisoning people for nonviolent drug crimes. Ask yourself who benefits from these policies, who foots the bill, and who is victimized.

Posted by logical | Report as abusive

For citizens of Canada and the US who are struggling with their disastrous economy have nobody to blame but themselves. They accepted Bush’s “War on Terror”, spent over 2oo billions and turned Afghanistan into a Narco- state. Taliban Government had nothing to do with 911 and now that economy is in a downward spiral Obama must decide on peace rather than war on terror.
A bankrupt empire cannot afford spending money it does not have on a war it cannot win. How can a country like Canada that is going in a downward economic spiral spend the money on Afghanistan, when they need their money at home? How can the US is borrowing money from China to send more troops to Afghanistan, while their whole economy is in disarray! If there is no Demand for drugs in the West it would be no desire to cultivate Opium!
Taliban had destroyed most Opium. Now Afghanistan has three million drug addicts!It is time to look back and change our policy and our vision!

Posted by FARHAT MAQUAMI | Report as abusive

The case put forward by Bernd Debusmann is both cogent and, in terms of saving human lives at least, morally compelling. The majority of reactions to his argument are depressingly cynical, mostly because of a pervading defeatism, their authors’ inability to think outside the box and an apparent fear of any radical solutions.

For instance, the idea put forward by the ‘best comment’s’ author, Craig Coal, that smoothing out a drug-production bubble in Afghanistan will only make it pop up somewhere else in the world shows not only a deeply misanthropic Weltanschauung, but also ignores the fact that ‘globalization’ can be a positive force as well as a negative one. It isn’t all about McDonalds, Coca-cola and Nestlé.

To defeat tribalism and corruption and to install and strengthen democracy where it has never properly existed takes a huge amount of time and patience. And a sea change in attitude. Two things that seem to be in short supply to most of those who have submitted a comment are a spirit of optimism and a ‘can-do’ approach to life on a massive, global scale. For the first time in the history of mankind, we have a means of communication that is global and instant. Let’s use it to fight anti-democratic forces and corruption with education and political awareness. The ‘buy-it-all’ gambit could be the start of something extraordinary.

Posted by JM | Report as abusive

The taliban stopped all drug production in Afghanistan.The first year the locals are freed fron the yoke of the taliban we see a bumper crop for opium..Let’s be for real here. This drug money is used by the C.I.A. to bankroll overt and black book operations..IF THE DRUG ECONOMY STOPS OUR REAL ECONOMY COLLAPSES.

Posted by george william | Report as abusive

It is an excellent idea but can it be implemented and made to succeed. The backbone of Taliban is funded from Heroin and top priority should be to cut the earth from beneath these cold blooded Religious bigots and murderers. The gravy train is long so support for poppy trafficking cuts across ideologies and opponents, making the challenge tough. From Pakistani Generals to Mullah Omar, from Karzai Ministers to Tribal Chieftains – all are beneficiaries.

A ban will also be a shot in the arm for Democracy in Pakistan. Parliament there is powerless and Military and Intelligence service ISI dictate policy by using Al Qaeda,Taliban,LET,Jaish e Mohammed and Harkat ul Mujahidin as State agents to murder and suppress dissent in Pakistan as well as neighbouring Afghanistan and India. These supposedly non State actors are actually State agents. Just as ISI double crossed USA and gave Taliban shelter and Arms similarly they will sabotage any program to stop illicit poppy cultivation.

Targeting the poppy fields in Afghanistan and the ISI sponsored Terrorists in Pakistan should be the two fold strategy that will give multiple benefits.

Posted by F.Daruwala | Report as abusive

This week’s glimpse into the obvious: banning things does not make them go away. US alcohol prohibition in the 1920s gives us a test tube experiment of what happens, and the warlords that sprung up from that are still with us.

Governments are there to govern things not banish them. Otherwise we would call them banishments. Hubert Cross is right, we do not elect people to impose morals on the populace but rather, as Lincoln and Obama say, to do the things collectively we can’t do alone. Afghanistan is an ugly symptom of a deeper problem in Western governance.

Posted by Mike Bennett | Report as abusive

One would have thought by now, that with all the technology at the disposal of the US and other Governments, that a means of genetic engineering would have been developed that would a)cause the extinction of the opium poppy or b) render the product harmless.After all they can genetically modify other plant crops, why not the opium poppy? Hope you see this suggestion, Mr Obama

Posted by Chris Wild | Report as abusive


The price of what has been higher than opium not only in 2008 but also in 2007, when there was an all-time record poppy harvest. A high price for wheat is one thing, an agricultural infrastructure is another. Farmers need access to markets and credits,
which is available for opium but difficult for any of the country’s traditional crops, from fruits and tomatoes to wheat. Nathan envisages that the buy-it-all approach be complemented with an agrarian assistance program that would provide for credits, fertilizer, the establishment of a futures market, new or rebuilt roads etc.

As to the ethnic composition of Afghanistan, it is not, as you say, “ethnically Pashtun.” The Pashtun are a plurality, not even a majority. The other main groups are
Tajik (about 27%) Hazara (9%), Uzbek (9%) plus several smaller ethnicities.

As to your question: Yes, I’ve been to Afghanistan.

Posted by BDebusmann | Report as abusive

Both the ideas can succeed with the cooperation of people of Afganistan. Karzai and Government alone cannot make it a success. A public awareness programme has to be initiated in which Karzai, his government and sane and reasonable Islamic leaders of the world can play a meaningful role.

Posted by Keshav Prasad | Report as abusive

I was on a United flight from Baltimore/BWI airport to LAX two years ago with numerous military,some just returning from a lengthy Afghanistan tour. The young officer next to me showed me 25-30 actual photographs on his laptop of planes being loaded with opium bales in the Kabul airport.He took the photos…On his detail,on the outside perimeter of the airport,he was told to “watch but not do anything,not to interfere”…The American military,our young guys,stood and watched while millions of dollars of opium was being airlifted out of Afghanistan in full view!!
Where did the plane have clearance to land?? Who gave these orders??

Posted by Pamme | Report as abusive

I find it strange that Bernd Debusmann ignored the successful order in mid year 2000 by the leader of the Taliban to ban the substance. Despite skeptics, UN figures showed that the ban worked.
I think the US and its NATO allies should completely review their policy in Afghanistan. Its not that hard: Conditional withdrawal that AlQaeda is denied any base in Afghanistan and other security restrictions on the Taleban.
Bin Laden won the sympathy of Mulah Omar because the first provided cash the latter desperately needed.

Posted by Sal aklobski | Report as abusive

To END the stupid war on drugs is to legalize all drugs.

The whole thing from 70’s – current has been nothing but a hole filled with money.

Read about Mike Ruppert and his first-hand details of what the drug war is all about.

CIA deals drugs. Iran-Contra bring a ring to your ear.

George Bush elder – he was in charge of this whole thing since day one.

Day one…. How about the little island he owned during the bay of pigs… nah… no connection there? lol..

The world revolves around 3 things and 3 things ONLY

Oil, Drugs, Money

The CIA deals drugs.

Why when the Taliban ran Afghanistan they were only producing 25 tons.

When the US invaded, it went from 25 metric tons to producing 650 tons and KEEPS going up!

Think about it… Not rocket science.

Posted by chris | Report as abusive


Yes, the best way to curb opium cultivation gains for Afganistan is to make the American and Europeon peoples aware of the ills of its use so that they can stop paying lucrative price for its end use. It will also help if the repression by law etc. on the use of drugs is removed from the minds of the Western people.

Posted by A K Khanna | Report as abusive

2 Feb 2009 I’m NOT accusing anyone of anything, merely
asking reuters readers as to what they think of following:

1)man, nothin is going to work out with this foolish nation that is USA. The situation is stalemate all over the world wherever US is wandered into or by
design. Do any of your readers think following:
2) The stalemate has created enormous opportunity for
US and politicians elsewhere for corruption considering
the fact that US has “wasted” $20 trillions. Can anyone
of readers imagine what $20 trillions is?? As far back as
1990 having just US$1,000/- in your bank account invited
IRS/India inquiries as to where did you bring such “large” sum from? Now ten years later siphoning off $2billion does not seem to mean much.
3) Do any of reuters readers think that Bush administration officials thru lobbyist before quiting
got billions and billlions out of the so called “stimujlus” package and that the package was designed with such view in mind and that it is just
a loot,burn and run type operation that Obama seems to
want to have piece of that action too so trying to revive
and increase the package; afterall Obama also needs some-
thing like Bush? Even considering that just 10% (it could
be as high as 60%) of the $20trilliosn went into US
politicians pocket that will amount fo $2 trillions and
that is a lot of money say in 1000 politicians pockets
2) Do readers think that it will be better to leave the
things to natural course,that let terrorist,wars,drugs etc continue as a part of nature because it is becoming
too expensive to control? Should IRS/USA inverstigate
Bush and past officials for having got part of the $20
trilliona loot (and the recent stimulus package)?

I’m NOT accusing anyone of anything. I’m merely asking
reuters readers what they think.

Posted by jjmk4546 | Report as abusive

Only the delusioned continue to believe and assert that anything short of ending Prohibition will stem the drug tide that Prohibition unleashed in the first place. We thought closing down Colombia would accomplish something. Even though we haven’t come close to shutting Colombian trafficking down, the ‘war’ these has only succeeded in putting Mexico – and thus ourselves – in great danger. Mexico now exceeds anything Colombia ever was. It was the same with Burma. So shut down Afghanistan and we merely move the problem yet again. Tax and regulate; it’s the only way and we all know it whether some want to admit it or not.

Posted by Voletear | Report as abusive

Hmmmm Afghan “Corruptions. incompetent leaders and drugs”
Hmmmm USA “Politician’s-Lobbyists-Special interests”

Hmmm Afghan: Losing wars for eight years
Hmmm USA: Greatest wealth gap of industrial nations

Hmmm Afghan: Looks other way at drugs
Hmmm USA” Bail out WS/banks, millions of workers laid off

Hmmm Afghan: “Politician’s-Lobbyists-Special interests”
Hmmm USA: “Corruptions. incompetent leaders and drugs”


Posted by chuck | Report as abusive

During the last 10 years poppy is harvested in Afghanistan mostly from 100,000 plus hectares at about 50 kg raw opium per hectare and about $ 60 per kilogram farmgate price. That results in gross farmers’ sales of $300 million per year. The cross border price is quoted as over $3 billion per year. The retail market in Europe is over $30 billion per year. At times, when the supply to the market resulted to be short the farmgate price jumped to over $300 per kg and some opium was shifted out of farmers’ storages for sales.

The heroin market is demand driven and the kingpins that control the center of power of it are willing to defend their interests, at all costs. For those people there are no blows below the belt, everything is allowed. If, as often stated, the Taleban are funded by the drugs industry, already the resistance is palpable.

If a third party wants to buy the harvest for legal purposes and in parallel the police is mobilized against the illegal drugs, then the drugs industry will put up more defensive measures, of all kind:

– The 100,000 ha being dedicated to poppy nowadays covers only 4% of Afghanistan’s irrigated land. Therefore, the poppy production area could be doubled, half for legal and the other half for criminal purposes.
– The legal side would have to develop an apparatus of crop funding, of marketing and everything else related to successful agriculture and which results to be so difficult to get organized for large scale alternative livelihood projects. Possibly it is easy for narcos to get that organization sabotaged again.
(Let an independent group sort out with how many farmers the alternative livelihood projects are working and how much target farmers are earning, net, additionally. Self monitoring, evaluation and self control of the international consultants’ industry may be as weak as that of the banking industry. How much of the money applied really and effectively reaches the farmer and how much of it heads back home to the source countries?)
– Walking through poppy fields you can hear from farmers that a dark purple poppy does better than the others. Per hectare yields could be jacked up with improvement of varieties, also with judicious use of fertilizer, etc.
– If needed the farmgate price for illegal poppy can be doubled or tripled without much impact on the retail price of heroin. This is not possible with legal poppy nor with alternative livelihood crops.
– Part of the illegal poppy production already is being relocated to other countries: Mexico, Colombia and possibly other countries in South America.
– The amount of heroin and precursor chemicals that is intercepted is minimal. Anticipating more effective police action it is easy to increase the opium production correspondingly. It won’t put a real dent in the profits.

The border region of Mexico shows the violence that the drugs cartels are willing to apply to defend their interests.

Most crops with high financial returns require capital for annual and for investment expenditures. For irrigated land over $2,000 per ha plus overhead may be a rule of thumb. For perennial fruit trees far more is required and also four to six years of waiting for the crop to mature and start producing a return. Post harvest activities (processing, marketing) are not that simple. The “market” by nature is against new entries. Investment supervised by foreign agencies takes several hundreds percent of overhead: Security guards, main offices inside or outside the beltway, sub-contractors and again sub-contractors, consultants that are being manipulated.

For export markets quality conditions have to be satisfied and on-farm chemicals have to be administered. Farmers have to be trained, have to go to school, for production of high yields. Farm workers have to be healthy for handling of quality fruit.

Comparing with other locations: The payment for legal opium in India is not high. The employment of labour for legal poppy in Tasmania is not that much. Would high prices be paid in Afghansitan?

Buying the poppy crop and legalize it appears to be easy. Stopping the cultivation of poppy for opium and its transformation into heroin may be sort of difficult. The ‘heroin consumers’ market will be pushing for its supply, almost at all cost.

The drug barons are a formidable and globally organized force. To be reckoned with.

Posted by Johannes Oosterkamp | Report as abusive

Watch American Drug War, a documentary that does a bang up job proving drugs come into this country with the aide of the federal government.
Why has the heroine yeild increased since our “occupation” in THE main area for poppy production?
We also allow drug cartels to invest in our economy.
We need to regulate illegal substances with legalization, tax it, quit the double books that states have in regards to federal funding, end the fractional reserve practices that got us here and last but not least put the last admin in prision for failure to uphold their oath of office. But this won’t happen
Why won’t it happen?

Posted by freedumb | Report as abusive

Yes, the best way to curb opium cultivation gains for Afganistan is to make the American and Europeon peoples aware of the ills of its use so that they can stop paying lucrative price for its end use. It will also help if the repression by law etc. on the use of drugs is removed from the minds of the Western people.

wrong, East India trading Co.
Rush L- drug addict
big pharma- makes synthetic heroine
fashion always beats function, e.g.
when was the last time you had a rational conversation with a teenager? They see and hear drug use in their culture, they want to experience it.
To make such changes you have to change urban culture.
Make sobriety cool?
Make drugs legal, no disinfo for teens to prove wrong.

Posted by B.I.B.L.E. | Report as abusive

I am for the carrot and stick method.

First reward farmers by guaranteeing crop prices/sales of non-rug related crops. That’s the carrot part.

For those who don’t get the message the US should spray the farmer’s fields with Bamboo and Bermuda Grass seeds. Let the farmers deal with those crops for a while.

Third pillar is to remove the corrupt Afghan president & government. They only profit from other people’s misery.

Posted by Eric | Report as abusive

Why are you people soo blinkered when it comes to US and British policy.

Any idiot can see that the reason for this occupation has little to do with the Taleban and everything to do with Poppy production.

EVERY Hospital, Surgical institute, Army in the world requres Morphine and codeine for surgery, pain releif etc etc, which obviously cannot be produced without Poppies.

The growth in production has spirraled since the occupation. Is this just coincidence? Look it up FACTS

Capatalism is your answer to everything, if we cant get a good rate we’ll take thats the US’s attitude. And then to blatently lie and feed your public with propoganda. It boggles the mind some of the comments and this writer are soo far off the mark!!

And as for F Daruwala keep your Indian conspiracies to yourself… realy doesnt help

Posted by Rizwan Latif | Report as abusive

I think this is a great start. Afganistan has little good earth and to tell them to eradicate the only cash crop the country has…………….is ………..so presumptious.

Posted by susan | Report as abusive

Have the policy makers of legalising drug use and developing a practice like alcohol usage. Imagine the savings in justice administration, law enforcement, courts, correctional personnel, etc. The drug dealers and drug cartels would just run out of business. Controlled usage of drugs would become a profitable business for governments at all levels.
The policy of criminalising drug usage has been in place for so many years it is a futile enterprise.

Posted by justin Ciale | Report as abusive

What needs to be done is for the UN or whoever to purchase the entire crop and make it into pain pills which are in short supply in many countries. Two problems solved at once! But they’ll probably continue to burn it and anger the locals of the land they are occupying.

Posted by Concerned | Report as abusive

Recreational drugs are expensive/valuable (depending on which side of the transaction you view them from) because of the risk premium imposed by prohibition. By repealing prohibition, you can:

-Dramatically knock down the demand for raw materials (poppies), since the full crop will be able to reach end users without interception/eradication at various points in the supply chain, thus causing a price collapse and driving cultivation away from poppies to other cash crops.
-Remove the corrupting influence of the trade, since there will be no incentive for farmers to bribe officials as their actions are no longer illegal.
-Open a pathway to a new domestic government revenue stream by taxing the end product, thus shifting a large fraction of the profits from recreational drugs away from al Qaeda and towards the U.S. Federal balance sheet.
-Save lives of American recreational drug users by:
–Regulating the quality of the product.
–Remove the incentives for violence surrounding the current recreational drug system.
–Lift the risk that other users bear in bringing an injured/overdosing friend to the ER, since they will no longer have to weigh the risk of being arrested with the risk their friend will die.

Posted by Sketch | Report as abusive

To take a cynical view – the only task here is to hurt the Taliban.
1. If we pay more for opium than the Taliban does, farmers will want to come to us, not them. Funding denied.

2. If the Taliban sees these farmers selling to us, not them, the farmers will be targeted. (Sorry, farmers. Poppy-growing is dangerous work.)

3. If the poppy farmers are targeted, we know where the Taliban will strike – taking control of the fight. (Hey, I SAID this was cynical…)

4. We also get a big supply of raw opium which can be used sold to Big Pharma for medicine. The rest gets burned.

Will poppies crop up in other countries? Undoubtedly. They always have and likely always will. Not our (current) problem. Our current problem is to weaken the Taliban to the extent that we can provide a basic framework for functioning government, nab a few Qaeda baddies…and then get the hell out.

Posted by Cazart | Report as abusive

It could be possible that drug demand along with crime will rise in hard times. Don’t know the stats on that but it’s obvious that Karzai (who is an X-oil company man) knows well how to wheel and deal and was placed there by the Bush cartel for a reason. Could it be that Narco dollars from the opium sales help to hold up the U.S. economy and help to fund the CIA’s special ops? I think the notion that only the Taliban profits from it is weak at best, certainly since they prefer to ban everything not in their control.

Posted by mrsp | Report as abusive

I believe a large portion of the opium crop is in fact, made into pain pills in india, at generic pharma companies. a backdoor off the books operation that cuts the shareholders out of the revenues, while allowing them to shoulder the costs. now thats effecient management!!

Posted by delacroix | Report as abusive

I believe an “International Entity” should be established were most countries of the world would be members. Said entity’s goal should be dismantlement of illegal drugs’ networks. Instead of fighting it alone, better fight it together. After all, we’ve become a One World.

Only then finance resources shall always be available and on-going. Besides of course the benefit of sharing knowledge.

It should be the task of an international organization like the U.N.

Posted by A. Hussaini | Report as abusive

Please, please, please

The only truly effective method to curb this problem is to legalize these narcotics. Legalize, tax and regulate. The only reason that such drugs are illegal is because, at some point in time, people in a position of authority decided that they were immoral. There is nothing immoral about using narcotics, but there is a lot of immorality in refusing to allow people to grow a crop that puts money in their pockets and food on their table.

There is plenty of evidence to show that their is no downside to legalizing narcotics, and plenty of upside to it.

Posted by dave | Report as abusive

[…] [21] Bernd Debusmann, "Obama and the Afghan Narco-state," Reuters, January 29th, 2009, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/20 09/01/29/obama-and-the-afghan-narco-stat e. […]

Posted by Afghanistan: Heroin-ravaged State « The Ruthless Truth blog | Report as abusive

To Dave, who said:Please, please, please

The only truly effective method to curb this problem is to legalize these narcotics. Legalize, tax and regulate. The only reason that such drugs are illegal is because, at some point in time, people in a position of authority decided that they were immoral. There is nothing immoral about using narcotics, but there is a lot of immorality in refusing to allow people to grow a crop that puts money in their pockets and food on their table.

There is plenty of evidence to show that their is no downside to legalizing narcotics, and plenty of upside to it.
No, that is a terrible idea. Legalizing pot may have a chance in hell of being adopted(I doubt it). But legalizing heroin,cocaine,PCP, or other highly dangerous and addictive drugs is ridiculous. It is a drain on society, what would happen if 2/3 of all people did drugs and just laid around all day high? Not to mention the healthcare costs to treat the enormous number of new OD’s. Society would collapse, not to mention our economy.

Posted by JW | Report as abusive

[…] [21] Bernd Debusmann, “Obama and the Afghan Narco-state,” Reuters, January 29th, 2009, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/20 09/01/29/obama-and-the-afghan-narco-stat e. […]

Posted by Afghanistan: Heroin-ravaged State by Prof. Peter Dale Scott « Dandelion Salad | Report as abusive

[…] prison to participate in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (link); Scott, Road to 9/11, 125.. [22] Bernd Debusmann, “Obama and the Afghan Narco-state,” Reuters, January 29th, 2009. [23] Guardian, April 7, 2006, […]

Posted by America’s Afghanistan: The National Security and a Heroin-Ravaged State « PakReport | Report as abusive