Should Opium Be Legalized in Afghanistan?

by N. M. GUARIGLIA March 13, 2012
The United States has been in Afghanistan for more than ten years. It has become the longest war in American history. To date, the U.S. has lost more than 1,900 soldiers in Afghanistan—mostly from IEDs; mostly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces—and is spending about $7 billion per month to fund military operations and rebuild the country. How long can a democratic republic, particularly one that has incurred nearly $16 trillion in debt, sustain such a war of attrition?
 
Nation-building in Afghanistan is a luxury that bleeds our public coffers, diverts from the mission of killing the enemy, and furthermore, makes the U.S. military dependent upon the social mores of a distant people. This dependence is both mutual and counterintuitive. The Afghans are worthy of Western assistance; they do not require our paternalism. Despite our vast differences, Americans share some commonalities with the Afghans. We both reject top-down centralized government—yet, remarkably, our strategy in Afghanistan necessitates overreliance on the central government in Kabul.
 
To achieve our goals in Afghanistan, we ought to “go minimalist.” We ought to bypass Kabul and defer to the Afghan people more directly. Most importantly, as NATO withdraws in the coming years, we ought to encourage the legalization of the Afghan opium trade.
 
When I speak with company-grade officers about Afghanistan, they say the same thing. Imagine you’re an Afghan farmer. Your only inheritance is a small plot of land, on which rests a poppy field. It’s your livelihood. When foreign soldiers knock on your door—they’ve already taken away your guns—they eradicate your crop. You have surrendered all of this in front of your family. Would you not feel dishonored?
 
The U.S. position on Afghan opium has never made much sense. At some point, we must decide whether botany or warfare is worse. Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium. Rather than criminalize their largest crop—a fruitless effort that wastes nearly $1 billion every year—why not use our logic and innovation? Rather than alienate the Afghans, why not empower them? Rather than help finance the enemy through the black market, why not use the free market to defeat the enemy?
 
Opium can become heroin. This much is true. But it can also become morphine and codeine, medicines needed in every hospital in the world. For years, Turkey tried eradicating its opium. Their efforts always failed, so in 1974, with U.S. and UN support, the Turks began licensing poppy cultivation in order to make morphine and other legal drugs. It was a tremendous success. The U.S. still supports this Turkish policy but refuses to replicate it in Afghanistan.
 
India’s large pharmaceutical industry would jump at such an opportunity. The legalization of Afghanistan’s opium would win over the population, help create a middle class throughout the country, turn potentially harmful drugs into much needed medicines, and destroy the primary source of funding for the Taliban. Put in this light, the decision is almost a no-brainer.
 
The Afghans are fully capable of nation-building on their own. Should we help facilitate the right deals, Afghanistan could become the Saudi Arabia of morphine. Additionally, upwards of $3 trillion in lithium—a critical industrial metal—was recently discovered, as were mineral riches of iron, copper, cobalt, and gold. International mining companies, including Indian firms, are champing at the bit to get at it. Though Indian involvement in Afghanistan is good in its own right, it might also induce Pakistan towards better behavior.
 
Prohibition doesn’t work. Criminalizing a natural substance merely provides the criminals an additional outlet for funds. While there are more pressing worries in South Asia, a new Western policy on Afghanistan’s opium—especially as NATO pulls out—would go a long way to ensure the eventual success of a freer society in Afghanistan. The resulting economic dynamism would overwhelm and crush the drug trade, as well as the Taliban.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.

Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.

 



blog comments powered by Disqus

Who's right: Donald Trump or Macy's?

 

mexico trump_macys_2015

Macy's has removed Donald Trump's products from their shelves because, while he stated that some of the Mexican people crossing our borders illegally are good people, some are murderers and rapists. While a true statement, it is not a "politically correct" statement, so Macy's has decided to pull his products from their shelves.

As a result of this, will you shop less - or not at all - in Macy's stores in the future?






10 year FSM Anniversary

Maddening: Mother, children seriously hurt after being hit by drunk driver who had been deported 6 times

July 07, 2015  00:17 AM

Will be deported for 7th time after serving sentence.

Illegal charged with murder; President has done 'everything within his power' to keep public safe

July 06, 2015  11:52 PM

Spokesman Josh Earnest blamed Republicans for blocking the president's efforts to catch criminals.

Sen. Bernie Sanders calls out Obama over unemployment figures, doubles president's claim

July 06, 2015  11:00 PM

The socialist running for the Democrat nomination says "real" unemployment is 10.5 percent.

Good question! Can Obama's 'better ideas' defeat the 'greatest security threat' America faces?

July 06, 2015  10:37 PM

Maybe if they're "super cool ideas"?

'I refuse to comply': Owner of bakery fined $135,000 not intimidated by accompanying gag order

July 06, 2015  09:35 PM

The Daily Signal explains to Slate that, yes, the owners of the bakery were placed under a gag order.

FSM Archives

More in PUBLICATIONS ( 1 OF 25 ARTICLES )