Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Senlis Council


  1.  The Senlis Council is an international think tank established by The Network of European Foundations; its initial focus on global drug policy has been broadened to encompass security and development. The Council convenes politicians, high profile academics, independent experts and Non-Governmental Organisations. It aims to work as the dialogue partner with senior policy-makers at the national and international levels in order to foster high-level exchanges and new ideas on bridging security and development.

  2.  The Senlis Council launched its policy initiative with respect to opium production demonstrating the centrality of the drug issue in Afghanistan's reconstruction process. The initial findings of the Council's Feasibility Study on Opium Licensing in Afghanistan for the Production of Morphine and Other Essential Medicines addressed the global shortage of opium-based medicines such as morphine and codeine, and ascertained the effects of licensed opium production in Afghanistan[53]. The Senlis Council is committed to conducting further in-depth research on the implementation of an opium licensed system for essential medicines. It has commenced field research activities in collaboration with international and Afghan experts providing further insight into the various aspects of opium licensing, mainly rural economics and local control mechanisms.


  3.  The UK's deployment of 3,300 British troops to southern Afghanistan under NATO's operational plan for the ISAF mission to assist in the stabilisation and security efforts in the region represents a unique opportunity for the British forces to make a positive impact on the region and provide the secure environment in which the rule of law can be applied.

  4.  British forces in southern Afghanistan are faced with the twin mission of counter insurgency and support to counter narcotics. However, in a region where opium cultivation is deeply entrenched, the war against opium could make the war against insurgency a much more difficult, probably impossible, task. It is important that the fundamental stabilisation mission of British troops is not compromised by the war against opium.

  5.  British forces are urged to refrain from aggressive drug policies which undermine the livelihood of rural communities and fuel volatility. Instead, they should give support to development-based approaches, such as licensed opium production for essential medicines. In the fragile context of post-conflict Afghanistan, balancing the two objectives of security and development is the decisive factor in winning the "hearts and minds" of the Afghan people and contributing to Afghanistan's recovery.

  6.  Security and development are two inseparable sides of the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. And, crucially, opium lies at the core of the Afghan reconstruction nexus. According to the UNODC Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005, opium accounts for approximately 52% of the county's Gross Domestic Product with the net income from opium exports reaching US$2.7 billion. 309,000 households are involved in opium cultivation, representing 11.2% of the rural population.

  7.  Helmand is one of the main opium-producing Afghan provinces with opium cultivation accounting for more than 50% of the province's income in 2005, whilst UNODC predicts a staggering 50% increase in opium cultivation in the province for 2006. Importantly, illegal opium fuels a wild-fire economic development and opium resources are channelled into the criminal sector, insurgent and terrorist groups, thus creating a growing threat to the development of the rule of law in Afghanistan.

  8.   Recommendation: The mission of the British forces in southern Afghanistan with regards to opium should be clearly defined in order to avoid any clash with the primary mission of counter insurgency. The terms "support" to eradication activities can take many shapes on the ground and should therefore be defined in more specific detail beforehand. In a province which is increasingly falling into the grip of Taliban and other insurgent groups, it is vital British forces win the trust of local communities by avoiding to undermine their livelihoods. This can be achieved by giving precedence to a development-based approach in relation to the opium crop problem.


  9.  The Senlis Council salutes the aid commitment of the United Kingdom to the area of counter narcotics in Afghanistan which reached over £50 million for the period 2003-05. Most particularly, The Senlis Council commends the Ministry of Defence and other government departments including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development on their commitment to provide £270 million over the next three years for Afghan counter narcotics activity.

  10.  However, current policies pursued in the area of counter narcotics have proven to be ill-adapted to the conditions and needs of local communities. A significant part of the UK financial commitment is poured into aggressive strategies, including crop eradication. Such forceful interventions primarily affect the most  vulnerable actors of the opium economy—the farmers—destroying their livelihoods. Alternative development measures usually come after striving to mend the damage caused by such aggressive measures, however, failing to meet the immediate needs of farmers and of rural communities at large.

  11.  Despite deliberations regarding the progress made in curtailing opium cultivation in 2005, the total opium production in Afghanistan is estimated at around 4,100 tons representing a decrease of only 2% compared to the 4,200 metric tons harvested in 2004; a decrease which is, in fact, widely attributed to economic and weather conditions rather than to current counter narcotics activity. In addition, according to the UNODC Afghanistan Opium Survey 2005, record cultivation levels have been reported for nine Afghan provinces with the country's share of opium production remaining unchanged from 2004 at 87% of the world total.

  12.  The above provides clear evidence of the limited ability of current drug policies and specifically of crop eradication to influence opium cultivation and production in Afghanistan to any considerable degree. Unless development initiatives are endorsed as pre-condition to any drug intervention, insisting on current policies will continue failing to address the opium crisis in a comprehensive manner.

  13.  In light of the Afghan Government's weak capacity in implementing its counter-narcotics activity—only 30 police officers are reported to be trained in counter narcotic activities in the Province of Helmand, the support role of the British forces could, on the ground, shift towards direct engagement in counter-narcotics activity. Such a shift in the British forces' mission in southern Afghanistan towards direct military action against the drug stakeholders could lead to engaging in combat with those farmers who resist eradication. This does not only conflict with NATO's operational plan for the ISAF mission but will, most importantly, compromise the stabilisation efforts of the forces in the region. Forceful action in the form of crop eradication will only spur discontent with the Government and fuel volatility, thus intensifying the security challenges facing British forces in the province.

  14.   Recommendation: Counter narcotics efforts in Afghanistan have, so far, proven largely ineffective in addressing this all-encompassing crisis—the illegal opium trade remains an impediment to sustainable development. British forces deployed in southern Afghanistan must refrain from endorsing current aggressive strategies which destroy the livelihoods of rural communities and compromise the conditions necessary for the establishment and good operations of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).


  15.  The Afghan formal legal system provides a solid framework within which an opium licensing can be implemented. In particular, the new piece of Afghan legislation on drugs specifically referring to the production of opium (Chapter II, Articles 7 to 16) makes extensive provisions for the licensed cultivation of opium poppy for the production of morphine and other essential medicines. The new law, which was drafted with the assistance of the international community and particularly the UK and the US Governments, reflects the provisions on opium licensing laid down in the United Nations 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which Afghanistan and 179 other countries are Parties.

  16.  According to the WHO there is a global pain crisis due to a shortage of opium-based essential medicines such as morphine and codeine despite the fact that a number of countries, including Turkey, India, France and Australia already grows opium for medicinal purposes under a strict licensing system. The International Narcotic Control Board has ascertained that seven of the richest countries -the United States, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Australia and Japan- consume nearly all of the world's supply of opium-based medicines, leaving 80% of the world's population with little or no access to these vital painkillers.

  17.  The opium licensing system is based on the comprehension that the opium issue is, at its core, one of economic resource management. If not properly managed and strictly controlled, opium could lead to instability and hinder long-term economic development. But by re-directing the opium poppy into the formal rural economy through the implementation of a strictly controlled opium licensing system, opium could become a major driver for a sustainable and diversified Afghan rural economy. In view of the world shortage of essential medicines, the development of an Afghan brand of morphine and codeine could also be endorsed. In particular, the distribution of Afghan morphine and codeine in neighbouring countries will also provide Afghanistan the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the region.

  18.  Opium licensing is a control system in itself generating the conditions necessary for the development of the rule of law. Initial findings of the Council's Feasibility Study reveal that an opium licensing system in Afghanistan will provide a sustainable and comprehensive response to the economic needs of farming communities; farmers cultivating opium under a licensing system will receive a steady and legally secure income equivalent to that which they currently receive for opium cultivated for the illegal heroin trade. Furthermore, traditional governance structures such as the Jirga/Shura and elders' assemblies could be integrated with formal state mechanisms and play a central role in enforcing and regulating an opium licensing system especially in remote areas where the Central Government has currently little or no control.

  19.  Supporting the implementation of an opium licensing system in provinces such as Helmand will work as a positive lever for British troops to win over the trust and support of local populations and to be associated more closely with reconstruction efforts instead of being regarded as a purely military force embarking on targeted forceful action against farmers and their families.

  20.   Recommendation: The UK, as a leading country in counter narcotics activity in Afghanistan, should consider re-directing the opium poppy—into the formal economy through the implementation of an opium licensing system rather than following the unrealistic goal of complete eradication. Opium licensing represents the opportunity to associate rural communities to reconstruction efforts rather than to alienate them through failing drug policy responses.

1 March 2006

53   The initial findings of the Feasibility Study on Opium Licensing in Afghanistan for the Production of Morphine and Other Essential Medicines spelled out a series of conclusions and recommendations for the implementation of a controlled licensed opium system in Afghanistan, which would function as a bridge between development and security in the country. Specialised contributions were given by The British Institute of International and Comparative Law; University of Calgary; University of Ghent; University of Kabul; University of Lisbon; University of Toronto; Wageningen University. 1st edition, September 2005; 2nd edition, November 2005; 3rd edition, January 2006. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 6 April 2006