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
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.
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 economythe
farmersdestroying 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 activityonly
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 crisisthe 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
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
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 poppyinto 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