Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Letter from the Senlis Council

  I write further to the Committee's Report titled Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, published on 2 July 2006, HC573, Session 2005-06, which makes reference to The Senlis Council's Afghan opium licensing proposal for the production of essential medicines (pp. 136-7, pars 381 and 382). In response to the Government's stated position on this proposal, I would like to bring some clarification to three important aspects of opium licensing, which may be of interest to the Committee members: the legal basis, the possibility for an effective integrated local control system, and the export route for an Afghan brand of humanitarian morphine.


  There is a clear basis in Afghan domestic law for the establishment of an opium licensing system in Afghanistan. The 2005 Afghan Counter Narcotics Law contains extensive provisions for the licensed cultivation of opium poppy (Chapter II, Art 5-6; Chapter III, Art 7-14). Tomorrow, without requiring any authorisation or notification, Afghanistan could start producing opium under a strict licensing system for its own domestic use or for the domestic manufacture of morphine or codeine.[1] This is the case regardless of whether the morphine or codeine is produced for domestic use or export. The implementation of such a scheme is now dependent solely on political will within and outside Afghanistan.


  Effective nationwide control would be crucial for a fully-functional poppy licensing system, but much doubt remains over the ability of the Afghan government to exercise such control—particularly outside Kabul. Comprehensive field research in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, conducted for the Senlis Council in late 2005—early 2006, has confirmed the existence of strong social control structures such as the shura and the jirga; it is these native structures which would need to be mobilised to create an effective integrated opium licensing control system.[2] By maximising the aptitude of existing control structures at the community level and empowering rural communities, the proposed integrated system of control and governance for opium licensing would prevent diversion and strengthen a sense of local ownership.

  A series of pilot schemes would underline the huge potential for effective mobilisation of local, informal governance structures and display how such mobilisation could contribute to a successful opium licensing control system. The Network of European Foundations, the Senlis Council's Donor Group, has allocated a special reserve budget for the launch and maintenance of pilot projects throughout Afghanistan.


  Illicit opium is at the nexus of the reconstruction crisis in Afghanistan. However, it can also be used to manufacture widely-needed essential pain-killers. Hence, Afghan opium represents an interesting opportunity—an Afghan brand of humanitarian morphine could provide the export route for opium produced under license, and could supply morphine-based medicines to countries which face an acute shortage of essential painkillers. This would be possible under a preferential trade agreement, similar to the one already existing between the US and two traditional licensed opium suppliers, Turkey and India. This new preferential trade agreement would allow Afghan morphine to enter new markets with untapped pain relief (80% of the world population has little or no access to painkillers). By endorsing an Afghan morphine brand, the international community could signal its strong political will and commitment to finding an effective and pragmatic resolution to the illegal opium crisis in Afghanistan.

  As recent events in Afghanistan have shown, bridging security and development is a daunting challenge facing the Karzai government. Opium licensing could be part of this wider effort, since it addresses many pertinent security and development issues: it addresses the problem at the root of the illicit opium economy; it allows the rule of law to reach rural communities reliant on opium like in Helmand; and it gives a working alternative to the impasse of poppy crop eradication. Overall, opium licensing could send a strong, positive signal to poor rural communities that their circumstances and needs are taken into account by the Karzai government and the international community, thus creating better conditions for British troops on the ground.

  I would be delighted to exchange views on our proposed opium licensing scheme and discuss how it could make a positive contribution to the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

Senlis Council

3 July 2006

1   The United Nations Convention Regime, Professor Brice de Ruyver & Laurens Van Puyenbroeck, Institute for International Research on Criminal Policy, Ghent University, p 379-438 in Feasibility Study on Opium Licensing in Afghanistan, The Senlis Council, Kabul/London September 2005. Back

2   Field Report on Integrated Social Control in Kama District, Eastern Afghanistan: Implications for the Licensed Cultivation of Poppy, Dr Ali Wardak, The Senlis Council, Kabul, April 2006. Back

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