Anne Applebaum notes that efforts to eradicate the opium crop in Afghanistan is feeding the Taliban as poor farmers lose their livelihood thanks to US eradication efforts. Applebaum wonders why this has to be: already in Turkey the opium poppy crop has been used to make legal painkillers – of which there is a major shortage in both the developing and the developed world.
The opium eradication program in Afghanistan is an incredibly poor policy choice. Applebaum’s proposed alternative is one that US policymakers should embrace: adding Afghanistan to the already-existent poppy production program in India and Turkey and buying Afghan poppies to make legal painkillers. There can be local oversight to make sure that the product isn’t diverted, and the money can go towards fighting the Taliban rather than enriching them.
There’s no doubt that the drug trade is the Taliban’s most lucrative venture, allowing them to purchase weapons and ammunition and kill American and coalition soldiers. We can’t simply eradicate the Afghan poppy crop — it’s too lucrative and each time we do we alienate the Afghan people more. We have to provide them with a safe and legal alternative — and using Afghan poppies to create legal narcotics that can alleviate pain rather than cause it is the smart policy option. Sadly, smart policies are decidedly lacking when it comes to drug control these days. Even when these crops can be used for legal means, the fear of the heroin trade causes politicians to take steps that only harms the future of both the US and Afghanistan.