There's a worldwide shortage of morphine and codeine, which means there are millions of people, some of them dying, suffering pain because of a lack of opium-derived medicines. Meanwhile, NATO's mission in Afghanistan includes the aim of forcing Afghani farmers to grow crops other than opium poppies. An NGO called the Senlis Council has been urging the US and NATO to radically rethink its policy towards opium farming in Afghanistan. And there may be good news afoot. This from Bill Roggio at Counterterrorism Blog, who was recently in Kandahar:
... The Coalition and Afghan government made a serous mistake in its implementation of a poppy crop eradication program without providing an alternate source of income. The destruction of crops turned the local population to seek protection from the Taliban. A senior coalition officer indicated a major shift in the policy dealing with the poppy crops is in the works. ...
While poppy production is viewed as a national security problem by Western governments, this is a critical part of the social and economic fabric of the region. Great care must be taken to address the issue, lest the Coalition continue to alienate the local population and drive farmers and harvesters into the sphere of the Taliban. Alternate crops may provide a solution, however the poppies are easy to grow and provide the highest cash output for available crops.
The omens are, I hope, that the 'senior coalition officer' may be referring to the Senlis proposals. Its report into the feasibility of licensing opium production in Afghanistan was launched last November at Chatham House (see also), which suggests high-level interest and support. Then, in March this year, Senlis gave written evidence to the Commons Defence Committee. Now, we hear of a 'major policy shift' on opium production is coming. One is desperately needed - our current policy is causing unnecessary pain and suffering all round.