Yesterday the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs released its fourth report, which included a section on the Afghanistan mission. (Is Sunday the usual day of publication?) It mentions the Senlis Council (passim) and its proposal that, instead of eradication, the opium production be diverted away from the smugglers and instead go to meet the global shortfall in opium-derived medicines. It quotes, approvingly I think, the government's position as set out by Hilary Benn:
The Afghan Government has expressed its opposition to licit cultivation of opium. The Afghan Minister for Counter Narcotics, Habibullah Qaderi has said recently: "The poor security situation in the country means there can simply be no guarantee that opium will not be smuggled out of the country for the illicit narcotics trade abroad. Without an effective control mechanism, a lot of opium will still be refined into heroin for illicit markets in the west and elsewhere. We could not accept this." The UK agrees that licensing opium cultivation in Afghanistan for medical use is not a realistic solution to its drug problem, not least because it risks a high level of diversion of licit opium into illegal channels. The production of opium is also contrary to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
On the last point, between 1919 and 1933 the constitution of the United States prohibited the manufacture of alcohol - Afghanistan's constitution can and should be amended so as to distinguish between medicinal and illicit opium production. As for Habibullah Qaderi's substantive response, maybe the farmers need to be bribed to sell the opium to the government and not to the smugglers - they should receive at least as much money for their crop as they would from the heroin producers. Those farmers who do comply should also receive preferential treatment regarding security: their farms should receive as much protection as possible from the Afghan security forces. Those who don't comply would not receive the same protection. Of course, there are going to be great difficulties, but they are more surmountable than those generated by continuing along the same path as now.