Adam Pain, Kaweh Kerami and Orzala Nemat
The opium poppy economy in Afghanistan poses a complex political problem. It stands at the intersection of various seemingly conflicting policy challenges: an emergency or a development issue; a public order problem or a security threat; a peacebuilding opportunity or conflict resource; and a health problem or a means of earning a living.
To some extent, the various facets of the fight against narcotics reflect the multifaceted and interrelated political challenges that the opium poppy economy has posed. But nearly 20 years after the start of the fight against narcotics in Afghanistan in 2001, its political ambitions to eliminate, or at least control, poppy production in the country, have clearly failed.
There has been an inexorable increase in the area of the cultivation area of some 70,000 ha. in 1994 to more than 200,000 ha. in 2016 (UNODC, 2016). Since 2001, the US government alone has spent some US $ 7.28 billion (SIGAR, 2018) on anti-narcotics programs for a limited return against its policy goals. This policy failure in terms of explicit goals needs an explanation.
This report seeks to provide that explanation; It provides an overview and general understanding of the anti-narcotics laws, policies and programs that have underpinned the anti-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan since 2001.
In doing so, it seeks to map opportunities for the Drugs & (Dis) Order project to engage in relevant policy processes. It builds on earlier drafts based on a desk review and key informant interviews, and was further developed with a review of additional sources.
The report first presents the context for policy development in Afghanistan before providing a comprehensive assessment of the legal and policy frameworks to combat drugs. These are then examined, focusing on key players in policy areas and their narratives regarding drugs and security, peace, health and livelihoods, concluding with a review of the data and evidence that informed policy development practices.
The report concludes with a broader discussion of the challenges of Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics policy.
There have been diverse, contradictory and even conflicting approaches to the fight against narcotics among the main political actors, including the Afghan government. In addition, there have been strong divisions of interest within the US government.
The US government has become the main actor in the fight against narcotics because of its level of funding. US efforts have shifted from a focus on eradication and ban to a focus more on the links between drugs and counterinsurgency, with alternative development playing a relatively minor role. An internal US government review concluded that the United States had failed to implement an effective anti-narcotics strategy.
Indeed, it is the lack of coherence between the main actors of the drug control policy that is its most striking feature. Different actors have different strategic interests and the Afghan government, divided as it has been, has not been able to lead and assert its interests. It is also clear that different actors defined Afghanistan’s political problems in different ways and therefore could not be agreed on possible solutions.
It is at the strategic level that the failure has been most important: the ambition to achieve security, peace, statebuilding and development simultaneously, but by immeasurable means, has derailed everything. attempt to constructively approach the opium poppy economy.
The political “ trilemma ” (Rodrik, 2011; Goodhand et al., 2020) of incompatible goals combined with an inability to prioritize, order and manage the trade-offs between achieving security, statebuilding, Reduction in opium poppy cultivation and development meant that few of the goals of the reconstruction effort were met.
For the Drugs & (dis) command project, it is difficult to find possible avenues for effective political engagement. Greater opportunities may lie in research to contribute to public debate on key drug control issues, and there may be room for more specific engagement around drugs and health, and alternative development, at the operational level.
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