18 February 2008
US Government urged to halt Afghan poppy eradication program – stabilisation in Afghanistan impossible if failing policy continues
President Bush should initiate Poppy for Medicine projects
US should help form “NATO-Plus” force – Increased focus on Pakistan needed
WASHINGTON DC – ICOS on Monday urged the United States Government to halt plans for forced poppy crop eradication in Afghanistan, citing the drastically deteriorating security situation in the country. With the US set to restart manual crop eradication any time now, ICOS said a continuation of this failing policy would undermine NATO’s efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.
Forced poppy crop eradication, which is carried out by the private military company and US Government-financed DynCorp, attacks the sole cash crop for more than three million Afghan farmers, turning them against US/NATO troops and boosting Taliban support.
“Given the dramatic lack of stability in Afghanistan, it would be an act of policy schizophrenia to continue with this inflammatory and ineffective program that is only fuelling the Taliban insurgency,” said Norine MacDonald QC, President and Lead Field Researcher of ICOS.
Speaking from Washington D.C, MacDonald said that recent comments from US Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for more NATO troops in the south were at complete cross-purposes with US plans to push on with the destruction of Afghanistan’s poppy crop.
“On the one hand, the US is urging NATO to send more troops to southern Afghanistan to help stabilise the country, while at the same time planning to resume the destruction of farmers’ livelihoods, which itself contributes to the destabilization of the south,” she said. “If the US is serious about securing the future of Afghanistan, it needs to halt poppy crop eradication campaigns now.”
Bush should back Poppy for Medicine initiative
ICOS instead urged the US to support a Poppy for Medicine initiative, which would see Afghan farmers licensed to grow their poppy for morphine. Not only would such a scheme bring illegal cultivation under control in an immediate yet sustainable manner, it would address the current worldwide shortage of pain relieving medicine.
“Poppy for Medicine could help Afghanistan diversify its economic activities and encourage farmers to sever trafficking ties with the Taliban,” said MacDonald. “The US should regard counter-narcotics policy as a strategic counter-insurgency issue – and this scheme would help drive a wedge between impoverished farming communities and the Taliban, which can only result in positive consequences for coalition troops in Afghanistan.”
A nationwide poll commissioned by Ipsos Reid on behalf of ICOS in 2007 found that 7 in 10 Americans support Poppy for Medicine .
In October 2007, the European Parliament endorsed the Council’s Poppy for Medicine initiative with an overwhelming majority, while Canada’s Manley Report, released in January this year as a blueprint for Canada’s future role in Afghanistan, recommended the implementation of Poppy for Medicine projects as a positive way for the international community to engage in Afghan counter-narcotics policies.
“NATO Plus” Force, increased focus on Pakistan needed
ICOS’s calls coincided with a release of a briefing document with recommendations to the United States regarding its policy in Afghanistan, including active participation in the formation of a ‘NATO-Plus’ force and an increased focus on Pakistan.
In the recommendations, the Council said that NATO’s force size should be doubled to 80,000 with all caveats removed as soon as logistically possible. As part of “NATO Plus”, the US should play a leading role within the alliance to create a new balance between military and humanitarian efforts within the stabilisation strategy to pursue an effective hearts and minds campaign.
According to Paul Burton, Director of Policy Analysis at ICOS, the United States should deploy special forces at major border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan and increase the number of limited operations of these forces in the crucial border areas.
“This is the only way to cut off the life support, flow of Taliban recruits and supplies entering Afghanistan,” he said. “Until these Taliban safe havens are rooted out, it will be impossible to stem the insurgency in Afghanistan.”