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Legalize poppy trade to counter Taliban, think tank urges By RAPHAEL G. SATTER
LONDON — Counter-narcotics policies in Afghanistan need to be urgently overhauled before they push the people of southern Afghanistan into the arms of the Taliban insurgency, a security think tank said in a report published Wednesday.
A poppy eradication program that began last month has already sparked a new wave of violence, said Norine MacDonald, president of the Senlis Council, a European security think tank. She said the program was costing NATO the popular support it needed to counter a looming Taliban offensive.
“We are losing all the friends that we gained when we liberated Afghanistan from the clutches of the Taliban in 2001 and we are transforming them into our enemies,” she said. “We ourselves have turned southern Afghanistan into a recruitment camp for the Taliban.”
Colonel Tom Collins, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, told a news conference on Wednesday that Taliban fighters in Helmand province were trying to protect poppy farmers and the isolated sanctuaries where government institutions are weak.
In Helmand province, the country's largest poppy-producing region, auxiliary police protecting a poppy eradication team were hit by a roadside bomb on Tuesday that killed two policeman and wounded three, deputy provincial police chief Eisah Mohammad said.
The Senlis report said the counter-narcotics effort was undermining NATO's counterinsurgency effort, depriving the alliance of support just as the Taliban was gearing up for a spring offensive.
It proposed pilot programs to license the poppy trade to produce legal drugs such as codeine and morphine.
Afghan, UN and western anti-narcotics officials have dismissed the notion of licensed opium production, saying there is inadequate international demand for the drug for pharmaceutical uses and it would only fuel further poppy growing.
Ms. MacDonald acknowledged the concern that some of the poppies grown would be diverted for the production of heroin, but said that the international community had little alternative.
“Right now 100 per cent of the poppies produced are diverted,” she said.
She also urged a renewed humanitarian effort focusing on securing as many short terms gains as possible, saying the next two months would be “make or break” for the country.
“We have to have a development and aid offensive in response to the Taliban offensive,” she said. “Even if it's not perfect, we just don't have the time and resources to do this in a perfect way.”