Legalise the heroine trade, British Ambassador says

LONDON: In a recent article for the British newspaper Guardian, Former British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir William Patey recognises the failure of the western world’s efforts to eradicate poppy cultivation over the past decade in Afghanistan and calls for legalisation and state-regulation of drugs. 

As a veteran and experienced diplomat, Sir Patey had a number of high ranking positions as a diplomat for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sir Patey states in his article “I did not believe it before I went to Afghanistan. But it’s now clear that prohibition is no answer to this deadly scourge.” He adds “When Tony Blair deployed British troops in Afghanistan, ending the illicit production and supply of opium was cited as a key objective. In 2001 the prime minister linked heroin use in the UK with opium cultivation in Afghanistan: “The arms the Taliban buy are paid for by the lives of young British people buying their drugs. This is another part of the regime we should destroy.” Yet after 10 years of effort with tens of thousands of troops in the country, and having spent billions trying to reduce poppy cultivation, Afghans are growing more opium than ever before.”

Sir Patey has become an important and high-profile name in the list of people calling for state-controlled regulation of drugs.

He further says “In a country such as Afghanistan, with weak institutions, remote areas ripe for poppy cultivation and a well-established smuggling network, we are fighting a lost battle. It is well understood that not only does illicit trade migrate towards “ungoverned spaces”, particularly those inhabited by people in dire poverty, it then makes matters far worse.”

He adds “In short, the war on drugs has failed in Afghanistan, and without removing the demand for illicit opium, driven by illicit heroin use in consumer countries, this failure is both predictable and inevitable. If we cannot deal effectively with supply, then the only alternative would seem to be to try to limit the demand for illicit drugs by making a supply of them available from a legally regulated market. Half of the world’s opium is grown for the legal opiates market of which the UK grows 3,500 hectares. This legitimate drug trade does not fund the Taliban and warlords, and there is no reason why it cannot be expanded to include non-medical trade and use.”

Sir Patey points out to Sir Keith Morris about his experience and suggestions regarding the drugs problems in Colombia “I am not the first former ambassador who has served in a drug-producing country to call for an end to prohibition. In 2001 my colleague Sir Keith Morris, the former UK ambassador to Colombia, told the BBC that if drugs were legalised and regulated the “benefits to life, health and liberty of drug users and the life, health and property of the whole population would be immense.”

He suggests “Putting governments in control of the global drugs trade through legal regulation will remove the incentive for those in fragile, insecure regions to produce and traffic drugs. Putting doctors and pharmacists in control of supply in the UK will save lives, improve health and reduce crime. Ultimately we could improve the underlying lack of wellbeing that drives so many in the UK and Afghanistan into lives of degradation and misery.”

He believes it is a better option for both Britain and Afghanistan, and adds “For the sake of both Afghans and British citizens, senior politicians must take responsibility for the failings of global prohibition, and take control of the drug trade through legal regulation”.

According to a report this year by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, it was found that despite spending $7.5 dollars by US in Afghanistan, there have been no significant achievements in the counter-narcotics strategy.

Afghanistan with a population of 30 million, had about 1.3 million Afghan adults, who were regular drug users in 2012, up from 1 million in 2009; regular opium users grew to 230,000 in 2009 from 130,000 in 2005.