Redefining Targets

Towards a Realistic Afghan Drug Control Strategy

7 December 2009

Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium and has an under-reported but growing heroin-use problem. Current drug control policies in Afghanistan are unrealistic, reflecting a need for immediate signs of hope rather than a serious analysis of the underlying causes and an effort to achieve long-term solutions.

Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium and has an under-reported but growing heroin-use problem. Current drug control policies in Afghanistan lack focus and are unrealistic, driven by headlines rather than evidence. They reflect a need for immediate signs of hope rather than a serious analysis of the underlying causes and an effort to achieve long-term solutions.

This policy briefing provides an update on drug control efforts in Afghanistan1 and outlines policy dilemmas on drugs production, trafficking and consumption issues facing Afghan officials and international agencies today. It also reflects concerns and needs of heroin users and –former- opium farmers. Key issues include the chronic absence of coordination of drug control efforts; the foreign-driven and often hypocritical nature of the agenda; and the difficulties in defining realistic drug policy objectives.

Much media attention has focused on the anticipated change in US drug control policy. Eradication efforts have not shown any measurable results. Clearly, more attention needs to be given to the development and viable conflict resolution scenarios. Concretely, however, little has changed. While the end of US support for the controversial central eradication force and pressuring the Afghan government to allow spraying is a most welcome step, there are as of yet no signs of alternative policies. The announced surge in military forces is unlikely to deliver positive effect on drug control as long as the counter-productive effects of their involvement so far are not fully understood and revised.

About the authors

Martin Jelsma

Martin Jelsma is a political scientist who has specialised in Latin America and international drugs policy.  In 2005, he received the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship, which stated that Jelsma "is increasingly recognized as one of, if not the, outstanding strategists in terms of how international institutions deal with drugs and drug policy."

In 1995 he initiated and has since co-oordinated TNI's Drugs & Democracy Programme which focuses on drugs and conflict studies with a focus on the Andean/Amazon region, Burma/Myanmar and Afghanistan, and on the analysis and dialogues around international drug policy making processes (with a special focus on the UN drug control system). Martin is a regular speaker at international policy conferences and advises various NGOs and government officials on developments in the drugs field. He is co-editor of the TNI Drugs & Conflict debate papers and the Drug Policy Briefing series.

Tom Kramer

Tom Kramer (1968) is a political scientist and with over 15-years of working experience on Burma and its border regions, which he has visited regularly since 1993.  

His work focuses on developing a better understanding of the drugs market in the region as a whole, the relationship between production and consumption, and alternative development (AD). Together with the Drugs and Democracy Programme, Kramer has created a regional network of local researchers, and is also carrying out advocacy towards policy makers in the region for more sustainable and human drug policies.

Since 2005 Kramer also works on Afghanistan, with a focus onthe relationship between drugs & conflict, and the involvement of western security forces in counter narcotic activities. Apart from his work for TNI, he is also a writer and freelance consultant, specializing on ethnic conflict and civil society in Burma. He has carried out field research and written reports for a wide range of international NGOs, institutes and UN organisations.

Recent publications from Drugs and Democracy

The Rise and Decline of Cannabis Prohibition

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Cocaine: towards a self-regulation model

By taking cues from users’ self-regulation strategies, it is possible to design innovative operational models for drug services as well as drug policies, strengthening Harm Reduction as an alternative approach to the disease model.

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Eyes Wide Shut: Corruption and Drug-Related Violence in Rosario

In Rosario, Argentina, the presence of criminal organisations involved in drug trafficking was a low priority for the government until New Year’s day 2012, when the killing of three innocent civilians by members of a gang sparked press attention.

First Southeast Asia Opium Farmers Forum Yangon 2013

In July the First Southeast Asia Opium Farmers Forum was held, bringing together some 30 representatives of local communities involved in opium cultivation and local community workers from the major opium growing regions in Southeast Asia.