London Conference on Afghanistan
Development, security, women's affairs, post-conflict reconstruction, opium cultivation
By: Abdul Ali Faiq
Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium worldwide, accounting for more than two-thirds of global opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The 2003 harvest, at 3600 tones, was the second highest recorded to date in the country. The livelihoods of about 1.7 million rural people - around 7 percents of Afghanistan's population - are directly dependent on poppy cultivation. And poppy production has spread to more remote, less accessible parts of the country due to increasing political and physical pressure on the main growing areas since the country's 2002 ban on illicit opium poppy cultivation and the trafficking and consumption of opiates.(1)
The history of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has taken its roots from the wars and geopolitical games since the 1980's when Afghanistan became the center of competitions between the East and the West. It is said that narcotics were part of the war agenda in Afghanistan. Prior to the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989), opium production in Afghanistan was directed to small regional markets. Afghanistan was affected by narcotics for the first time not for poverty reasons but for its extraordinary geo-strategic position. Consequently, its geopolitical position shifted to geo-opium. Afghanistan became the world's largest source of illicit opium under the Taliban rule in the late 1990s. A short-lived Taliban ban on opium cultivation in 2001 brought the production to a record low of 185 metric tones that year, compared to 3,276 metric tones in 2000. It had also caused a 10-times price increase, from an average of US$30 in 2000 to US$300 in 2001 per kilo, with a peak at close to $700, prompting massive resumption of cultivation in 2002. According to the reports of Afghanistan Opium Survey for year 2004, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is a leading producer of opium and responsible for about three-quarters of the world's output. Nowadays the Poppy Cultivation becomes one of the most significant issues in across the world. (2)
On 30 January 2006 the Senlis Council (Drug policy Advisory Forum) organized a very important conference in the Royal Institute of Mechanical Engineers House of Commons in the name of London Conference on the Afghan Development and Security Crisis in the heart of the beautiful city of London. They had invited more than 100 Afghans organization personalities, Afghan scholars, scientist, specialists and dozen of journalists as well as many international specialists' narcotics. Meanwhile, present at the conference were a number of the member of the Afghan parliament, such as Safia Seddiqi, Shukria Barakzai, as well as Minister of Woman’s Affairs Massuda Jalal, and Gulalai Mohmand, the deputy country manager, the Senlis Council of Afghanistan.
The Program proceeded as follows:
At the morning session of the press conference at the Royal Institute of Mechanical Engineers 1, Birdcage Walk-St James, Mr. Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of The Senlis Council, spoke about tackling drug traffickers, feasibility study on opium licensing in Afghanistan and other vital issues.
Subsequently, Mr. Emmanuel, the Executive Director, invited Ms. Gulalai Mohmand, Deputy Country Manager, and the Senlis Council of Afghanistan to deliver her speech. She comprehensively explained the problems that Afghan society is facing. She said that she had been living abroad for decades and did not know much about Afghanistan. But, despite this she said she enjoyed working inside of Afghanistan. Subsequently, Ms. Safia Seddiqi, a woman MP from Nangarhar Province, spoke about the situation in Afghanistan and called for more donor support and help for the people of Afghanistan, saying: Afghan people are the poorest nation on the face of the earth. She was hopeful and encouraged legalizing opium cultivation in the country. She said 13 million people depended on opium.
Afterwards, the director asked journalists for any remarks, questions or any suggestions. There were many remarks about opium licensing system. At the same time, some people opposed the Legalization or Licensing opium system. Also, a number of participants criticized the government of Karzai for corruption, nepotism and the failures.
After the morning session, Ms. Shukria Barakzai, an MP spoke about women's affairs in Afghanistan and opium licensing system. She also called for more help from the international community. Than Massouda Jalal, the Minster of Woman Welfare also spoke about women problems, prospects and difficulties inside or out side of Afghanistan.
A number of other people also spoke at the session. They included: Mr Fazel Beria, Coordinator of the Afghan Association of London, Mr. Hashmat Rassa, Chaiman of Afghan Human Right Organization, Mr. Salim Taeb, from the Society of Afghan Residents in the UK. All of the speakers spoke about hardship and sufferings in Afghanistan.
After lunch, the next panel, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Efforts, bridging the rule of law with sustainable development, was held. In this session Mr. Chris Mullin, a British MP, spoke about the above topic and other issues related to Afghanistan. In this session, a number of other important personalities spoke. They included: Dr. Alexia Mikhos, Crisis management Policy Section, Operation Division, NATO colonel Christopher Langton OBE, Head Defence Analysis Department, Research Fellow Russia/CIA, International Institute of strategic studies Dr.Gillian Triggs, Director, Bristish Institute of Intemational and comparative law Dr. Citha D. Mass, Senior researcher, German Institute for intentional and security affairs.
All the speakers talked about reconstruction, opium licensing, an international example of Thailand Burma Colombia, shifting opium cultivation, the self -fulfilling prophecy of eradication: higher prices and higher profits for traffickers, eradication in the golden triangle, and other vital issues they spoke about.
In the evening session, panel 3 there were some personalities spoke about similar topic such as: the cross-cutting opium crisis: impact assessment of current strategies and new perspectives: Mr. Paul Flynn, British MP, Mr. Emmanuel Reinsert, the executive director of The Senile Council, Speakers Prof Francisco Thoumi, Founding Director of Research and Monitoring Center on Drugs and Crime, Rosario University, Colombia Dr James Macgregor, International Institute for Environment and Development, UK Mr. Tony White, Chief of Supply Reduction and Law Enforcement (1917-2001), UNDCP Prof Ali Wardak, Professor of Criminology, University of Glamorgan, UK. After the panelists completed their speeches, some of remarks, critics and questions were raised, and were answered by the speakers.
I personally appreciate the Senlis Council's informative and supportive efforts for the people of Afghanistan. And also for their efforts to discuss Afghanistan's insecurity, women affairs, economic development, education, social rights, reconstruction, opium crisis, human right and terrorism. We hope that such valuable conferences and seminars will continue to take places inside or outside Afghanistan.
(1) http://www.fao.org.Information Officer, FAO
(2) News Central Asia Controlling Poppy Menace in Afghanistan