In World War II it seemed the whole of society was mobilised to support the war effort around the world. As we remember today the men and women who have fallen in all the wars this nation has fought, it is time to ask whether we are doing all we can to support our effort in Afghanistan.
The uncomfortable truth is that there are around 250,000 of us who are actively undermining that effort. People who, when combined with their fellows around the world, provide around 50% of the Taliban's funding. For the vast majority it is not their intention to fund the insurgency of religious fundamentalists, and even if you told them they were funding the Taliban, they would struggle to stop. These people are heroin addicts. 92% of the world's heroin originates in Afghanistan, and the Taliban's taxes on the trade and heroin stockpiles are what accounts for around 50% of their income.
So what is the best way of breaking this link between British heroin addicts and the Taliban?
We have tried eradicating poppies in Afghanistan, an act which unfortunately has much the same impact as disrupting trafficking in and around the UK. Namely, the price for the remaining heroin goes up and the Taliban makes the same amount or more money. Indeed the Taliban themselves suppressed opium growing in Afghanistan in 2000 and apparently reaped great financial reward from their efforts "The total farm-gate value of opium rose from US$56 million in 2001 to US$1,200 million in 2002" (UNODC (2004), ‘Presentation to the International Crisis Group on Afghanistan’, Brussels, 5/VII/2004). http://bit.ly/19OsRn
Efforts to get addicts off heroin have been successful up to a point, but methadone is a more harmful drug to an addict's health, and is often ineffective in reducing demand for street heroin. Prison is an ineffective deterrent, and rehab is expensive and often unsuccessful.
There is one option available to us that we have yet to try on any great scale. Opium poppies are already being grown in Britain to provide medical opiates in the treatment of our sick. If we were to expand the growing of opium poppies and treat our addicts medically with prescribed heroin, and if other countries were to do the same, we could remove the demand for Afghan opium, and so remove half of the Taliban's current funding, reducing their ability to buys guns, explosives and bullets with which to resist democratic reform and attack British soldiers trying to help Afghanistan rebuild after Taliban rule.
It is the government's short-sighted drugs policy that is funding the Taliban, not the hapless drug-addicted wretches in our cities and towns.
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