75 countries met for the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan on the 4th and 5th October 2016, along with 26 international organisations and agencies. The Afghan government presented its plan for reform, which was endorsed by those countries attending, which pledged $15 billion toward maintaining the nation’s economic stability, state-building and development.

On the 3rd of October, Mr Werner Sipp, President of the INCB, expressed his ‘grave concern’ regarding the drug control conditions in Afghanistan. He believed, he said, that along with a seriously deteriorating drug control situation, the country faced ‘an apparent declining interest of donor countries’ to continue to provide support, especially in relation to Afghanistan’s drug control arrangements.

Source: Flickr CC United Nations Photo

Afghanistan has been in consultation with the INCB since 2000 under the terms of Article 14 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Article 14 contains what are intended as remedial measures to be applied when the aims of the Convention ‘are being seriously endangered by reason of the failure of any Party, country or territory to carry out the provisions of this Convention’. It enables the Party to explain itself, and the Board to propose remedies. If such measures fail, the Board may notify other Parties, the CND and ECOSOC of the situation, and may ultimately recommend to countries that they block the import and export of drugs to the state in question.

These extreme and drastic measures have not been applied in the case of Afghanistan. However, the various measures that have been put in place have yet to restrict the cultivation of opium poppy, the manufacture of morphine base and heroin, and the illicit consumption of drugs (opiates and cannabis) in the country. Mr Sipp described the Brussels Conference as a ‘critical opportunity’ for the international community and its donors to re-engage with development efforts. He stated: ‘I trust that the Conference participants will acknowledge the importance of drug control as a cross-cutting issue that should be put at the top of the development agenda for the country.’ If this issue is not addressed, he argued, broader objectives such as governance and corruption, security and terrorism, and economic and social development are unlikely to be met.

There is much of value in Mr Sipp’s intervention. However, it continues to be underpinned by concepts that emerged from the twentieth century’s efforts to suppress the use of drugs. Afghanistan is viewed as a ‘producer’ country, and therefore, implicitly or explicitly the source of the problem. No mention is made of the developed world as complicit in this cycle by virtue of its ongoing demand for intoxication, a demand which stimulates the poppy fields of Afghanistan. Moreover, the Board calls for drug control as a precondition for governance and development, while it can equally be argued that development must precede drug control, and that the sequencing of these objectives as currently viewed by the drug control regime is a part of the problem.

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