US announces change of policy in Afghanistan

5 July 2009

At a side event of the G8 meeting of Foreign Ministers on last Saturday (27th June 2009), the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, described what seems like a significant shift in US tactics towards opium poppy cultivation and trafficking in Afghanistan. His reported comments acknowledge that the preferred US strategy from the Bush era – focussing on forced eradication, had proved counterproductive, and that in the future the focus would shift to support for enforcement against major traffickers, and alternative development programmes aimed at peasant farmers. While the announcement is welcome in itself (Mr Holbrooke states that ‘The farmers are not our enemy, they’re just growing a crop to make a living’), its implications for counter narcotics strategy in Afghanistan are significant – differences of strategy have bedevilled international co-operation in Afghanistan, with European donors preferring a more development based approach.

It seems that this announcement will facilitate a new and more effective partnership in the fight to disentangle the cultivation of opium from the funding of extremist and criminal groups. It is also consistent with what IDPC has called for in policies towards source countries – that efforts to stifle the production and distribution of drugs should not focus on enforcement action against growers.