(Cross-posted at Registan.net)

UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa has quite the idea:

After the failure to destroy fields of the scarlet flowers in Afghanistan’s volatile south, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says the answer is to stop the drugs from leaving the country in the first place.

"Manual eradication is incompetent and inefficient," UNODC chief Antonio Maria Costa said during a visit to the western Afghan province of Herat. "So we want to see more efforts to stop the flow of drugs across Afghanistan’s borders and the hitting of high-value targets to create a market disruption.

"We want to create a flood of drugs within Afghanistan. There will be so much opium inside Afghanistan unable to go out that the price will go down."

Just like that. He might as well be talking about the other kind of flood, for all the good shutting down Afghanistan’s primary export and income generation activity would do for the country. Costa said something else totally pea-brained:

However, wheat has fallen by 30% since October and humanitarian handouts of imported wheat last winter also helped to keep prices in Afghanistan low.

Costa said his request that the World Food Programme buy only Afghan wheat had been rejected by "free market ayatollahs who think political stability is less important than free market principles".

Damn those humanitarian handouts, preventing our counternarcotics! This is a strong example of the classic double-whammy of thinking only in the extreme short term and expecting to succeed using only models we know. Indeed, the free market is one of the ultimate solutions to Afghanistan. The challenge they face is, the only free market operating there right now is the opium market, since it’s the only one viable on a large-scale.

Then there is this to think about: the UN official in charge of controlling or eliminating drug trafficking in Afghanistan thinks it is okay to advocate crashing its economy in pursuit of a single, narrow goal, as if crashing the price of opium in one year could ever be done in a vacuum without severe economic, political, and security consequences for the area. Afghanistan’s GDP is 60% opium—how will suddenly crashing its price be anything other than disaster? And the biggest of windfalls for the Taliban?

Previous (and recent) posts on Afghanistan’s opium economy:
Revising Opium Downward… Maybe
A Pragmatic Extrapolation from Limited Data
Letting Poppy Kill the Counterinsurgency

Joshua Foust

Joshua Foust