What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Poppy for medicine - Senlis Council's technical dossier is out

MStFB Poppy Series update
I'm serving my debt here, because I have made a promise to someone to write a blogger review of the Senlis Council's new technical dossier on a possible poppy legalisation scheme for Afghanistan which has come out in June, relatively recently. It's very much worthy of thorough reading, and should definitely be there on everyone's desk who considers oneself to be part of the solution, and not the problem, for Afghanistan.
First of all, putting aside the much greater ambitions of this plan, where does it possibly connect to a poppy strategy I have outlined recently on this site, through a series of posts and revisions of those posts in which others who commented on my posts have also had a part?
My suggestion for a strategy summarised again therefore in a nutshell: 1) no eradication in insurgency-hit areas (it's ugly, and it might also fuel the insurgency); 2) develop an extensive social map if you want to do any eradication at all, and avoid hitting communities without sufficient basic infrastructure even elsewhere; 3) eradication should take place in larger, 'less legitimate' fields, where infrastructure is less of a challenge (rain-fed areas, well or better connected by road to a greater settlement etc.); even there, however, eradication shall be used only as a deterrent, although on a potentially quite significant scale. 4) To avoid resistance to such a strategy above a critical level, I proposed going from region to region in this process, not doing everything at once, and proceeding with extra international troops and police ready as back-up in the given area, should the need for their involvement arise. These were the points I put forward earlier on. Then came some new insight from a recent very good article on poppy eradication in Uruzgan. So, point no. 5: tribal relations have to be taken into account, and fields belonging to different tribes shall be targeted in a proportionate/sensible manner (it's not practical if some of them are threatened, and others aren't, if some seem to be discriminated against etc.).
Poppy for medicine projects could be the solution for the majority of fields according to my scheme, potentially; those are the fields where eradication is not to take place, although for the sake of deterrence that cannot be entirely clear to farmers. Actually, with the deterrent element in the background, communities could be more easily convinced of starting cooperation on poppy for medicine programs (P4M from hereon). Opium poppy cultivation can in that way become legalised, and in the given situation that could be the best move for farmers.
However, writing of Senlis Council's paper like this doesn't do it justice. It is much more ambitious than this, and it looks to affect poppy growers' incentive structure in a different way (not by means of deterrence). It is meant to function even as part of an integrated counterinsurgency strategy, working potentially everywhere. And its most notable feature compared to other poppy legalisation schemes is that it would introduce district-level pharmaceutical industry as part of the plan, to let the villages participating create more value added, and thus get more money out of what they are doing.
A part of the paper I found particularly intriguing is the part really creatively working out possible trade schemes in which Afghan-made morphine tablets could be sold to not so rich or poor countries that cannot afford to procure a sufficient amount of pain-killers (if you live in a rich country, one of the things you should really appreciate is how you're less left to suffer from pain in those hardest times that inevitably come for everyone in life).
But the question nagging a reader who is following developments in Afghanistan is probably how this scheme is supposed to work 'everywhere'. Well, I'm not going to tell you everything in a blogpost (I couldn't), but here's one basic idea. Since there is a so-called Minimum Qualifying Yield (MQY) that farmers have to present at the end of the harvest, chances for diversion are limited to start with (as the Senlis Council paper correctly points out, currently the 'diversion rate', so to say, is at a hundred percent, and thus it cannot be worse). MQY is set with the farmers' participation, actually, so it's not something potentially unrealistic that is dictated to them. The whole community participates together in the project, and the hierarchy and strong bond of local Afghan communities is supposed to be taken advantage of by the program to avoid cheating. So with all other variables unchanged by the introduction of the program, this scheme could take potentially the MQY amount from even a field out there in the middle of insurgent country in the South, out of illegal production, over into legal production, very beneficially even in a global and a humanitarian sense.
Some of my objections then, faced with these ambitions (forgive me for presenting them in a random order):
1) Insurgents will not remain passive if P4M takes away a significant part of their funding. They might rob and punish communities (no, Afghan police will not be an obstacle to insurgent 'poppy razzias', and even the best case scenario of a lot of extra ISAF troops in the South wouldn't stop the occasional punishing suicide car bomb or whatever other type of attack).
2) Corruption, as always, would be a problem in this scheme, too. There's no absolutely corruption-proof control mechanism. The police may be corrupt, the NGOs participating in the scheme might not report some diversion here and there, in order to be able to write reports about success, in order to win renewable contracts etc.
3) The modalities are elaborated in a very detailed fashion in the paper, in too much of a detailed fashion, actually. For Afghans to regard this scheme as at least partly their own, it has to be modified at points by their suggestions. The Senlis Council paper leaves the possibility open, but it has to be clarified then what is absolutely necessary and what can be discussed creatively.
4) Just a very minor objection, or minor warning rather. Be careful with presenting the idea of forming cooperatives, given how some villagers might be prejudiced against the idea because of memories from under the Afghan experiment with communism.
5) I really appreciate the trade schemes worked out in the paper, but today's world just seems to be at odds a little with creative proposals to serve everyone's interest best. Trade, market, free trade, free market, that's the mantra, you know what I mean. Big pharmaceutical companies interested in producing expensive and under-supplied pain-killers will obviously not like the idea very much.
6) Development assistance has to be an integrated effort, and so a P4M scheme will not give us really good long term results in itself, and so stability has to bring with it e.g. better schooling for people, raising literacy rates etc. (a long list of items).
7) Infrastructure has to be developed, improved, maintained. Without it P4M is simply not feasible.
8) In an unsecure environment (even if that only means the occasional suicide bomber showing up every now and again) 'international development agencies' will just not show up so much as expected to do their part of the scheme.
Conclusions then:
1) While it's okay if pilot projects are tried in as many different kinds of environment as possible (even in South Afghanistan), I would caution that to me the P4M scheme seems currently more useful in the North. If it can just make the poppy problem managable in the provinces of, say, Badghis, Sari Pul, Balkh, Samangan, Baghlan, Takhar, Badakhshan, and Dai Kundi (the latter is a predominantly Hazara area that formerly was part of Uruzgan province which the 2007 World Drug Report still shows to be part of Uruzgan), that's already great. But even so it would be a longer term process, dependent on a lot of infrastructure development, which also is dependent on a lot more international assistance than what's currently coming.
2) To better see the consequences of the fully fledged P4M program the way the Senlis Council is proposing it, pilot projects with localised tablet production should be tried in the places where more simple poppy-for-medicine programs are already running (in Turkey, India, even Australia). It looks kind of worrying to me that in the Indian context there is a diversion rate of about 20 percent. (Read Romesh Bhattacharji's paper on the Indian experiences here, also from the Senlis Council.) It's then actually 20 percent diversion in a close to hundred percently secure environment, and that's what I see as cause for caution.
3) The ultimate conclusion, for the attention of the relevant people out there: Try all or some of what's advocated in the paper. We'll know better, and that's better for now than not trying.
4) The ultimate conclusion, for the attention of the Senlis Council: this is going to take some lobbying to become even partly accepted, I think.

No comments: