Monday, July 06, 2009


The British don’t know beans about opium despite their opium wars

by Larry Geller

You’d think after Britain won two wars against China to force that country into accepting its opium trade, that they had learned something about the vice.

Maybe not.

It was just the sort of good news the British military in Helmand needed. Soldiers engaged in Operation Panther's Claw, the huge assault against insurgent strongholds last week, had discovered a record-breaking haul of more than 1.3 tonnes of poppy seeds, destined to become part of the opium crop that generates $400m (£243m) a year for the Taliban.

That is a lot of poppy seeds… but unfortunately, it wasn’t a lot of poppy seeds. Read on in this Guardian story.

(Thanks to Jeanne Ohta for this story)

Update July 7, 2009: Ok, you ask, how could folks who should know a poppy seed when they see one make this mistake? Surely, whoever confiscated the crop in the first place knew something about the work they were doing. Or someone might have told them. “Psst… your poppy seeds,…”

Here’s an alternate scenario.

The mung beans were worth only $1,300. Now, how much would 1.3 tons of actual poppy seeds be worth? A huge sum.

So maybe it was poppy seeds that were confiscated.

By the time the bags got into British hands for UN laboratory analysis, they had somehow morphed into mung beans.

The British have got 1.3 tons of cheap beans. In the middle, someone has got themselves a huge profit. And somewhere in Afghanistan a humongous party is underway.

That’s what happens where there is an insatiable demand for illegal drugs in the United States. Intercepting the poppy crop in Afghanistan hasn’t worked. The crop sets new records each year. It is the main source of income for peasants in the country.

The remedy? Legalizing and regulating drugs in the USA would be a good start. Another approach is to legalize poppy growing in Afghanistan, and then to buy up the crop. From the latter article:

This would solve two problems in one blow. First, it would help deal with the world-wide shortage of medical opiates which, according to the World Health Organization, are causing a “global pain crisis.” In Africa hundreds of thousands of people are dying in agony for lack of pain relief. Second, it would prevent the opium farmers of Afghanistan being driven into the arms of the Taliban.

Far fetched? The poppy eradication program and continued bombing and killing of civilians are driving people to the Taliban. Should we continue with all that?

Remember the popular definition of insanity. If we don’t try something different in Afghanistan, we’re just plain nuts.

Meanwhile, I wonder if the British have simply been had.


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