LONDON, 31 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As international donors for Afghanistan gathered in London on 30 January to pledge funds for the political and economic development of the country over the next five years, they were told to change their strategy.
Some 200 participants in a separate conference organized by The Senlis Council say that a new drug policy is needed to resolve Afghanistan's opium problem.
Others say licensing could be dangerous because the drug mafias could buy the licenses from the farmers or force them to turn them over.
The Senlis Council says that in order to help the many thousands of Afghan farmers reliant on opium-poppy cultivation for their livelihood, the international community should replace the poppy eradication policy with a licensing system. The license would allow for the legal production of opium to make morphine and codeine that could supply the country and be a major export to the rest of the world.
Emmanuel Reinert is the executive director of The Senlis Council. "[A] quick fix, [an] aggressive policy such as eradication, chemical spraying, would not only be inefficient, but extremely counterproductive and will encourage...unrest in the country," he said. "It will actually undermine the primary mission of the coalition forces and NATO in Afghanistan, which is the establishment of the rule of law and the development of the country."
Reinert stresses that the Afghan people and especially the farmers -- including women -- who actually work in the fields the most should be directly involved in the formulation of an opium policy. So far they have had no influence on such policies and this is why The Senlis Council wants to gather farming representatives to enable them to help formulate national policies, Reinert said.
"That's why we will be organizing a 'Farmers' Jirga' in Kabul with 100 farmers coming from all the provinces in Afghanistan to discuss their views on the opium crisis," he said.
Reinert says that a number of members of the Afghan parliament are also interested in a new proposal for legislation that would firmly put the licensing of farmers for the legal production of medicinal opium into the antinarcotics law. It should also help the government formulate a means to make that law work.
Separately, The Senlis Council has also prepared a draft proposal of a bill that would make any eradication policies -- including the damage to the soil done by aerial spraying -- illegal.
The members of the Afghan parliament who are in London for the donors meeting seem interested in the proposals. One of them is Safia Seddiqi, from Nangarhar Province.
"This is a very good idea," she said. "I am really supporting that, but [only] if the real beneficiaries are the farmers. In Afghanistan the [strongest] party is the poppy traffickers, not the farmers. The farmers are poor people. They are not receiving their benefit from [the poppies]. For example, out of $100,000, they are receiving just maybe $100 or $200. For that reason, in my opinion, we should be very, very careful."
Another member of the Afghan parliament is Shukria Barakzai, from Kabul, who agrees that the proposals are interesting. Barakzai was the organizer of underground schools for women during the reign of the Taliban. She stresses that a Loya Jirga should approve the proposed new legislation.
"They're thinking about 13 million Afghans, [either] directly or indirectly [affected], [for whom] that's the only way [in] which [they would] benefit," Barakzai said. "We should build a law for it, but by the constitution we are not allowed to do it, but we can invite our Loya Jirga [to convene], and [it] can change the constitution."
Some other Afghan conference participants say The Senlis Council proposals could be a basis for further discussion, but regard them as being too idealistic in current circumstances. One participant asked that with so many Afghan police being illiterate, how could they enforce complicated licensing regulations?
Others say licensing could be dangerous because the drug mafias could buy the licenses from the farmers or force them to turn them over. One Afghan student even recommends the best solution to the problem is burning the poppy fields and instructing imams to tell the people to grow something else.
Gulalai Momand, The Senlis Council's deputy country manager for Afghanistan, remains optimistic that the proposals are a viable alternative to what she calls the "dangerously pauperizing" eradication program. She stresses that the donor countries should listen to what the people of Afghanistan actually want.
"We expect [the international community] to listen to the voice of the Afghan nation when they are making their decisions," Momand said. "The purpose of our whole conference was to propose some of the questions that we had, especially in terms of drug policy and women's issues going on in Afghanistan right now, so that they can consider them while they are here."
Momand concludes that it will soon be known if the donor countries have listened to and understood the message of the conference.
Abdullah Abdullah (epa)
Afghan Foreign Minister ABDULLAH ABDULLAH on January 21 spoke by telephone with RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondent Zarif Nazar. Abdullah discussed the most recent videotaped message from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the current state of the Taliban, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and the upcoming London conference on the Afghanistan Compact.
To read the complete interview,click here.