Supplying the majority of the heroin consumed in Europe and nearly all consumed in Russia, Afghanistan's booming illicit drug market has not only entirely distorted the Afghan economy but also corrupted the country's nascent, fragile political system. While current norms regulating the production and traffic of illicit drugs have established the framework of an international prohibition regime, the policies associated with this regime have so far failed to stop or significantly slow the growing of Afghan opium. In 2005, in response to this situation, the Senlis Council, an international drug policy think tank, proposed the creation of a licensing system in Afghanistan which would allow the cultivation of opium for the production of essential medicines such as morphine and codeine. This system is intended to break the vicious circle of the drug economy by moving the opium trade into a legal system controlled by, and benefiting, the state. This paper adopts a critical view of the Senlis proposals, arguing that their underlying principles - economic, social and political - diverge only marginally from those underpinning previous approaches and have little potential for success under current political conditions. The paper concludes that, despite many imperfections, the current policies in place may be optimum given both Afghanistan's present situation and the structural problems inherent in the global war against drugs.
Frédéric Grare is currently Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, and a superior degree in Political Science from the Paris Institute of Political Studies.