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Bhattacharji: Tackling Afghanistan's Opium Trade with Legalization

Council on Foreign Relations

Interviewee: Romesh Bhattacharji, South Asian counternarcotics expert
Interviewer: Toni Johnson, Staff Writer

December 20, 2007

India is one of only a dozen countries allowed to grow opium poppies to export for the manufacture of legal drugs such as morphine. Romesh Bhattacharji, former narcotics commissioner for India, says he thinks India’s system of legalized opium growing can work in Afghanistan. Bhattacharji says India’s success with poppy growing (PDF) though an international licensing program for medicine production is largely due to a village control system, where if one farmer sells their crop illegally the entire area loses its license. He urges the adoption of this method in Afghanistan, where he says eradication efforts are ineffective and swaying support for the Taliban.`

Can you describe how a country becomes licensed to grow poppies and what India's history with the program has been? What might it mean for dealing with poppy growing in Afghanistan?

There is the international narcotics law, which controls opium production by a few countries authorized to do so under the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. Every country producing opium and opiates has to submit a detailed quarterly summary of its usage. For domestic consumption there is no restriction except the International Narcotics Control Board [INCB] which has to be informed about production by the country’s notified agency that oversees this cultivation. India started cultivating opium 454 years ago under Emperor [Jalaluddin Muhammad] Akbar’s reign. He taxed production. In those days, troops used to be given a daily dosage of opium, which was used for many medicinal purposes. Then, from the late eighteenth century, the British started profiting off of opium cultivation in India by smuggling it into China. The present organization with everything relating to opium production is being managed by [India’s] Central Bureau of Narcotics [CBN], established in 1948.

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