Tuesday, July 23, 2019

James Tharin Bradford's "Poppies, Politics, and Power"

James Tharin Bradford is Assistant Professor of History at Berklee College of Music, and Adjunct Lecturer at Babson College. He has published in the Journal of Iranian Studies, Oxford University Handbook of Drug History, and Illegal Cannabis Cultivation in the World.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Poppies, Politics, and Power: Afghanistan and the Global History of Drugs and Diplomacy, and reported the following:
Jumping into page 99 of Poppies, Politics, and Power, puts the readers into one of the most significant shifts in the history of drug policy in Afghanistan. Prior to 1956, Afghanistan was engaged in the quasi-legal sale of raw opium to many European and American pharmaceutical companies. Although in 1945, the Afghan government had announced a ban on the production and sale of opium it did not, however, pass legislation or enforce the law, mainly using the prohibition to convince the United States to sign a massive economic aid package in exchange for a ban on drugs. More important, the lack of legislative action was due in part largely to the fact that the production of opium was common in many parts of Afghanistan, and in some cases, had developed into an important export crop throughout much of the early twentieth century. Many Afghan officials within the Afghan government were reluctant to prohibit a product that could be a potential lucrative source of revenue for one of the poorest countries in the world. By page 99, we are in the thick of the Afghans rationale…
A legal opium industry could become a core export for a state in dire need of one, and through increased trade with the United States, the state would become a powerful ally in a vital region of the world…Seventy-five tons a year would hypothetically add $1.5 million in foreign exchange reserves. Given the outflow in foreign exchange that started at the end of World War II, this was advantageous. The opium export would also provide a stable source of revenue for poor regions of Afghanistan, Badakhshan in particular. (pg 99)
As you are reading this, much of the Afghan rationale for a legal opium industry probably makes sense. However, one of the keys for ratification for legal production and export under the Opium Protocol was that the government needed to demonstrate control over production. And this was the death knell for a possible legal opium industry in Afghanistan. The Afghan government was limited in its capacity to control much of the country, let alone control the opium trade. Recognizing that legalization was unlikely, Daud Khan announced a nationwide prohibition of opium in 1957.

This page 99 test captures an interesting period in Afghan history given that in 1956, the Afghan government almost became an internationally recognized producer of licit opium. However, as the rest of my book details, in the decades following the 1956 deliberations the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan expanded dramatically, to the point where it now supplies nearly 90% of the world’s illicit supply of heroin. It is certainly interesting to think where Afghanistan would be today if they had been granted legal status, and whether the opium trade would be a beneficial part of the legal economy, rather than the world’s leading source of illicit heroin.
Learn more about Poppies, Politics, and Power at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue