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Link anti-narcotics programmes with peace-building, Christian Aid advises

27 January 2022


Afghan men consume drugs on the side of a road in Kabul, on Monday 

Afghan men consume drugs on the side of a road in Kabul, on Monday 

THE war on drugs is not working, and an alternative approach needs to link policy to development and peace-building, a Christian Aid report, published on Wednesday, says.

The report, Violence, Peace and Drugs in the Borderlands, warns that vulnerable communities in Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Colombia have “little choice but to engage in the illicit [drug] economy”. It calls on the EU to end traditional counter-narcotics measures in favour of indicators such as access to public services, human security, confidence in the state, and access to meaningful employment.

The paper comes out of research undertaken with SOAS, University of London, on “Drugs and (dis)order”: a consortium of academics, policymakers, local researchers, civil-society organisations, and international NGOs, which seeks a more reflective and collaborative approach to the illicit drugs trade.

It acknowledges that, in many cases, illicit drug economies enable survival: “They may actually contribute to stability but not end violence,” the report says. “A basic measure of success of all interventions in drugs-affected borderlands should be whether they contribute to reduction in the immediate triggers of violence, ensuring compliance with both human rights and drug control standards.”

Any counter-narcotics programme should be informed by rigorous conflict analysis, the report suggests. It should have safeguards to mitigate “the use of counter-narcotics policies and operations as tools for political gain”, and must incorporate long timeframes, careful sequencing, and high levels of participation and representation.

It points out that parties to a conflict seek to weaponise counter-narcotics policies against their opponents, “often done with the tacit or unwitting support of international donors, playing on anxieties and imperatives around security and drugs”. Counter-narcotics policy is “frequently incoherent, fragmented, untransparent, and anti-democratic”.

The head of Christian Aid’s project From Violence to Peace, Paul Quinn, said: “There is no easy solution. . . The old approach of prioritising hectares eradicated or the capture or killing of traffickers is not reducing violence and providing a lasting peace for innocent people.

“Christian Aid believes we need a new, alternative approach to drug policy that is linked to development, peace building, the eradication of poverty, and the rights of people most affected.”

Life for the communities in these borderlands is described as “more perilous than ever”: the Afghan economy is on the brink of collapse after the Taliban takeover; resistance to the coup in Myanmar is triggering a brutal crackdown; and protests in Colombia are being met with threats and violence.

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