Kim Howells in a lame response to a debate on Afghan poppies this morning said, ‘Corruption in Afghanistan is something that we just have to put up with.’ But is it something that British soldiers have to die for?
The only rational posture of a minister on the Afghan debacle should have been contrite and apologetic. But Ministers do not do contrition. The drugs policy is an utter abject failure. Heroin production is the highest ever and grew 60% last year. There is so much heroin on our streets, the price is the lowest ever. And it cost British taxpayer £260 million on narcotics ‘reduction’ in addition to the £1billion we shell out on security
I reminded Kim of his disgraceful attempt at being hip in answering an oral question that could not have been more serious. In February 2006 I made a speech forecasting an increase in casualties in Helmand that could lead us to a British Vietnam.
Kim boasted in an answer to the question that the war on drugs was going well with a 21% decrease in the land cultivated. True but misleading. The decrease in heroin production was only 2%. My main concern was sending troops into Helmand which I said ‘would result in an increase in violence that would drive local farmers into the hands of Taliban.’ This was tragically prophetic.
Laugh-a-minute Kim replied,
“It’s not enough to assume that if people eat muesli, go to Harold Pinter first nights and read the Independent, the drug barons of Afghanistan will go away?”
This was a joke. Some MPs laughed. The loved ones of the 56 brave soldiers who have died since that day in Helmand will not be laughing. Nor will the families of thousands of people whose lives continue to be destroyed by Afghan heroin.
Kim, last month, promised ‘a battle against corruption in Afghanistan.’ This is delusional politics based on the myth of the omnipotence of American-British power. If there is any problem, we will solve it. Turning anarchic Afghanistan to a model Scandinavian democracy? No Problem. Ending corruption that been endemic in Afghanistan for centuries? We can do it.
If any minister really believes that he can end Afghan corruption, and it’s possible he does believe it, the kindest thing would be to have him ushered away by men in white coats.
There was also a calmer debate. Tory Tobias Ellwood wants a pilot programme to allow a licit trade by using to poppies for the production of the medicines of morphine and codeine. This is a bright visionary idea. Tobias deserves credit for courage. Everyone agreed.