Tue 31 Jan 2006
Filed under: News,Opinion
And thus any but a politically centred approach is bound to fail in ending this scourge from our neighbour.
International anti-drug officials are supposed to step down if they cannot persuade governments to cooperate with the global effort to eliminate the trade in the illicit substances. But many countries take no responsibility in suppressing this trade within their own borders, much less extend a helping hand in international interdiction.
Countless empty promises have been made by virtually all governments to do everything they can in the fight against the domestic and international drug trade. Little has changed. Governments with strong records in cooperating with international anti-drug efforts continue to do so by providing financial support, technical assistance and manpower. But those with dismal records continue to wallow in drug-related corruption and turn a blind eye to the domestic trade flourishing right under their noses.
This explains why international anti-drug agencies continue to be as busy as ever trying to enlist support against this scourge of mankind.
At a recent gathering of regional narcotics officials in New Delhi, yet another pledge was made to assist Burma with crop substitution. Senior officials from India, China, Laos and Thailand voiced a common concern over the flow of narcotics from Burma, second only to Afghanistan as the world’s largest source of opium, and expressed their willingness to help with crop substitution. They have done this before countless times, and each time swearing they really mean business now. But doubts remain as to how far all parties are willing to go to see things through.
Drug-trafficking groups like the Wa and Kokang Chinese have been trying to convince the world that they are quitting the opium and heroin trade. Such assertions raise the question of what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of poor farmers who had long depended on the illicit crop for their livelihood? But have they really kicked the habit? What these groups failed to say is that their resources have now been converted into producing methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs, which can be produced quickly and more cheaply but with higher profit margins.
Since the 1990s, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has carried out pilot projects for alternative crop production in a Wa-controlled area in Shan state, which lies opposite Mae Hong Son. Like other UN projects, this was a futile attempt. Any counter-narcotic policy to succeed in Burma must take into consideration the political side of the problem. For decades, these warlords and their armies have been operating with impunity in return for agreeing to a cease-fire with the beleaguered Burmese junta, which has shown little consideration for drug problems plaguing Burma, let alone the effects of its drugs in destroying lives around the world.
Political solutions have not been properly explored, but this is the only way to get to the bottom of Burma’s vicious circle linking illicit drugs, insurgencies, national reconciliation and last but not least, democracy.
Thailand has also tried to carry out a crop-substitution programme with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in an area controlled by the 20,000-strong pro-Rangoon outfit. But the Yongkha Project found it impossible to find countries or agencies willing to fund it. The international community was puzzled as to why Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would reach out to the UWSA, dubbed the world’s largest armed drug-trafficking army by the US State Department. Perhaps it was an attempt to cosy up to Rangoon.
While a sustainable political solution acceptable to all parties in Burma may be an elusive long-term goal, Burma and neighbouring countries could start getting serious about cooperation in law enforcement. There has been talk about getting tough with the flow of precursor chemicals needed to produce these illicit drugs. Yet illicit drugs continue to pour out of the Golden Triangle, suggesting that the precursors are still making their way to the clandestine Burmese labs from factories in China and India.
Since they aspire to be recognised as major regional powers, it shouldn’t be too much to ask China and India for better regulation of the trade in the legal chemicals that can be used as precursors for synthetic drugs.