Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Opium production in Afghanistan

Is the US or the Taliban responsible?

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 15 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1088
  1. Simon J Spedding, medical adviser
  1. 1Department of Veterans Affairs, 199 Grenfell Street, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia
  1. Simon.spedding{at}

Working for a year in the Kabul children’s hospital in the 1970s gave me a perspective on Afghanistan that conflicts with the Foreign Office’s view that “the Taliban is promoting opium production to finance terrorism.”1

The simple facts are that opium production was high under the US influenced government of Afghanistan of the 1970s, decreased 10-fold by 2001 under the Taliban, and then increased 30-fold and more under the US to the same level as in the 1970s.2

History shows us how empires function; be they British or US. The East India Company organised the opium trade through “free traders”—men with fast ships and guns to fend off the pirates. One of the most famous free traders was Francis Light, founder of the British province of Penang. These are facts, whereas the idea that the CIA runs opium from Afghanistan would be a conspiracy theory—unless, you thought about the United Nations statistics or happened to have been to Afghanistan.

I wonder if “Clive of the East India Company,” whose statue is outside the Foreign Office’s front door, has influenced its interpretation of world events.


  • Competing interests: None declared.