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Afghanistan Update


For more info on other South Asian nations, check out Common Sense for Drug Policy: Asia Drug War Update.

Pentagon Adds Afghan Drug Traffickers to Hitlist Despite International Concerns Over Legality

As reported by the UK's Guardian on August 10 of 2009 ("Pentagon Puts Afghan Drug-Traffickers on Hitlist"), the U.S. Pentagon has placed "[f]ifty Afghans [...] suspected of drug trafficking and hav[ing] ties with the Taliban" on a "target list," which authorizes their capture or even assassination. According to the Guardian, however, "[t]he move [...] is certain to provoke controversey," though it does appear consistent with the new U.S. Afghan counter-narcotics strategy announced this summer.

Although "US commanders, who described [the hitlist as] an essential part of a plan to disrupt the flow of drugmoney helping to finance the Taliban insurgency," reportedly told Congressthat "they are convinced that the policy is legal under the military's rules of engagement and international law," others are not so sure. As the Guardian states, "targeting individuals in a deliberate assassination policy is regarded by many Nato countries, and by many lawyers and military advisers in Britain, as unlawful." No reports have stated that any entities or individuals have attempted to thwart the plan, and "[s]everal individuals suspected of ties to drug trafficking have already been appreheneded, and others have been killed by the US military since the new policy went into effect earlier this year, a senior military official told the New York Times," which released a similar story the previous day.

Despite the aforementioned legal concerns, no reports of individuals or entities attempting to stop the policy have surfaced.

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Poppy Wars Plummet Afghans into Poverty

Last year - well before the Obama adminstration announced its reformed Afghanistan anti-narcotics strategy, which basically consists of replacing poppy eradication with targeted drug interdiction efforts and assisting Afghan farmers in switching from poppy cultivation to the growing of licit crops - the Afghan "government began aggressively enforcing a ban on opium production," according to a piece by Associated Press writer Rukmini Callimachi, reprinted in the Los Angeles Times on August 2, 2009 ("Tensions Grow in Afghanistan as Villagers Get Rid of Opium, Fall into Poverty"). Callimachi describes a "village [economy that] sputtered to a halt" under the government crack down, implemented at least partially in response to "intense international pressure.". As he writes, "Villagers were not allowed to plant their only cash crop. Now shops are empty and farmers are in debt, as entire communities spiral into poverty." US officials might want to keep Callimachi's findings in mind as they proceed with the recently announced strategy shift's implementation.

Callimachi summarizes the problem succinctly and thoroughly. He states, "Opium is one of the biggest problems facing this troubled country, because it is deeply woven into the fabric of daily life as well as into the economics of insurgency." Solving this problem will not be easy, as reports on Afghanistan's counter-narcotic and crop-replacement strategies suggest. Not only is "the government ban on opium [...] working at best unevenly," with Taliban-controlled areas still producing poppy-derived opium at astounding rates, but rural farmers in Badakshan province's Shahran village are learning that the "wheat, barley, mustard and melons" they were coerced into growing - through "government radio messages warn[ing] that poppy fields would be destroyed and opium growers jailed" - are more difficult and expensive to successfully cultivate and yield much less at market than did their previous illicit poppy plants. As farmer Abdul Saboor told Callimachi, "See this mustard? It can take care of my family for one month. [...] When we planted opium in this same plot, it took care of all our expenses for an entire year." Another farmer told the reporter that "If we plant two bags of wheat, then we'll have just enough money to buy the seeds to plant another two bags of wheat. [...] We're going backwards. Of course we're angry at the government."

Moreover, farmers must now consider previously nonexistent expenses and look to outside funding sources to support themselves; as the article states, "Farmers throughout the region are sinking deeply into debt. They borrow money to buy staples such as rice and oil, which they used to buy with opium. They also take out loans to buy seeds and fertilizer and to rent donkeys to take the wheat to market - an expense opium did not bring because all the local shops accepted it as legal tender." Additionally, the new crops need decent irrigation to grow correctly. A 55-year-old farmer with whom Callimachi spoke said that "he can't grow wheat and barley with much success" because "he has only rain-fed land;" thus, "[u]nless the government helps, he says, he will have to plant opium again." Some farmers have defied the ban. However, "[m]ost are seeing their fields destroyed, as government agents intensify patrols."

US and Afghan officials have little sympathy for the impoverished farmers. Doug Wankel, a former DEA agent "who organized the U.S. counternarcotics effort here in 2003," stated that "These poor farmers are going to get stepped on and get hurt in this effort." But, he added, "it's a pain that has to be endured for the good of the masses." A spokesperson for Afghanistan's Ministry of Counternarcotics said, "In the U.S. and the U.K., when people do an illegal activity, the police stops them, right? This is an illegal act, so we need to stop it in order to enforce the rule of law."

Furthermore, Callimachi suspects that "the poverty created by getting rid of opium may be stoking terrorism." He uses Nangahar province, "which became poppy free last year and is held up as an example of government control," as a case study. The region "has seen a rapid increase in extremism," Callimachi writes, citing a "field study by David Mansfield, counternarcotics consultant for the U.N. and the World Bank." The reporter also cites a province decision to rescind "agreements to limit the movement of anti-government groups on its border with Pakistan," which culminated in attacks on government buildings and the creation of Taliban checkpoints in the Afghan province. Moreover, the intensified poppy ban "is unlikely to stop the flow of opium and money to the Taliban in the south." Callimachi discusses other, Taliban-controlled provinces that have not enacted the poppy ban and states that if Helmand province, one of the highest opium-producing areas in the country, were a separate nation, "it would rank as the world's top opium producer." Thus, an uneven ban on poppy cultivation will likely have little impact on Taliban coffers and world drug supplies.

Instead, such policies hurt farmers like those quoted above. Perhaps "Zainuddin, the head of security officer for Darayim district in Badakshan," best sums up the conundrum: "'Sometimes I cry as I am hitting the poppies,' says Zainuddin [...]. 'Because I know these are poor people and I am taking away the only thing they have." Unless the Obama administration can implement its crop replacement strategy more successfully than has the Afghan government, the new US plan is likely to do nothing more than intensify poor farmers' problems.

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Presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Russia Hold Security Summit, Urge Further International Participation in Anti-Drug Efforts

At what the Associated Foreign Press calls "an unusual security summit" attended by the "presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, and Tajikistan" - which has repeatedly criticized regional drug control strategies for driving insurgents across its borders - held in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe on July 30, 2009 ("Presidents Meet for Security Summit in Tajikistan"), the aforementioned attendees "urged an intensified fight against drug trafficking in the region." As the article states, "their joint statement issued after the talks expressed concern about the increase in the narcotics trade as one of the main sources of financing for militancy in the region" and "called on the international community to take 'additional steps for a decisive fight agains the narco-threat.'" Following the talks, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (who also attended the summit) said at a news conference that "the four countries had a shared vision of how to make the turbulent region, and the world, safer." But as AFP states, "virtually no concrete information [...] emerge[d] from Thursday's gathering," leaving readers to wonder what the vision to which Medvedev referred might look like.

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Holbrooke Claims Victory for New Afghan Counter-Narcotics Strategy

According to a July 30, 2009 report on Foreign Policy's "The Cable" blog ("Holbrooke: I've Changed Bush's Failed Afghan Drug Policy"), U.S. Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke claimed in a press briefing the previous day that "he had torn up the Bush administration's playbook on drug eradication in Afghanistan" to astounding success. He further asserts that his recent "trip down to Helmand and Kandahar" revealed "the first tangible evidence that the [...] policy shift [...] is beginning to show results." Holbrooke stated at the press briefing that the aforementioned evidence "came from the British and American forces in Helmand, where they targeted interdiction and made interdiction their goal and they went after drug dealers. And using modern technologies, they located what they called drug bazaars, marketplaces which sold drug paraphernalia, precurser chemicals, laboratory equipment, poppy seeds and there were vast amounts of opium, nice fluffy poppy, to buy and sell, and [the troops] destroyed them."

In short, British and American troops are apparently using "modern technolog[y]" (which sounds an awful lot like "research and intelligence gathering") to locate and eradicate drug markets rather than drug crops. Holbrooke thus declares that the strategy shift has resulted in smarter, more targeted drug interdiction efforts that produce tangible results - as opposed to poppy eradication, which never made much of a dent in poppy-derived drug availabilities and cost "$44,000 a hectare."

Holbrooke makes no mention of the crop replacement programs touted by the Obama administration as one of the central components of the new anti-drug strategy, designed to drive farmers away from lucrative poppy production toward the cultivation of licit crops and, most importantly, out of the arms of Taliban forces. Although the new strategy deserves some praise for its targeting of drug traffickers over civilian Afghan farmers, one has to wonder where exactly Holbrooke thinks those drug market peddlers will end up and how big an impact "destroy[ing]" their products will have on drug-trafficking insurgents' profit margins and future capabilities.

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U.S. Marines, Afghan Forces Attack Drug Warehouses

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on July 27, 2009 ("Tons of Afghan Opium and Heroin Destroyed"), "U.S. and NATO troops," with assistance from Britain and the DEA, "are attacking drug warehouses in Afghanistan for the first time this year to counter the country's booming opium poppy and heroin trade." In their first mission, "U.S. Marines and Afghan forces [...] destroyed hundreds of tons of poppy seeds, opium, and heroin in Southern Afghanistan [...] in raids that a top American official said showed the new U.S. anti-narcotics strategy was working." The Inquirer article also provides further details about that new strategy. Whereas earlier news articles have stated only that the U.S. would cease targeting "farmers of poppy plants" and go after major traffickers instead, this article specifies that "The United States announced last month that it would [...] increase attacks on warehouses controlled by drug lords."

This summer, "Marines, British troops, and Afghan forces supported by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have increasingly targeted drug warehouses in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the largest opium-poppy-growing region in the world." The effort has produced results; as the Inquirer states, "Seizures this summer" included "297 tons of poppy seeds, 77 pounds of heroin, and 300 pounds of opium." Additionally, "About 1,200 pounds of hashish and 4,225 gallons of chemicals used to convert opium to heroin were also seized." But the spoils of war did not stop there. Also rounded up in the summer raids were "[b]omb-making materials, rocket-propelled grenades, and AK-47s." U.S. officials say that these findings "underscor[e] what the U.S. Embassy said was 'the connection between drug trafficking and the insurgency."

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U.S. Bombs Afghan Poppy Seeds, Claims Move is Consistent with Stated Strategy Shift

According to a CNN report posted on July 21, 2009 ("U.S. Bombs Poppy Crop to Cut Taliban Drug Ties"), the United States "bombed about 300 tons of poppy seeds in a dusty field in southern Afghanistan [...] in a dramatic show of force designed to break up the Taliban's connection to heroin." The "air strike," observed by "embedded" CNN reporter Ivan Watson, consisted of the "military dropp[ing] a series of 1,000-pound bombs from planes on the mounds of poppy seeds and then follow[ing] with strikes from helicoptors."

Bombing poppy seeds may not be the same thing as aerially eradicating opium crops, but the action does call into question the extent of President Obama's recently announced change to Afghan drug control protocols. According to State Department official Tony Wayne, however, the move is entirely consistent. As he told CNN, "the strikes on poppy seeds [...] is part of a strategy shift for the military to stop the Taliban and other insurgents from profiting from drugs." He added, "There is a nexus that needs to be broken between the insurgents and the drug traffickers [...]. Also, it is part of winning the hearts and minds of the population because in some cases they are intimidated into growing poppies."

The article goes on to explain an ongoing crop replacement program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The agency "has been offering [Afghan farmers] seeds, fertilizers, and improved irrigation" as part of "a bid to encourage [them] to swap out their poppy plants for wheat crops." According to both the UN and USAID, their efforts are making a dent in the "nexus" of which Wayne speaks; USAID officials told CNN that "[g]iving Afghan farmers improved access to markets and improved irrigation is successfully weaning them away from poppy production."

Still, the strange, almost celebratory bombing raises questions about the degree to which the Obama administration and its military forces recognize Afghan citizens' autonomy in their attempts to empty the Taliban's drug profit lined coffers. Even as officials note that farmers are often forced to grow poppies bound for the drug trade - whether by insurgents themselves, financial need, or lack of access to more acceptable crops - the US government continues executing fireworks-like demonstrations that deprive Afghan farmers of the ability to make their own decisions about what to grow and why. The shift away from eradication and toward crop replacement incentives, as evidenced by a farmer quoted in CNN's piece, appears a welcome change to many citizens, but farmers might be more welcoming were they not forced to watch useless attacks on innocent poppy seeds by foreign governments.

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DEA Expands Afghan Counter-Narcotics Efforts

In what a July 20, 2009 Los Angeles Times article ("U.S. Increasing Counter-Narcotics Efforts in Afghanistan") calls "a new kind of 'surge,'" the US "is deploying dozens of Drug Enforcement Administration agents to Afghanistan." The Times states that the ramped up program intends to target "trafficking networks that officials say are increasingly feuling the Taliban insurgency and corrupting the Afghan government." Whereas Afghanistan used to house only 13 "DEA agents and analysts," that number "will rise [...] to 68 by September, and to 81 in 2010. More agents will also be deployed in Pakistan." Thomas Harrigan, who serves as "deputy administrator and chief of operations for the DEA," told the Times that the growing offensive represents "the most prolific expansion in DEA history."

The article cites, as have others in recent weeks, the Obama adminstration's revised focus on major narcotics traffickers (whose profits purportedly end up in the pockets of Taliban militants) as opposed to poppy eradication as the primary reason the DEA must beef up its forces in Afghanistan. Thus, the Administration owes its Afghan expansion at least partially to President Obama's decision to focus more U.S. war resources on dismantling terrorist groups there.

For more on this development, take a look at the Times article linked above, and be sure to check out The Drug War Chronicle's July 17 feature, "The DEA is on the Way".

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US Announces New Approach to Drug War in Afghanistan

As the Los Angeles Times reported on June 27 ("U.S. to Shift Approach to Afghanistan Drug Trade"), "The United States is shifting its strategy against Afghanistan's drug trade, phasing out funding for opium eradication while boosting efforts to fight trafficking and promote alternative crops." The new policy aims "to deprive the Taliban of the tens of millions of dollars in drug revenue" it purpotedly receives from the drug trade and, the Times claims, "is fueling [the Taliban's] insurgency."

As the Times states, "Richard C. Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the Associated Press that poppy eradication -- for years a cornerstone of U.S. and U.N. drug trafficking efforts in Afghanistan -- was not working and was driving farmers into the hands of the Taliban." The Obama administration now plans to focus its interdiction efforts on drug traffickers themselves (as opposed to the plants, typically grown by small-scale farmers, from which the drugs they sell are derived) and assist farmers who might otherwise plant poppies for economic reasons to switch over to legal - yet still lucrative - crops.

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Are DEA Agents Being Forced to Work Illegally and Unpreparedly in Afghanistan?

Back in late March, "American authorities [began] planning a broad new campaign against terrorist financing networks in Afghanistan, sending dozens of federal drug enforcement agents to help stem the country's massive opium trade," MSNBC reported ("DEA Agents to Stage Afghan Offensive"). As Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told MSNBC, "the DEA's effort is aimed at crippling the Afghan narcotics networks" whose profits, according to former DEA operations chief Michael Braun, "have allowed the Taliban to flourish." The campaign, which involved both U.S. and NATO forces, was designed to "target 'higher level drug lords' in much the same way as is the Obama administration's recently announced decision to de-emphasize poppy eradication efforts in Afghanistan. It also closely resembles "a 2005 U.S. program in Iraq that targeted terror networks funding insurgency" there.

However, the program has recently received less media attention for its successes than for charges of corruption brought by DEA agents - mostly "special-agent pilots" - who, as McCatchy Newspapers reported ("Agents Say DEA is Forcing Them Illegally to Work in Afghanistan"), "contend that they're being illegally forced to go to a combat zone. Additionally, "others who've volunteered say they're not being properly equipped;" according to one agent, "'The DEA does not have enough resources to get the job done in Afghanistan," and McClatchy sources contend that requests for such integral items as boots, artillary, and GPS systems have been routinely ignored or denied.

McClatchy claims that such reports "could complicate the Obama administration's efforts to send dozens of additional DEA agents to Afghanistan as part of a civilian and military personnel 'surge' that aims to stabilize the country," though agents who spoke to McClatchy anonymously asserted that "plenty" of their colleagues were "willing to go." McClatchy reports several cases of agents having willingly volunteered to go to Afghanistan only to have their requests denied "without explanation." Agents instead claim their superiors "use Afghanistan as punishment for agents they don't like." For example (and perhaps most eggregiously), &Veteran DEA pilot Daniel Offield [...] alleges [...] that the agency's decision to send him to Afghanistan is part of a larger pattern of harrassment based on his age and sexual orientation."

McClatchy provides primarily anonymous reports from "more than a dozen DEA agents" who "describe a badly managed system in which some pilots have been sent to Afghanistan under duress or as punishment for bucking their superiors." Two agents who spoke with McClatchy "have flown for the DEA in Latin American countries wracked by drug violence, but they say service in a combat zone should be treated as voluntary because they're not military personnel." Indeed, attorney Richard Margarita, "a former DEA agent and county prosecutor" agrees; as he told McClatchy, "such compulsory duty violates a 2008 federal law that requires civilian personnel to serve voluntarily."

Update: As reported by The Baltimore Sun on July 13, 2009 ("DEA, Pilot Spar Over War Zone Assignment"), the DEA "removed [Daniel Offield] from his pilot duties [...] less than two weeks after McClatchy/Tribune news reported that some special-agent pilots said they are being forced to illegally go to a combat zone on temporary duty." The Stockton, CA native "was reassigned to street duty at the DEA's Oakland, Calif., office," according to Offield's lawyer. The Sun reports that "DEA officials denied discriminating against Offield and said that in such cases agents aren't being demoted."

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Brother of Afghanistan President Alleged Drug Trafficker

Numerous reports and current and former officials from the White House, the State Department and the United States Embassy in Afghanistan link brother of Afghanistan President, Ahmed Wali Karzai, to drug trafficking. According to the New York Times October 5, 2008 article, ("Reports Link Karzai's Brother to Heroin Trade") "When Afghan security forces found an enormous cache of heroin hidden beneath concrete blocks in a tractor-trailer outside Kandahar in 2004, the local Afghan commander quickly impounded the truck and notified his boss. Before long, the commander, Habibullah Jan, received a telephone call from Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, asking him to release the vehicle and the drugs, Mr. Jan later told American investigators, according to notes from the debriefing obtained by The New York Times. He said he complied after getting a phone call from an aide to President Karzai directing him to release the truck.Two years later, American and Afghan counternarcotics forces stopped another truck, this time near Kabul, finding more than 110 pounds of heroin. Soon after the seizure, United States investigators told other American officials that they had discovered links between the drug shipment and a bodyguard believed to be an intermediary for Ahmed Wali Karzai, according to a participant in the briefing. The assertions about the involvement of the president's brother in the incidents were never investigated, according to American and Afghan officials, even though allegations that he has benefited from narcotics trafficking have circulated widely in Afghanistan. Both President Karzai and Ahmed Wali Karzai, now the chief of the Kandahar Provincial Council, the governing body for the region that includes Afghanistan's second largest city, dismiss the allegations as politically motivated attacks by longtime foes."

The article adds, "Neither the Drug Enforcement Administration, which conducts counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, nor the fledgling Afghan anti-drug agency has pursued investigations into the accusations against the president's brother. Several American investigators said senior officials at the D.E.A. and the office of the Director of National Intelligence complained to them that the White House favored a hands-off approach toward Ahmed Wali Karzai because of the political delicacy of the matter. But White House officials dispute that, instead citing limited D.E.A. resources in Kandahar and southern Afghanistan and the absence of political will in the Afghan government to go after major drug suspects as the reasons for the lack of an inquiry. It was not clear whether President Bush had been briefed on the matter."

The article states, "Ever since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, critics have charged that the Bush administration has failed to take aggressive action against the Afghan narcotics trade, because of both opposition from the Karzai government and reluctance by the United States military to get bogged down by eradication and interdiction efforts that would antagonize local warlords and Afghan poppy farmers. Now, Afghanistan provides about 95 percent of the world's supply of heroin. Just as the Taliban have benefited from money produced by the drug trade, so have many officials in the Karzai government, according to American and Afghan officials. Thomas Schweich, a former senior State Department counternarcotics official, wrote in The New York Times Magazine in July that drug traffickers were buying off hundreds of police chiefs, judges and other officials. 'Narco-corruption went to the top of the Afghan government,' he said."

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Despite Slight Decrease, Afghanistan Opium Production Near Record High

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently released the executive summary of its annual Afghanistan Opium Survey. The UN's spin: land area devoted to opium production in Afghanistan dropped by about one-fifth from the year before, a dramatic decrease. The rest of the story: 2008's estimated opium crop was the second largest in Afghan history.

The Observer reported on Aug. 24, 2008 ("Helmand's Fields Yield A Bumper Opium Harvest") that "New figures from the United Nations to be released this week are set to reveal that opium production in the southern regions of Afghanistan has soared. The worst affected province is Helmand, where 7,000 British soldiers are deployed. Officials are likely to stress successes in the north and east of the country, where the number of provinces free of poppy is set to rise. Last year 13 provinces across the country were declared free of opium cultivation - largely in the relatively secure north. However, there are fears that extreme hardship caused by drought and long-standing deep poverty in the newly poppy-free zones may threaten that progress. 'In the north, where there is a degree of legitimate government and political leadership, poppy production has been dropping,' said Christina Oguz, representative in Afghanistan for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. 'But the severe drought after a harsh winter means that, if we are to sustain the downward train, much more needs to be done.' Oguz said it was critical that the Afghan government and the international community 'show that they will ensure food supplies and massive and targeted long and short-term development' areas where farmers decided not to plant poppy last year. 'I am not sure that is going to happen,' she said in an interview in Kabul."

According to the Observer, "A second worrying development is the growing 'professionalisation' of local drugs production, with mobile laboratories increasingly manufacturing high-quality heroin within Afghanistan. Previously, opium was turned into heroin outside the country. 'Most of the labs which were round here have gone down to the south,' said Shinwari. In Helmand province, the extension of agricultural land that has been the result of recent development work has allowed further opium production. However, the poppy harvest has been affected by a glut on the market which has lowered the price paid 'at the farm gate' and high global wheat prices which have made other crops more attractive."

The UNODC's Afghanistan Opium Survey 2008 Executive Summary can be downloaded from the UNODC website or from CSDP's research section.

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IMF: Afghan Farmers Made $1 Billion From Opium In 2007

The International Monetary Fund has issued an analysis of the Afghanistan economy which estimates that opium production is worth $1 billion to Afghan farmers. Meanwhile the United Kingdom, the nation which leads international anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan, has cut back its funding for the Afghan anti-narcotics ministry. This move comes as international development experts estimate that development efforts to eliminate the opium economy there will cost at least one billion pounds and take some 20 years.

First, the Financial Times reported on Feb. 25, 2008 ("Afghan Drug Body Hit By UK Funding Reversal") that "The country's narcotics economy has grown in strength in the six years since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, which had successfully banned poppy cultivation in 2000. Last year Afghanistan produced its biggest harvest, with output up 17 per cent on 2006. It has also moved into the lucrative business of refining raw opium into heroin inside its own borders. This week the International Monetary Fund said poppy production was worth $1bn to farmers. The value to the drug refiners and traffickers is far greater."

According to the IMF's Staff Report for the 2007 Article IV Consultation, issued Jan. 28, 2008:

Opium remains, by far, the largest cash crop in Afghanistan. Opium production has increased steadily from 185 metric tons in 2001 to 8,200 metric tons in 2007. As a result, Afghanistan has become the world’s largest opium producer, with its share of the total world supply increasing from 52 percent in 1995 to 93 percent in 2007. The increase in production has resulted in a decline in the farm-gate price of fresh opium at harvest time. Although opium prices declined in 2004–07, they were still three times higher than in 1994–2000. In 2007, about 81 percent of the opium production was located in the south and south-west regions of Afghanistan, where anti-government elements are most active.

The impact of opium cultivation on the economy has been substantial. About 12 percent of the population (or 3.3 million people) were involved in opium poppy cultivation during the 2007 season, with the farm-gate value of the opium harvest amounting to $1 billion (11 percent of projected licit GDP). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the total value of the opium harvest (accruing to farmers, laboratory owners, and traffickers) was about $4 billion in 2007, compared with $2.7 billion in 2005.

According to the Financial Times, the Afghan anti-narcotics agency faces a funding crisis. They report that "The Afghan ministry set up to tackle the drugs trade is facing a staffing crisis after the UK, on the instructions of the Kabul government, withdrew funding for salaries. The best-educated workers at the fledgling ministry of counter-narcotics, which is intended to play a key role in reducing the country's poppy crop, have been looking for other jobs after pay for senior staff dropped from $1,500 (UKP762) to $200 a month. The ministry said 30 senior workers had left since November when pay was cut. One official, a senior aide to counter-narcotics minister General Khodaidad, said he could no longer afford the rent on his Kabul flat and was trying to find an information technology job in one of the NGOs in Kabul, which pay far more than government jobs. Other staff members claim to have received no pay since November. Britain, 'lead sponsor' of anti-drugs efforts in Afghanistan, withdrew its subsidy as part of a process designed to bring pay into line with other ministries."

Recently however the UK government and the World Bank released a joint effort in which they estimate that eliminating Afghanistan's opium economy will take an investment of at least one billion UK pounds over a 20 year period. The Guardian reported on Feb. 6, 2008 ("Opium Economy Will Take 20 Years and UKP1BN to Remove") that "Afghanistan's opium economy will take up to 20 years to eradicate and require a UKP1bn investment from world leaders, according to a government study published yesterday. The 102-page report was welcomed by the international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, even though it contains some highly critical messages about the effectiveness of some of the aid programmes. Compiled by the Department of International Development and the World Bank, the analysis suggests at least an extra UKP1bn needs to be invested in irrigation, roads, alternative crops and rural development to attract farmers away from the lucrative and growing opium industry. Its conclusions came as the UN produced fresh figures on the opium trade. The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime ( UNODC ) believes this year's crop will be similar to, or slightly lower than, last year's record harvest. In 2007 Afghanistan had more land growing drugs than Colombia, Bolivia and Peru combined."

According to the Guardian, "Highlighting the lack of coordination in the current aid effort, the report warns: "The result of weak Afghan leadership and poor donor adherence ... will be some very messy and ill co-ordinated development activities. "In rural livelihood programmes for example some donors have agreed to consultations, but nevertheless finance programmes outside the budget with scant reference either to the government or agencies." It says less than a quarter of the total aid to Afghanistan currently goes through the Afghan national budget, and also criticises the military forces in Afghanistan for not sourcing goods and products from within Afghanistan. "The economic growth needed to displace the opium economy and the development of the necessary infrastructure and governance to support it will take at least one or two decades"."

The Guardian noted that "The report recommends investments of $550m ( UKP275m ) to boost rural enterprise development, and $400m for rural road planning, construction and maintenance. Overall, Afghan farmers need start-up assistance, matching investment grants, cost sharing market development and a commitment to deliver through community development councils with the aid itself seen as coming from the Afghan government, and not the true donor."

The report, Afghanistan: Economic Incentives and Development Initiatives to Reduce Opium Production, concludes:

There is an asymmetry between the political expectations of government and donors for rapid changes in the opium economy and the reality of the one to two decades that are realistically needed before the opium economy dwindles. Effective counter-narcotics efforts inevitably are a combination of economic development, the provision of social services, and better governance and the rule of law. This will take considerable time, massive and sustained financial commitment, and political vision and stamina.
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UN Drugs Agency Predicts Another Massive Afghan Opium Crop In 2008

Afghanistan will produce yet another massive opium crop this year, according to the The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Their latest rapid assessment survey projects an "overall slight decrease" from last year's record cultivation of 193,000 hectares of opium poppies. According to the "Afghanistan Opium Winter Rapid Assessment Survey," issued Feb. 6, 2008:

"Several findings deserve attention.
"First, field visits and interviews with village leaders indicate that cultivation levels will be broadly similar to, perhaps slightly lower than, last year’s record harvest. While it is encouraging that the dramatic increases of the past few years seem to be leveling off, the total amount of opium being harvested remains shockingly high. Europe, and other major heroin markets, should brace themselves for the health and security consequences.
"Second, the cultivation trends for 2008 deepen a dichotomy evident last year: a possibly growing number of opium-free provinces in the north and center of the country; and possibly higher levels of cultivation in the south and west – the areas of greatest instability.
"Third, the positive trend in the north is enhanced by decreases in cultivation in Nangarhar and Badakhshan. This is excellent news since these two provinces have been significant exceptions to the rule of an opium-free north-east.
"Fourth, the south and southwest continues to grow opium at an alarming rate, perhaps greater than last year when it accounted for 78 percent of total opium cultivation in Afghanistan. This is a windfall for anti-Government forces who take a tax (usher) of approximately 10 per cent of opium cultivation in regions under their control – further evidence of the dangerous link between opium and insurgency.
"Fifth, this survey, for the first time, includes information about opium stocks. Readers will note a major difference between amounts stock-piled by farmers in villages in the south as opposed to limited reserves in the north. Nevertheless, taking into account the massive amounts of opium that have been produced in the past few years – which far exceed world demand – it would appear that the bulk of this surplus is not being stored by farmers. Which begs the question, where is it?
"Sixth, another disturbing trend is the steady rise in cannabis cultivation, giving Afghanistan the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s biggest suppliers of cannabis in addition to providing over 90% of the world’s illicit opium."

Click here to download a copy of the report.

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UNODC: Afghan Opium Output In 2007 Nearly Double Estimated Annual Global Consumption

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its 2007 Afghanistan Opium Survey in mid-November 2007. The UNODC estimated that Afghanistan produced approximately 8,200 metric tonnes of opium — nearly double the estimate of global annual consumption.

The Independent newspaper reported on Nov. 17, 2007 (Bid to wipe out Afghan opium failed, says UN") that "Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UNODC, gave new figures showing Afghanistan's export of drugs to the West was fuelling the insurgency in Afghanistan. Releasing the final draft of its 2007 Afghan opium survey, the UNODC chief said poppy growth increased 17 per cent to 193,000 hectares and the growth in heroin production leapt a third to 8,200 tonnes. The report shows that Afghanistan now accounts for 93 per cent of world opium production and is the biggest narcotics producer since 19th-century China. Helmand produces about half of the national output of heroin. Farmers gained around $1bn ( UKP 500m ) from the total income from the heroin trade, estimated at $4bn, while district officials took a percentage through a levy on the crops. The rest was shared among insurgents, warlords and drugs traffickers, it said. The wholesale price of a gram of heroin grew with every border crossed, it noted, rising from $2.50 in Afghanistan itself to $3.50 in Pakistan and Iran, $8 in Turkey, $22 in Germany, $30 in Britain and $33 in Russia."

UNODC Director Costa had previously written in the Washington Post ("An Opium Market Mystery," April 25, 2007) that "Annual demand for opium is approximately 4,500 tons. Last year a record 6,100 tons were produced in Afghanistan alone. That country's production is 30 percent more than total world demand. Heroin prices should, in theory, be plummeting. But they are not. So what is going on?" Later in this op-ed, Costa gave his guess as to the answer: "I fear there may be a more sinister explanation for why the bottom has not fallen out of the opium market: Major traffickers are withholding significant amounts. Drug traffickers have a symbiotic relationship with insurgents and terrorist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Instability makes opium cultivation possible; opium buys protection and pays for weapons and foot soldiers, and these in turn create an environment in which drug lords, insurgents and terrorists can operate with impunity. Opium is the glue that holds this murky relationship together. If profits fall, these sinister forces have the most to lose. I suspect that the big traffickers are hoarding surplus opium as a hedge against future price shocks and as a source of funding for future terrorist attacks, in Afghanistan or elsewhere."

A copy of the report can be downloaded from CSDP's research archive or from the UNODC website.

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United Nations Drug Office Says Afghanistan Produced Bumper Opium Crop In 2007

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007 in late August 2007. According to the UNODC, "The area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 17% in 2007, from 165,000 hectares in 2006 to 193,000 hectares. As a result of the upsurge in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, global opium poppy cultivation rose by 17% in 2007 to over 234,000 hectares. Afghanistan's share of global cultivation remains 82%."

The New York Times reported on August 28, 2007 ("Second Record Level For Afghan Opium Crop") that "In Helmand Province, which produces more opium than any other country in the world, there are now 7,000 British NATO troops, the largest concentration of foreign forces in Afghanistan. Helmand had a 48 percent increase in opium production in 2007, the report said. The province, which is twice the size of Maryland, produced 53 percent of Afghanistan's opium this year, up from roughly 42 percent last year. The northeastern province of Nangrahar, which had reduced cultivation in recent years, experienced a 285 percent increase in opium cultivation in 2007, the report found. The Southwestern province of Farah, the scene of increased Taliban activity, experienced a 93 percent increase."

According to the Times, "United Nations officials track opium cultivation through ground surveys and satellite images. The survey found that the number of hectares in Afghanistan cultivated with poppies grew to 193,000 in 2007, from 165,000 in 2006, a 17 percent increase. Favorable weather led to high yields, with the estimated opium produced rising to 9,000 tons in 2007, from 6,700 tons in 2006, a 34 percent increase. The report notes that no large increase in world demand for opium has occurred in recent years and that supply from Afghanistan 'exceeds global demand by an enormous margin.' It said up to 3,300 tons of opium was being stockpiled in Afghanistan."

The Times noted that "The report is likely to spark renewed debate over an American-backed proposal for the aerial spraying of opium crops with herbicide. Afghan and British officials have opposed aerial spraying, saying it would increase support for the Taliban among farmers who fear the herbicide would poison them and their families. A proposal to carry out pilot programs where herbicide would be sprayed by ground eradication teams is now being considered, according to Western officials."

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Sharpened Debate? Release Of A US Poppy-Fighting Strategy

The United States delivered a new plan to curb Afghan opium production on Thursday August 9. Despite the limited success of the previous poppy eradication efforts, are the most recent U.S. goals for eradicating Afghan opium poppies realistic? According to a Bloomberg update, dated August 8, 2007 ("Afghanistan At Odds With US On Plan To Curb Opium"), "Afghanistan is at odds with a U.S. strategy to stem opium production that is funding the Taliban and other militants opposed to President Hamid Karzai's rule, according to a top Afghan diplomat. While the Bush administration is seeking to expand efforts to destroy opium poppy plants, Afghanistan wants to emphasize long-term crop substitution. 'Right now the approach of the United States is more emphasis on eradication,' Jawad said in an interview, Afghanistan?s? ambassador to the U. S . 'But not only us, your friends the British do not agree with that either, and say no, that's not the right approach.' Jawad stressed that rather than 'punishing extensively the farmers, we have to go after traffickers.'"

According to the Bloomberg update, "William Wood, the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said in late June that 'there is not yet a consensus regarding eradication.' He lamented last year's results -- about 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) or 10 percent of the total Afghan crop eliminated. Wood was ambassador to Colombia while the U.S. mounted a major effort there to shrink cocaine production. The anti-drug effort, known as Plan Colombia, is aimed at curbing the flow of drug money to guerrillas and strengthening the authority of the elected government."

In the same August 8 update, the Bloomberg adds, "A U.S. government assessment of its counter-narcotics program in Afghanistan, released on July 31 by the inspectors general of the State and Defense departments, illustrated what a failure the U.S. effort has been to date. During fiscal year 2006, the U.S. spent more than $420 million combating Afghan narcotics. Still, the number of Afghans involved in cultivation grew to 2.9 million from 2 million in 2005, equivalent to an eighth of the population. Acreage devoted to poppy cultivation in 2006 was about 59 percent higher than in 2005. In 2006, income generated inside Afghanistan from the narcotics industry represented about 60 percent as much as that from legal economic activities. 'It is self-evident that there is no politically feasible way to outspend economic incentives that drive the narcotics trade,' the inspectors general said. If the entire poppy crop were converted to heroin, its street value would be $38 billion, they estimated."

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Anti-Drug Troops Launch New Offensive Against Poppy Production

A new anti-poppy operation is being launched in Afghanistan with the support of British troops. The Independent on Sunday reported on Jan. 21, 2007 ("Opium War Revealed: Major New Offensive In Afghanistan) that "The Independent on Sunday has learned that in the next week to 10 days, 300 members of the Afghan Eradication Force ( AEF ), protected by an equal number of police, will begin destroying fields of ripening opium poppies in the centre of lawless Helmand province, where Britain has some 4,000 troops. While British forces will not be directly involved in the operation, commanders concede that they will have to go to the aid of the eradication teams if they encounter armed resistance. 'A backlash is definitely possible,' said one senior officer. The poppy fields to be targeted are on the Helmand river near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital and headquarters of the British task force. The area has deliberately been selected because it is in the relatively peaceful "development zone", well away from the fighting which claimed the lives of two Royal Marines in the past week. 'These people are growing poppy out of greed rather than need,' a British counter-narcotics official in Lashkar Gah told the IoS. 'They could earn a living by other means.' The Afghan government has rejected calls for defoliants to be sprayed on the crop, and the plants will be cut down by hand, or crushed by tractors dragging heavy metal bars behind them. The British official said there were some 22,000 hectares of opium poppies in the target area. The Afghan operation might destroy up to a third, if it didn't encounter trouble, 'but it depends on the security situation as much as anything.'"

According to the Independent on Sunday, "Despite the deployment of British forces in Helmand last year, opium production in the province soared by 160 per cent, faster than anywhere else in Afghanistan. A record crop was harvested in May under the noses of arriving British troops, and the area under cultivation increased further during the autumn planting season. 'It is is wall-to-wall poppies everywhere you look, just a mile or two from Lashkar Gah,' said a source who travelled out of the provincial capital last week. 'There was some early planting by people hoping to beat any crackdown, but the weather has also favoured growers, with rain at just the right time. The crop will be earlier this year than in 2006.' As soon as they moved to southern Afghanistan, senior British officers dissociated themselves from suggestions in Whitehall that they would seek to stamp out the drugs trade. They were aware that a badly handled eradication operation in 2002 had sown deep bitterness: big growers paid bribes to save their crops, and it was small farmers with no other livelihood who suffered. Funds to compensate them were misspent or stolen. Poppy cultivation has since been declared illegal, and no compensation will be paid this time. 'The aim is to go after the big operators, who grow opium with impunity on government-owned land they have seized,' said the official. 'It will be a powerful disincentive if they are seen to have lost their crops, although some smaller farmers will inevitably suffer. But they are in an area where funds are available, mainly from USAid, for 'cash for work' projects, such as road building and canal clearing.'"

The Independent on Sunday noted that "Last February the provincial governor was sacked and replaced by Mohammed Daud, an English-speaking engineer and ex-UN worker. When he fell victim in December to internal political wrangling, it was feared that his deputy, Amir Muhammad Akhundzada, a member of a clan with close links to the drugs trade in northern Helmand, would take over, but he too was ousted. This month's eradication move is being carried out by the Kabul government, with the provincial administration having no say. The local authorities are supposed to make their own efforts to stamp out narcotics, but Governor Daud, fearing the backlash from destruction of crops, concentrated instead on seeking to persuade farmers not to plant poppies. It is understood that his successor, Asadullah Wafa, will meet President Karzai in Kabul tomorrow to discuss further measures to deal with the trade. Even if the AEF succeeds in destroying a third of the poppies in their target area, or about 7,000 hectares, that would be barely one-10th of the total under cultivation in Helmand, which could still produce more opium this year than last."

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World Bank Issues Report On Afghan Opium Production — Eradication Efforts Largely A Failure

The World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime issued a report titled "Afghanistan's Drug Industry: Structure, Functioning, Dynamics, and Implications for Counter-Narcotics Policy" in November 2006. According to the World Bank's news release dated Nov. 28, 2006, "Efforts to combat opium production in Afghanistan have been marred by corruption and have failed to prevent the consolidation of the drugs trade in the hands of fewer powerful players with strong political connections, says a report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank. According to the report, entitled Afghanistan's Drug Industry: Structure, Functioning, Dynamics, and Implications for Counter-Narcotics Policy, efforts to combat opium have achieved only limited success and have lacked sustainability. Strong enforcement efforts against farmers are often ineffective in remote areas with limited resources, assets, and markets. The impact of eradication of opium poppy fields, and of reductions in cultivation resulting from the threat of eradication, tends to be felt most by poor farmers and rural wage labourers, who lack political support, are unable to pay bribes and cannot otherwise protect themselves."

According to the World Bank press office, "The report says that, far from leading to sustained declines in total national cultivation, success in reducing cultivation in one province often leads to increases elsewhere, or cultivation in the province itself rebounds in the following year (as occurred in Helmand province after 2003). Corruption in the eradication process has also had negative side-effects. Wealthier opium producers pay bribes to avoid having their crops eradicated, greatly reducing the effectiveness of counter-narcotics measures and gravely undermining the credibility of the government and its local representatives."

The World Bank noted further in its release that "The latest UNODC report on opium production in Afghanistan is discouraging. There was a record opium harvest, with total cultivation increasing by 59 percent and production by 49 percent in 2006. Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of global illegal opium output. The bulk of opium growth this year has been concentrated in Helmand and a few other highly insecure and insurgency-ridden provinces in the south. Elsewhere in the country patterns have been much more mixed, with increases in some provinces and reductions in others. Yet, even in this record year, opium takes up less than 4 percent of the total cultivated area in Afghanistan. An estimated 13 percent of the population was involved in opium poppy cultivation. Most districts and localities do not grow opium. And although the opium economy accounts for around one-third of total economic activity in the country, most Afghans are not part of the drug industry. The report says that although both better-off and poorer households cultivate opium poppy, the latter are much more dependent on opium for their livelihoods. 'Efforts to discourage farmers from planting opium poppy should be concentrated in localities where land, water, and access to markets are such that alternative livelihoods are already available.' said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan. 'Rural development programs are needed throughout the country and should not be focused primarily on opium areas, to help prevent cultivation from further spreading.'"

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United Nations: Increase In Afghan Opium Output "Staggering"

The United Nations estimate of Afghan opium output for 2006 shows a dramatic increase, according to news reports in advance of the release of the official estimate. The Chicago Tribune reported on Sept. 3, 2006 ("'Very Bad' News On Opium War") that "Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased 59 percent this year, producing a record-breaking 6,100 metric tons of opium, in part because of efforts by the Taliban and other insurgents in the troubled south, according to a UN survey. Antonio Maria Costa, the United Nations anti-drug chief, called the crop 'staggering.' Afghanistan now produces 92 percent of the world's opium supply. If security in the south does not improve, entire provinces could fail. The southern part of the country is 'displaying the ominous hallmarks of incipient collapse,' Costa said Saturday. 'The news is very bad,' he said."

According to the Tribune, "It is difficult to overstate the problem with poppies, the raw product for opium and heroin. Opium is the biggest employer in Afghanistan and the largest export. The drug trade makes up at least 35 percent of the country's gross domestic product. Police chiefs, governors and other government officials profit from the trade, Costa said. So do the Taliban and other insurgents, who urged farmers to grow poppies in southern Afghanistan this past year to destabilize the government and make money. Insurgents, whether Al Qaeda or the Taliban, also protect drug traffickers, even riding along with convoys in the south and west, Costa said. In exchange, they demand money. 'The insurgency derives a significant amount of revenue from drugs,' Costa said."

The Tribune noted that "The growth in poppies is directly linked to corruption and insecurity, officials said. It shows just how dire the situation has become in Afghanistan almost five years after the Taliban fell. A renewed insurgency is mounting its most serious challenge to the U.S.-backed government. Although the Taliban regime once successfully reduced poppy production, it now encourages cultivation. Farmers are growing poppies despite hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid spent on prevention, eradication and alternative-livelihood programs. Not all the news is negative. Six of the country's 34 provinces are now opium-free. Cultivation fell in eight provinces, most in the north. Three of the most corrupt governors in the south were replaced after the poppy growing season last year. But that is the only good news in the south. In the southern province of Helmand, where several districts have fallen under Taliban control, opium cultivation increased 162 percent this year, to 171,303 acres. That is 42 percent of the opium cultivation in the country. A senior U.S. official said poppies are grown on almost 30,000 acres of government land in Helmand province, showing the problem with government corruption and drugs. Punishment for drug crimes has been minimal. The Afghan government has been reluctant to jail poppy farmers. It has had little luck going after traffickers. Investigation is difficult -- Afghanistan doesn't have the capability to use fingerprints."

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Senlis Council: "Following US Policies Is Turning Canadian Military Operation In Afghanistan Into A Suicide Mission"

The Senlis Council, a European nonprofit focused on international security and development issues put out a report in June 2006 entitled "Canada in Kandahar: No Peace to Keep – A Case Study of the Military Coalitions in Southern Afghanistan." According to the Senlis Council's news release ("Following US Policies Is Turning Canadian Military Operation In Afghanistan Into A Suicide Mission," June 28, 2006), "Canadian troops are paying with their lives for Canada’s adherence to the US government’s failing military and counter-narcotics policies in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan said The Senlis Council, an international security and development think tank. Senlis warned in a Report released today that the US-led counter-terrorist operations under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and aggressive large-scale crop eradication have significantly contributed to the current war situation that is flaring-up in Kandahar and the other southern provinces. 'The Canada government and the international community continue to seemingly unquestioningly accept America’s fundamentally flawed approach to southern Afghanistan,' said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of The Senlis Council. 'But this is jeopardising both the troops’ lives and the stabilisation, reconstruction and development objectives. The Canadian troops in Kandahar are doing a heroic job in the most difficult of circumstances and are to be commended; but the overall policy context within which they are obliged to work is putting them at risk.'"

According to Senlis, "The Report indicates that the large-scale aggressive forced eradication of poppy crops in Kandahar, led by the US, has contributed in a significant way to the discontent of the local populations and that a wave of New Taliban are cashing-in on the local population’s disillusionment with the foreign military presence. 'Most farmers feel abandoned and cheated by the central government and the international community,' said Reinert. 'This has given way to a dramatic switch in alliance to the only people who they believe are showing any understanding of their needs – the Taliban.' In its report, Senlis notes that there is growing support for the Taliban who now offer protection to farmers against the eradication of their poppy crops."

The Senlis Council noted that "Senlis said that the recent resurgence of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and the sharp rise in violence which has come with it are an early warning of how the rest of the country could go if the international community, particularly the military, do not change their approach in the coming months."

A copy of the report is available through the CSDP research archive or through the Senlis Council website.

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UN: Afghan Opium Poppy Production To Increase In 2006

The UN now reports that opium poppy production in Afghanistan will increase in 2006. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported on Dec. 12, 2005 ( Press Briefing by Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan) that "The great question now is whether, for the year 2006, this 21 percent reduction can be sustained, held or even increased. What will happen in 2006? Is this percentage sustainable? Here the news is not very good. Currently UNODC receives informal information from many of the provinces saying there will be an increase in poppy cultivation in 2006."

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Citing Worldwide Shortage Of Opiate Medicines, European Drug Policy Thinktank Recommends Legalizing Afghan Opium Production

The Senlis Council, an international drug policy think thank based in Europe, finally issued its controversial recommendations regarding Afghan opium in Sept. 2005. Reuters reported on Sept. 25, 2005 ( "Afghanistan Not Ready For Legal Opium - Minister") that "Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of illicit opium and heroin, is not ready to adopt a controversial proposal to use its opium to help ease a global shortage of painkillers, its counter-narcotics minister says. The Senlis Council, a Paris-based non-governmental organisation, has suggested licensed Afghan opium production could be used to produce morphine and codeine and is to a launch a feasibility study on the proposal in Kabul on Monday."

Opposition to the idea also comes from the UN drug fighting agency, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. According to Reuters, "The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has also rejected the Senlis Council proposal, saying it risked creating confusion among farmers and raising false expectations. Senlis has estimated the worldwide shortage of morphine and codeine at about 10,000 tonnes of opium equivalent a year, while Afghanistan produces roughly 4,000 tonnes of opium a year. However, the UNODC, while conceding there is a shortage of narcotics for medical purposes, says lawful production of opiates worldwide had considerably exceeded global consumption in the past years and could be increased should demand increase."

The shortage of opiate medicines even hits the nations which currently produce legal opium. The San Jose Mercury News reported on July 15, 2005 ( "Crime And Politics Of Opium Trade") that "India is the world's largest producer of legal opium, the raw material for codeine, morphine and other painkillers. But corruption and red tape have left thousands of Indians such as Nevatia to die in agony. And strict licensing hasn't stopped drug gangs from diverting opium meant for medicines to smuggling routes shared by heroin and morphine traffickers, gun-runners and Islamist militants, police say. 'Organized crime and politics join together in this to make life miserable,' said A. Shankar Rao, zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau, a national police unit."

According to the Mercury News, "Mala Srivastava, the federal official who oversees the licensing system, denied that it had serious flaws. 'Whatever little diversion there is is internal,' she said. 'We have never heard of Indian opium, or Indian heroin, traveling abroad.' But the U.S. State Department's annual report on narcotics-control strategy calls India 'a modest but growing producer of heroin for the international market.' In an effort to keep opium out of criminal hands, India's federal and state governments license every step of the process, from growing poppies to stocking and transporting the painkilling drugs they produce. But officials who issue the permits often don't answer the phone, are away from their desks or let applications languish for weeks, doctors and pharmacists complain. Sometimes hospitals run out of morphine while waiting for permit applications to work their way through the bureaucratic labyrinth. 'We have so many patients suffering,' said Dr. Dwarkadas K. Baheti, a pain-management specialist at Bombay Hospital, in India's largest city, Mumbai. 'After two or three months, suddenly we have no morphine left, and for the next month, none is available.'"

The Mercury News noted that "But licensing hasn't stopped traffickers, aided by corrupt officials, from getting opium and other drugs, Rao said. 'With the support of local police and politicians, they convert this opium into 'smack,'' slang for heroin, said Vinod Kumar Shahi, a lawyer in Lucknow, capital of northern India's Uttar Pradesh state. Shahi has learned a lot about the drug trade in 20 years of defending many of the region's top gangsters. By helping traffickers, police can earn 50 times their official monthly salary of about $230, Shahi said. So they pay large bribes to superiors to be posted at police stations in the opium belt of northern India, he said. Tons of tarlike opium gum are skimmed off India's legal supply each year and sent to ad hoc chemists. With a plastic tub, a cup and chemicals easily found on the black market, they make the low-grade heroin base known as 'brown sugar' on the street. There, illegal morphine is worth as much as 25 times what the government pays for it, Rao said. India is a transit country for almost-pure Afghan heroin, which is smuggled in from neighboring Pakistan, often in inflated tire tubes that are floated across rivers along the border. The high-grade heroin produced from Afghan opium accounts for about 87 percent of the world supply, according to the United Nations. Indian drugs also go south to Sri Lanka, where guerrillas with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam use money from heroin trafficking to fund their war for independence. Meanwhile, those who need the painkilling peace that opium-based drugs brings go without."

Download the Senlis Council's Feasibility Study on Opium Licensing in Afghanistan for the Production of Morphine and Other Essential Medicines from here, or from the Senlis Council's website.

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Afghan Opium Production Down Mere Two Percent In Spite Of Intense Crackdown

The United Nations announced that Afghan opium production may have fallen by a mere two percent in 2005, in spite of intensive UN-led eradication and crop substitution efforts. The Associated Press reported on Aug. 29, 2005 ( "Afghan Opium Production Down Just 2 Percent Despite Crackdown") that "Bumper growing conditions meant that Afghanistan's opium production remained almost unchanged this year even though a crackdown on poppy farming cut the land under cultivation by 21 percent, the U.N. anti-drug chief said Monday. Antonio Maria Costa warned it could take another 20 years to eradicate opium from the impoverished country -- despite the recent injection of hundreds of millions in foreign aid to fight the world's biggest drug industry. The narcotics trade is blamed for fighting in some poppy-growing areas and is suspected to be partially funding an insurgency by Taliban-led rebels that has killed more than 1,100 people in the past six months. It has also sparked warnings the country is fast becoming a 'narco-state' less than four years after the U.S.-led invasion. Opium production this year was 4,519 tons, just 2 percent down from the 4,630 tons in 2004, said Costa, director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime."

In spite of the near-record opium production, UN officials insisted there was some good news. According to AP, "'We see a significant improvement in the amount of land cultivated in Afghanistan, a major reduction. One field out of five that was cultivated in 2004 was not cultivated this year,' Costa told The Associated Press in an interview. But he said that 'heavy rainfall, snowfall and no infestation of crops resulted in a very significant increase in productivity.' A report by the U.N. agency said the total amount of land being used to grow poppies dropped from 323,570 acres in 2004 to 256,880 acres this year. But the jump in crop yield -- the opium harvested from each acre of poppies - -- was 22 percent, it added. The money being pumped into anti-drug campaigns by the United States, Britain and other countries is largely used to train police units to destroy laboratories, arrest smugglers and destroy opium crops, as well as to fund projects to help farmers grow legal crops. Costa said another $510 million has been earmarked by donors for further assistance this year and next."

Indeed, the UN's official news release on the subject was headlined "United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announces major reduction in 2005 opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan," with the subhead "UNODC Executive Director says one field out of five cultivated in 2004 were not replanted in 2005." The data regarding the near-record opium production in 2005 was contained in the fourth paragraph of the release:
"Production of Afghan opium in 2005 stands at 4,100 tonnes, only slightly less than the 4,200 tonnes produced in 2004. In 2005, favourable weather conditions also led to increased agricultural productivity, from 32 kg/ha in 2004 to 39kg/ha in 2005. As a result, Afghanistan remains the largest supplier of opium to the world, accounting for 87 percent of the world supplies. In terms of opium cultivation, however, Afghanistan’s share in the global total dropped from 67 percent in 2004 to 63 percent in 2005."

The report itself, "The Opium Situation in Afghanistan as of 29 August 2005," is more cautious than Director Costa. The report notes on page two that "In terms of drug control, the latest news on opium cultivation is good. UNODC will release its full 2005 Afghan Opium Survey in early Autumn, but it is already possible to anticipate certain trends. UNODC expects to confirm a decrease in cultivation from 131,000 hectares in 2004 to 104,000 hectares this year, a significant decline of 21%. In other words, one field out of five cultivated in 2004, this year were dedicated to other cause."

The report on page 4 further notes:
"The progress made in curtailing cultivation in 2005 must be viewed with caution: these achievements are fragile and could be easily reversed in the course of a season. Also, crop decline has been uneven, as some provinces actually increased cultivation in 2005 (Kandarhar, +162%, but especially some of the smaller provinces like Nimroz, 1370%, Balkh, 334% and Farah, 348%). Whether this year’s decline will persist, or even accelerate over the years, will depend on the ability to stay the policy course, to address the corollaries to illicit drugs (corruption, etc), and to sustain development assistance. Since drugs in Afghanistan are both the cause and effect of corruption and insurgency, any such trend reversal – namely, new increases in cultivation and production -- are still quite possible and loaded with strategic consequences for Afghanistan, as well as for the entire international community."

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House Members Attack US Afghan Drug Policy In Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing

US counterdrug policy in Afghanistan came under fire by members of the US House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations in a hearing in mid-July. The Voice of America reported on July 13, 2005 ( "US Officials Frustrated With Counternarcotics Strategies In Afghanistan") that "[L]awmakers are concerned about an upsurge in violence in which more than 30 U.S. soldiers have died since March, and want more done to fight opium cultivation that could be financing terrorist activity. Congressman Jerry Lewis, Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, raised questions about the determination of the Afghan government to bring regional leaders under control. 'I really wonder from what I have heard just today whether there really are plans in place to dramatically reduce on a committed basis, while we commit ourselves to improving their roads, etc. I mean it's not acceptable that we end up supporting more poppies,' he said. Joining Congressman Lewis was another Republican, Congressman Don Sherwood. 'I hope you can convince me differently, but I am afraid our drug policy in Afghanistan has been an utter, abject, total failure,' he said."

US State Dept. officials place the blame on Afghan provincial officials. According to the VOA, "Nancy Powell, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Control, says the frustrating results and what she calls major challenges have triggered a review of strategies. 'Even though our programs to assist the government of Afghanistan in combating the drug trade are working reasonably well in their initial stages, we have encountered major challenges, notably with regard to helping the Afghan authorities in destroying poppy fields when self-restraint is not sufficient to curb production,' she said. The problem lies principally at the Afghan provincial level where Assistant Secretary Powell says hard and valuable lessons have been learned."

The State Dept.'s plans involve placing more responsibility in the hands of the Afghan national government. The VOA noted that "Under plans being discussed, counter-narcotics teams would be sent to key poppy-growing areas to monitor cultivation, compliance, coordinate public information campaigns, deal with alternative crop programs and when needed, request eradication. Part of the plan involves a new Air Mobile Rapid Reaction Eradication Force to be deployed if local authorities are failing to follow through with opium eradication objectives. With a successful election, formation of a central government, expansion of political and human rights, and ongoing training of an army and police, U.S. officials remain optimistic about Afghanistan's prospects."

Still, Congressmen were skeptical, noting the high cost of US counterdrug programs in Afghanistan. Reuters News Service reported on July 12, 2005 ( "Afghanistan Drug-Fighting Efforts Failing - Lawmakers") that " Michigan Republican Rep. Joseph Knollenberg said even though Congress allocated about $1 billion last year to fight Afghanistan's poppy trade, the crop was at record levels and this year was on track for another bumper crop. While officials had hoped to eradicate far more than the 2,220 acres of poppies done last year, Powell said bad weather and a lack of cooperation from local authorities resulted in the destruction of just 533 acres. Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Arizona Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said the cost worked out to about $200,000 per hectare. 'I hope that's not your measure of a successful program, is it?' he asked Powell."

Committee members expressed support for alternative development and crop substitution, approaches which have tended to lose out in the funding battle in the past. According to Reuters, " Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, questioned 'if we're applying any real imagination' and suggested the possibility of a long-term subsidy program for Afghan farmers to encourage alternative crops. 'The children of Europe are being killed by this addiction and it's not acceptable for us to let this go on,' Lewis said of Afghanistan's drug trade which largely supplies Europe. 'If we've got to subsidize the farmers, let's subsidize them.'"

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US Officials Distance Themselves From Afghan Anti-Drug Effort As Evidence Grows Of Bumper Crop In 2005

US officials have begun the process of shifting the blame for the failure of anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan. The Scotsman reported on May 23, 2005 ( "US Memo Critical Of Afghan President's Efforts On Heroin") that "A message sent earlier this month from the US embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said that provincial officials and village elders had impeded destruction of significant poppy acreage and that top Afghan officials, including Mr Karzai, had done little to overcome that resistance. The claims were angrily denied by the Afghan leader, who claimed that the international community had not done enough to help his country."

According to The Scotsman, "The three-page memo, which was sent to the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, also criticised British personnel working in the area, who decide where eradication teams work, for being 'substantially responsible' for the lack of progress. It said the British were not targeting the main growing areas and had been unwilling to change their priorities. However, perhaps the strongest criticism was aimed at Mr Karzai. 'Although President Karzai has been well aware of the difficulty in trying to implement an effective ground eradication programme, he has been unwilling to assert strong leadership, even in his own province of Kandahar,' said the cable, which was drafted by embassy personnel involved in the anti-drug efforts. The criticism of Mr Karzai reflected mounting frustration among some American officials that plans to uproot large swathes of Afghanistan's poppy crop have produced little success."

The concerns come at a bad time for Mr. Karzai, who visited the US at the end of May seeking more aid for his wartorn country. As The Scotsman reported, "Mr. Karzai is scheduled to visit Washington this week and meet President George Bush today. Relations have been soured recently between America and Afghanistan after a US military investigation found that US personnel were responsible for widespread and horrific abuse of prisoners at the Bagram detention centre near Kabul. Mr. Karzai, seen by some as a puppet of Washington, has said he wants greater control over American military operations in his country and punishment for any US troops who mistreat prisoners. The United Nations also yesterday called for America to allow an Afghan human rights group to investigate. Speaking in Boston last night, Mr. Karzai sharply rejected the claims that he had not worked strongly enough to deal with poppy production. 'We are going to have probably all over the country at least 30 per cent poppies reduced,' he said. 'So we have done our job. The Afghan people have done our job.'"

Sadly however, it is possible that Mr. Karzai's confidence is misplaced. According to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting on May 28, 2005 ( "Another Bumper Opium Crop"):
"Thanks to plentiful rains earlier this year and late efforts at poppy eradication, farmers in northern Afghanistan say they're enjoying a bumper crop of the opium-producing plant this season.
"While President Hamed Karzai has called for a jihad, or holy war, against poppy growing and an international coalition has been carrying out its own campaign against the drug, even some senior government officials acknowledge that most eradication efforts have come too late and achieved too little.
"Afghanistan produced an estimated 4,200 metric tons of raw opium last year, amounting to 87 per cent of world supply, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
"'This year's rainfall has increased our harvests over last year's,' said Mohammad Nazar, a farmer in the northern Balkh province, happily showing a fat green poppy pod to an IWPR reporter.
"Opium, the raw material for heroin, is produced in most provinces of Afghanistan. While no official estimates were available, reports suggest that this year's crop will surpass last year's harvest."

The IWPR report noted that "Local farmers who heeded warnings that their poppy crop would be eradicated and opted to grow other plants are now sorely disappointed that they will miss out on the profits from a lucrative harvest. 'The poppy fields have not been destroyed as people said they would be, so those farmers who didn't plant poppies were very sad,' said Nasrullah, another Balkh farmer. The harvest was a boon for farm workers. "I was unemployed before the opium collection season but now I'm working in the poppy fields making 300 to 400 afghanis a day," labourer Mohammad Omar told IWPR."

The situation may prove difficult to change. As IWPR reports, "While authorities are upset at the situation, farmers are looking forward to a prosperous year. Nor are they likely to change crops voluntarily, many say. The average gross income from a hectare of opium poppies was about 4,600 US dollars last year, and the same area planted with wheat yielded just 390 dollars, according to UN figures."

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UN Report Projects Drop In Afghan Opium Production: Is There Less Than Meets The Eye?

The spin being given a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released in March 2005 has added some confusion to the question of Afghanistan's opium production. BBC News reported on March 27, 2005 ( "Fall In Afghan Poppy Cultivation") that "A new survey on drugs in Afghanistan indicates the recent increase in poppy cultivation has been reversed. In most of the country's 34 provinces, farmers are growing alternative crops, the survey by the Afghan government and UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. It is the first time a decrease has been registered since the surge in poppy cultivation that followed the fall of the Taleban. But there is still an upward trend in five provinces, the survey warns."

The survey is not an indicator of actual production and, as noted in the report's introduction, "It does not produce a quantitative forecast of the forthcoming opium harvest." It also presents the forecast out of context: According to UNODC's "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004," "[O]pium cultivation increased by two-thirds, reaching an unprecedented 131,000 hectares. Bad weather and disease lowered the opium yield per hectare resulting in output of 4,200 tons, an increase of only 17%, thus preventing a bumper harvest. Opium cultivation also spread to all 32 provinces -- making narcotics the main engine of economic growth and the strongest bond among previously quarrelsome populations. Valued at $2.8 billion, the opium economy is now equivalent to about 60% of Afghanistan’s 2003 GDP ($4.6 billion, if only licit activity is measured)."

Indeed, that report, issued in November 2004, predicted the downturn which the new Rapid Assessment Survey predicts: "In the countryside, because of excess supply, opium prices are two-thirds (67%) lower than last year: the incentive for farmers to plant the next opium crop should now be lower."

The table below is from the 2004 Opium Survey and shows the amount of land devoted to opium production over the years.

Afghanistan opium poppy cultivation, 1994-2004 (hectares)
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
71,000 54,000 57,000 58,000 64,000 91,000 82,000 8,000 74,000 80,000 131,000

In terms of specific regions, the report shows the primary provinces involved in opium production and which had the greatest increase from 2003 to 2004:

Regional breakdown of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan (hectares)
Province 2002
(ha)
2003
(ha)
2004
(ha)
Change
2003-2004
% of total in
2004
Cumulative
%
Hilmand 29,950 15,371 29,353 91% 22% 22%
Nangarhar 19,780 18,904 28,213 49% 22% 44%
Badakhshan 8,250 12,756 15,607 22% 12% 56%
Uruzgan 5,100 7,143 11,080 55% 8% 64%
Ghor 2,200 3,782 4,983 32% 4% 68%
Kandahar 3,970 3,055 4,959 62% 4% 72%
Rest of the country 4,796 19,472 36,441 87% 28% 100%
Rounded total 74,000 80,000 131,000 64%

The Rapid Assessment Survey reported that "In Helmand, Nangarhar and Uruzgan provinces, which jointly accounted for 52 % of the total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in 2004, an expected decrease in cultivation is reported. An expected increase of opium poppy cultivation is reported in only a few provinces. Farmers in these provinces were aware of the Government’s ban on opium poppy cultivation and the planned eradication campaign, but did not believe these would be enforced. The 5 provinces with an expected increase in cultivation in 2005 (Kandarhar, Farah, Baghlan, Sari Pul and Badghis) only covered 10% of the total area under opium poppy cultivation in 2004."

The UN's optimistic tone is tempered by the reality of the numbers in its earlier report: production in the three provinces which project a possible decrease for 2005 had all gone up dramatically in 2004. One of the provinces in which production is expected to increase, Kandahar, was the 6th most productive in 2004 and accounted for 4% of the total area under production, and production is projected to remain unchanged for the two others in the top five. Any decrease in cultivation would have to be substantial to have any impact.

In addition, growing conditions in 2005 are better than they had been in 2004. The UN reported in its Rapid Assessment that "It is expected that more water will be available for the irrigation both of rain-fed and irrigated areas, due to the large amount of snow in many parts of Afghanistan in January 2005. Consequently, the majority of villages visited (80%) did not expect drought. This could have a positive effect on agricultural production, possibly including higher yields of wheat and opium. In addition, cultivation on rain-fed areas could increase. This is in line with reports of opium poppy cultivation shifting to remote and hilly (i.e. rain-fed) areas, also because the eradication campaign is not expected to reach those areas."

The report also notes that "In 2004, opium poppy cultivation was affected by disease and pests, which resulted in low production. Farmers reported that the disease Zardi, affected cultivation in the majority of villages in 2004. This disease caused a drying out of the opium poppy, resulting in a lower gum production. To obtain more information on agricultural practices, which could influence yield and possible spread of disease, villagers were asked whether they cultivate opium poppy in the same field every year. Most of the respondents reported that crop rotation is common and it is estimated that only 14% of villagers plant poppy every year in the same fields."

Yet another UN report pinpointed the source of the problems driving opium production and heroin production in Afghanistan: abject poverty. According to the UNODC's "Afghanistan Farmers' Intentions Survey 2003/2004," published in February 2004:
"Main motivations to grow / not grow opium poppy
To grow:

  • to alleviate poverty (31% of the farmers’ replies; 30% of headmen replies)
  • high opium prices (30% farmers; 28% headmen)
  • to access credit (‘salaam arrangements’) (18% farmers; 18% headmen)
  • to purchase ‘luxury’ items (such as motor-cycles) (7% farmers; 6% headmen)
  • expected compensations from eradication (6% farmers; 6% headmen)

Not grow:
  • it is against Islam (24% farmers; 17% headmen)
  • it is illegal (23% farmers; 15% headmen)
  • fear of eradication (17% farmers; 16% headmen)
  • fear of imprisonment/fines (16% farmers; 16% headmen)
  • unfavourable climatic/soil conditions (11% farmers; 7% headmen)"

The Opium Survey 2004 also noted that "The yearly gross income of opium growing families was estimated at around US$1,700 in 2004. The gross income from poppy cultivation per hectare amounted to US$4,600, a decline by 64% from a year earlier, but still almost 12 times higher than the gross income a farmer could expect from one hectare of wheat (US$390). Net income could not be estimated, but costs for opium poppy cultivation are thought to be relatively high, including labour, fertilizer, seed, fuel, depreciation of agricultural equipment, as well as taxes to local commanders and various bribes."

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International Narcotics Control Board Releases Annual Report: Warns Of Massive Increase In Opium Production And Heroin Use

The International Narcotics Control Board, a body of the United Nations, released its 2004 Annual Report on March 2, 2005. As The Guardian reported on March 2, 2005 ( "Attempt To Eradicate Afghan Opium Fails"), "Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a "narcotic state" with its biggest annual crop of opium since the overthrow of the Taliban, the United Nations drug control board warns today. The International Narcotics Control Board reports that the opium crop in Afghanistan - which is the source of more than 90% of the heroin sold on Britain's streets - reached a bumper 4,200 tonnes, up 800 tonnes on the previous year."

According to The Guardian, "Hamid Ghodse, the INCB's president, said the British-led attempt to persuade Afghan farmers to grow other cash crops had failed. In 2003 farmers grew 3,600 tonnes of opium poppies in 17 out of the 28 districts of Afghanistan. Now it has spread to all 28 districts, with the area under cultivation increasing last year from 80,000 hectares ( 200,000 acres ) to 130,000 hectares. The INCB said this compared with only 165 tonnes grown during the brutally enforced ban by the Taliban on opium production. 'The Afghanistan government needs to do something very serious, very quickly,' said Professor Ghodse. 'If it is not going to be a narcotics state, which is a risk, then Afghanistan needs to do very urgent action in eradication and alternative development.' Although opium prices fell considerably between 2003 and 2004 they remain above $100 ( £52 ) a kg - far higher than any other cash crop - and a crucial source of finance for the private armies of the drug warlords in Afghanistan. The crop eradication programme is supported by a British-led international consortium, and tries to persuade farmers to grow alternative crops through negotiation. But it is now believed to be under pressure from the American administration which wants to adopt a forced crop eradication programme similar to that seen in Colombia in the last five years."

The Guardian also noted that "The UN report also warns of an alarming spread in HIV/Aids among injecting drug users in eastern Europe, Russia and central Europe with an estimated 4 million people now believed to be infected. Britain's former deputy drug tsar Mike Trace said yesterday there would be an alarming US-led attempt next week at the UN's annual commission on narcotic drugs meeting in Vienna to rule out the use of needle exchange and other programmes to deal with the growing epidemic. Needle exchange schemes have been used in Britain since the 1980s to ensure one of the lowest rates of HIV infection among heroin injectors in Europe. Mr Trace, now a spokesman for the International Drug Policy Consortium, said governments that provided practical help, such as free access to clean syringes, could achieve significant reductions in the level of HIV infections. But he said the US was consciously trying to tie aid to 'moral lines in the sand' and would not endorse needle exchanges or heroin substitution programmes. Britain and the rest of the EU are expected to criticise the move in Vienna next week but a vote to withdraw support from needle exchange programmes would send a damaging signal to the governments of the former Soviet Union."

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To Spray Or Not To Spray? The Question Should Be, Did They Or Didn't They?

The US drug war in Afghanistan has never been easy to understand. The latest controversy is over spraying herbicides or other plant-killing agents on the poppy crops. First, the US considered and then discarded the idea of spraying. As the LA Times reported on Jan. 22, 2005 ( "US Backs Away From Afghan Aerial Spraying"), "Deferring to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Bush administration has backed off its plans to use aerial spraying to destroy Afghanistan's poppy crop, at least for the time being, administration officials and lawmakers said. Instead, the United States will help develop alternative livelihoods for poor farmers, build up the police and counter-narcotics forces and pay teams of Afghans to cut and burn poppy fields by hand this spring to demonstrate that opium production will be a risky business in the new Afghanistan. The State Department had asked Congress to earmark $780 million in aid to Afghanistan for counter-narcotics programs, of which $152 million had been earmarked for aerial eradication beginning this month."

According to the Times, "There was division within the department and the National Security Council over the wisdom of spraying and whether the United States should use its powerful influence to overcome Karzai's opposition. Supporters of spraying have argued that opium profits are swelling the coffers of warlords and enriching Taliban and possibly Al Qaeda elements as well. Critics, including senior U.S. diplomats and military officers in Afghanistan, warned that spraying would alienate the voters Karzai desperately needs in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this spring. 'Everybody supports an aggressive program on drugs including manual eradication, interdiction and alternative livelihoods,' said a congressional source who asked to remain anonymous. 'But the idea of U.S. military helicopters swooping down on villagers . stirred up memories of what the Russians did in the '80s,' when Soviet helicopter gunships strafed villages."

Though it seems counter-intuitive, some experts in the field have argued that narcotics traffickers would have benefited from an eradication program. As noted in the Times story, "New York University professor Barnett R. Rubin, who served as a U.N. advisor in Afghanistan, said opium prices that had plummeted because of the bumper poppy harvest last year quadrupled on the expectation that eradication would make for a smaller crop this year. Because opium can be stored indefinitely and sold when the price is right, the traffickers 'are big supporters of crop eradication right now,' said Rubin, who argues that supporting other forms of rural development is a better investment. 'The net result of crop eradication will be a net transfer of income from opium growers to drug traffickers,' he said."

In spite of the US decision it has been reported that there may have been aerial spraying. BBC News reported on Feb. 8, 2005 ( "Afghans Probe 'Poppy Spray' Claim") that "The Afghan government has said it is investigating reports that an unidentified aircraft sprayed opium poppies with herbicide. It comes amid continuing controversy over how to curb Afghanistan's booming drugs trade. The governor of Helmand province in the south of Afghanistan told the BBC that poison had certainly been sprayed, but he did not know who was responsible."

According to the BBC, "It is the second time since November that Kabul has launched an investigation into allegations of aerial spraying. The last inquiry proved inconclusive. Both Washington, which had previously earmarked cash for aerial spraying programmes, and the British government, which leads the international counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan, denied responsibility."

The Afghan government however reports that it has found no evidence of aerial spraying. According to the San Diego Union Tribune on Feb. 9, 2005 ( "Afghans Say No Evidence That Opium Fields Sprayed"), "Afghan investigators sent to investigate fresh reports that opium fields had been aerially sprayed with pesticide in violation of official policy found no evidence that it had occurred, the government said on Wednesday. Officials and villagers in the southern province of Helmand, a major poppy-growing area, said this week that several aircraft had sprayed pesticide on opium fields in four villages last Thursday, prompting the dispatch of Interior Ministry investigators. 'There was no evidence of aerial spraying for eradication of poppy,' General Mohammad Dawood, the deputy minister of interior for counter narcotics, said in a statement. 'The MOI investigation team found that a naturally occurring disease affected those four villages in Helmand province.' Dawood did not identify the disease but described reports that spraying had happened as 'propaganda' by enemies of Afghanistan who wanted to create misunderstandings between local people, the government and the international community. The statement said about 150 residents of the province had complained that they were suffering from skin diseases and that livestock had been affected. It said the investigators had brought samples to Kabul for tests."

The Union Tribune story notes that "Government spokesman Jawed Ludin said on Tuesday that aerial spraying of opium fields had occurred in the past even though this was against government policy. He said the United States, whose troops overthrew the former Taliban government in late 2001, scrapped plans to eradicate opium crops by aerial spraying after President Hamid Karzai declared his opposition to it last year. Afghanistan's air space is tightly controlled by U.S.-led forces, but the U.S. military and government has repeatedly denied involvement in spraying of opium fields. Wednesday's Interior Ministry statement came a day after the U.S. embassy said there was 'no credible evidence' that aerial spraying had taken place in Helmand. U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has suggested in the past that such reports could have been concocted by drug lords to thwart international efforts to cut production of narcotics. Karzai took his position after reports of a mystery spraying of opium fields in an eastern province last year."

Or has there been spraying? According to an article in The Nation magazine on Jan. 24, 2005 ( "Afghan Poppies Bloom"), "Already there is trouble brewing in Nangarhar, where next year's crop is just starting to sprout. Farmers report low-flying planes spraying poison on their fields. Doctors in the area say they've seen a sudden jump in respiratory illness and skin rashes, while veterinarians are seeing sickened livestock. In a harbinger of what a real war on drugs might bring, one farmer in Nangarhar whose son had been poisoned by the spraying told a local journalist, 'If my son dies, I will join the Taliban, and I will kill as many Americans as I can find.' Nangarhar's provincial governor, a former mujahedeen commander named Haji Din Mohammed, has said there is 'no doubt that an aerial spray has taken place.' Other Afghan officials have called it illegal. The United States controls Afghan airspace but denies that it has sprayed, though it is promising a 'robust' eradication campaign come spring."

Indeed, reports coming from Afghanistan are completely contradictory. The Nation:
"The rotund landlord, Mr. Attock, sits on the carpeted floor of his little office and living quarters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. From this one room he publishes a slight and sporadic weekly or sometimes monthly newspaper, but like most people around here, his real business is farming opium poppy. Mr. Attock's land lies about an hour and a half away in the countryside of Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, not too far from Tora Bora.
"'My dear, everyone grows poppy. Even me,' says Mr. Attock in slightly awkward English as he leans over to grab my leg, again. Mr. Attock is a bundle of physical and intellectual energy, not all of it well focused. 'My dear, you see. Listen. My dear, wheat is worthless. Everyone grows poppy. We will go to my village and you will see.'
"The next day we tour the village where Mr. Attock owns or manages a farm ( it's not entirely clear who actually owns the establishment, but he is in charge ). Nangarhar is one of Afghanistan's top three drug-producing provinces. The surrounding fields rotate between corn and poppies. Mr. Attock says he has almost 100 people living and working here as tenant farmers and laborers.
"For the past three years, growing poppy in Afghanistan, as Mr. Attock and his tenants do, has been a relatively risk-free and open business. The Taliban had imposed a ruthlessly successful ban on poppy cultivation in 2000; more than 90 percent of cultivation stopped. But since the US invasion in 2001, eradication efforts have been minimal and ineffective and production has again soared."

Yet, on Feb. 9, 2005, the San Jose Mercury News reported ( "Poppy Farming Declines In Afghanistan") that "Across Afghanistan, government officials and foreign aid workers who monitor poppy cultivation have reached a remarkable conclusion: One year after Afghan farmers planted the largest amount of poppies in their nation's history and provided the world with nearly 90 percent of its opium supply, many of them have stopped growing it. Poppy farming, officials said, may have declined by as much as 70 percent in three provinces that together account for more than half of Afghanistan's production: Nangarhar in the east, Helmand in the south and Badakhshan in the north. In Nangarhar, where last spring poppies bloomed all along the main road from the provincial capital, Jalalabad, to the Pakistani border, the contrast today is striking. 'I visited 16 out of 22 districts and I couldn't find a single plant of poppy,' marveled Mirwais Yasini, head of the Afghan government's counternarcotics directorate. 'It was all wheat.' Several factors may be responsible, including a drop in opium prices after the previous banner harvest, and a reluctance to plant among farmers whose crops were destroyed last season by disease or the police."

Other reports also show that poppies may be on the decline in some areas, though not without significant social costs. According to the Pak Tribune on Jan. 2, 2005 ( "Haven Of Poppy-Production Devastated"), "The provincial authorities of Nangarhar said this month that 95% of the poppy fields in the province had been destroyed. Whilst there have been many reports of drug-eradication raids and extensive poppy destruction, the extent of the programs has in the past often failed to match the publicity. But when Pajhwok Afghan News visited leading poppy-producing districts, its reporter found that the claims about poppy destruction appear to be correct. In Ghani Khil, Achin, Nazyan, Dur Baba and Spin Gar districts, farmers have destroyed their own crops after pressure from the tribal leaders. But now they claim that they are having to abandon their homes and leave for other provinces because they have not been adequately compensated for the destruction of their poppy crops."

According to the Tribune, however "according to some farmers, promised compensation from the government has not appeared. Malik Niaz Mohammed said: 'The government and the international community have not fulfilled their promise yet. We have not started destroying our own crops to help them, but to improve the reputation of the region.' He said that for the past 20 years foreigners had made empty promises, and filled the pockets of a few. Many farmers are disillusioned and have no money to survive on. A forlorn farmer, Mir Dad, speaking by his destroyed poppy field, told Pajhwok: 'We were obliged to destroy our poppies; we were not ready to eradicate them.' Another farmer from Achin district, Sarfraz Khan, said Afghan tradition and the decision of the elders were 'like diamonds' for them. But he added: 'I sent my two sons to Peshawar to find work. If, with that, we still cannot live in this drought-stricken area, then we must leave.'"

Where there is no money, other forms of exchange get used. The Tribune reported that "Zeva's eyes filled with tears as the 10-year-old's father took her by the arm and handed her over to the man from whom he had borrowed 50,000 afghanis, or about 1,000 US dollars.
"'I cannot pay you in any other way. Take my daughter,' said Gul Miran, 42, a farmer in Nangarhar province.
"Like many other farmers in Afghanistan, Gul Miran had planned to pay back the loan with the proceeds from his crop of poppies, which would eventually be turned into heroin. But as part of its stepped up effort to combat the drug trade in the country, the government had ploughed under his fields and Gul Miran was left with nothing.
"'I accepted the girl in return for my loan,' said Haji Naqibullah, who had advanced Gul Miran the money. 'We had an agreement. He would [pay me back] regardless of whether his crops were wiped out by the weather or by the government. In a year or 18 months I will marry her off to my youngest son,' he said. 'He is 19-years-old and has been married to his first wife for two years but has not had a child yet.'
"Payenda Gul, who grows poppies in the Shinwar district, was forced to give his 17-year-old daughter to a divorced man of 38 in order to pay his debt.
"'When you have an agreement with an opium dealer, nothing but the opium can be paid but they cannot refuse the daughters.
"'It is a way in which a dealer can find a wife for himself or for a son. The son may be disabled or he may be growing older and not had a wife. It is easy to present him with a pretty girl.'
"Payenda Gul holds the government responsible for the situation.
"'They cannot do anything about the big drug dealers but they come and plough up the small farmers' poppies and this creates the problem,' he said.
"A 17-year-old girl from Jalalabad province, who refuses to disclose her name, said her father forced her into an engagement with a blind man.
"She said her father had taken out a loan of 80,000 afghanis, 1,600 dollars ) but his fields had been ploughed under and he had had no choice but to offer her in return for his debt.
"'I will be serving my blind husband to the end of my life,' she said. 'I am an Afghan girl and have to respect my father's choice even though I disagree with it.'"

Tragically, there seem to be no other options for many of these farmers, and international officials are powerless to help. As the Tribune reported, "Syed Jafer Muram, deputy director of the Nangarhar narcotics-control section in Nangarbar province, said that farmers have few legal options to resolve their debts with drug dealers.
"'Cases like this don't come to the notice of officials,' he said. 'If a father tried to get help for his daughter he would be arrested for opium trading. Such issues are usually solved through a jirga.'
"Malik Sydullah Momand, a tribal elder of the Batikoat district, agreed that such disputes should be resolved by a local jirga, an Afghan tradition where village elders settle disputes between families.
"'People respect jirga and accept its resolutions,' he said. 'It is a matter of shame if a man has to take his daughter's case to the courts.
"'If daughters are being paid in return for opium debts it should be stopped. It is likely we will try to prohibit this practice,' he said. 'But it needs time. It can't happen overnight.'
"An official with the International Committee on Human Rights said the organization is aware about the situation but that there is little that can be done unless official complaints are lodged.
"'If such practices were brought to our attention we could act,' said Sharifa Shahab. 'But neither ICHR nor the police are informed.
"'Unfortunately many of these women who are paid in return for opium debts either end up addicted to the drug or commit suicide. It's a very sad situation.'"

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Afghanistan Opium Production Reaches Record High For 2004; Afghan President Considers Amnesty Offer To Traffickers

Production of opium reached record levels in Afghanistan in 2004, the UN reports. According to the United Nations Information Service on Nov. 25, 2004 ( "Record Opium Cultivation In Afghanistan Is A Threat To Central Asia And CIS Countries"), "According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004, just released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium cultivation in Afghanistan grew by 64 per cent in 2004, a statistic which promises increased trafficking and a steady supply of high-grade heroin for Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Announcing the Survey findings to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, stated, 'With 131,000 hectares dedicated to opium farming, this year Afghanistan has established a double record -- the highest drug cultivation in the country’s history, and the largest in the world.'"

According to the release, "According to the UN report '…opium cultivation has spread to all of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces, making narcotics the main engine of economic growth: valued at US$2.8 billion, the opium economy is now equivalent to over 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s 2003 GDP.' This increase in cultivation also represents a growing and significant health risk: 30 per cent of the heroin produced in Afghanistan leaves the country via Central Asia, a region where heroin addiction, the accompanying risk of HIV/AIDS, and drug-related deaths are on the rise."

The situation has gotten so out of hand that the newly-elected Afghan government is considering an amnesty offer to traffickers. The Financial Times reported on Jan. 10, 2005 ( "Afghanistan Considers Amnesty For Drug Traffickers") that "Afghan officials said the government needed to ponder unorthodox approaches to combat an industry that has ballooned over the past three years, awarding huge means to drug traffickers that overshadow those of the government that is trying to fight them. If you're in the UK and you have the luxury of state institutions, you don't have to do this. But in Afghanistan you have to be pragmatic and consider different solutions given the precarious security situation, said Hanif Atmar, minister of rural rehabilitation and development. One possibility was to offer to protect traffickers from prosecution if they put their ill-gotten gains to work in the countrys rehabilitation, he said."

According to the FT, "Some western officials in Kabul expressed cautious support for the proposition on Monday but said discussions were at an early stage. The proposition was in keeping with the governments offer of amnesty to moderate members of the former Taliban regime they said. They warned that the practicalities of an amnesty - such as how it would be applied and towards whom - would be complicated and could run counter to other initiatives, such as the recent formation of a judicial task force to target high-profile traffickers. Offering an olive branch to some traffickers while putting others in jail would send a mixed message, they said."

The FT notes that "Afghanistan and its international allies have pledged to spend more than $800m this year on a counternarcotics programme that includes opium poppy-eradication, economic alternatives for farmers and arresting traffickers. But they are struggling to find a middle line between aggressive policies and outright war with the powerful druglords. Mr Atmar, minister for rural rehabilitation and development, said drug traffickers made about $2.2bn inside Afghanistans borders last year. Their drug industry was so intertwined with the provincial power structures as to be indistinguishable, he said. They have $2.2bn to destroy our police, our army and our administration. If money determines loyalty, then you have a problem here, he said. The lines between a druglord and a warlord are [completely] blurred. One western security adviser who is familiar with drug policy called the idea insane. What would they offer amnesty in exchange for? That they wouldn't do it again? he asked."

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More Aid to Afghanistan: Donor Nations Pony Up In Response To UN Plea

A March 2004 conference in Berlin resulted in billions of dollars of pledges in aid for Afghanistan. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Australia reported April 1, 2004 ( "Donors Pledge $US8 Billion To Afghanistan") that "Afghanistan says donor nations have pledged more than $US8 billion in aid over the next three years. The country's finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, made the announcement at an international conference in Berlin, saying almost $4.5 billion has been promised for this year alone. Mr Ghani has described the pledge as very generous, and essential to help rebuild the war-ravaged nation. The figure of $8.2 billion falls short of the Kabul government's three-year goal of almost $12 billion, but is broadly in line with what officials had been predicting earlier."

The UN is highly concerned about development efforts in Afghanistan. The Financial Times reported on March 29, 2004 ( "Afghan Economy 'At Risk Of Relying On Drug Trade'"), that the UN Development Program (UNDP) warns that "Afghanistan is in danger of reverting to an economy entirely dependent on the illegal drug trade and a "terrorist breeding ground" unless the international community significantly increases development funding to the war-torn country. The warning comes in a UN Development Programme ( UNDP ) report to be presented to the international Afghanistan conference opening in Berlin on Wednesday. The report, obtained by the Financial Times, complains that "aid . . . has been much lower than expected or promised. In comparison to other conflict or post-conflict situations, Afghanistan appears to have been neglected"."

The Afghan economy is in miserable condition, which makes it nearly impossible to contain the illicit drug trade. According to the Financial Times, "The report, which compiles the UN's latest data on Afghanistan, says the country's $4bn estimated gross domestic product is small compared with the $14bn in "military costs" spent annually in Afghanistan by western powers. More than half the population live in extreme poverty, and only Sierre Leone ranks below Afghanistan on the UNDP's human development index. Life expectancy is below 50. In Badakshan, northern Afghanistan, a maternal mortality rate of 6,500 per 100,000 is the "highest ever recorded in any part of the world", the report says. The reliance on poppy production for drugs has become part of ordinary people's "coping strategy", especially as only 37 per cent of poppy-producing households are poor, compared with 54 per cent of those not involved in poppy production."

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US Military Leader: Stopping Afghani Opium Production Someone Else's Problem

Stopping Afghani production and trafficking of opium and heroin is someone else's responsibility, according to the commander of US forces in the Persian Gulf region, Gen. Tommy Franks. The New York Times reported on Oct. 30, 2002 ( "US To Add To Forces In Horn Of Africa") that "General Franks said resolving the issue was up to the Afghans and nonmilitary agencies."

According to the Times, "One area American troops will stay clear of is drug interdiction, Gen. Franks said. Opium production in Afghanistan skyrocketed to near-record levels this year, making the war-ravaged nation again the world's leading producer of the drug, according to a United Nations estimate released over the weekend. During the war in Afghanistan, allied forces, particularly British forces, targeted production, storage and transportation facilities for heroin and other drugs that flood European markets. Efforts by the Karzai administration to eradicate opium production by paying farmers to destroy their crops have failed because of a lack of money, violent demonstrations by farmers fearing their livelihoods were in jeopardy and the refusal of some local officials to destroy the crops."

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UN Office On Drugs and Crime Issues 2002 Final Report On Afghan Opium Production; ODC Director Costa Calls Afghanistan "A Global Challenge"

The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC, formerly the UN Office on Drug Control and Crime Prevention and the UN Drug Control Program) has released its final report on Afghan opium production in 2002. ODC estimates that Afghanistan produced 3,400 metric tons of opium this year. According to ODC's news release of Oct. 24, 2002 ( "United Nations Calls For Greater Assistance To Afghans In The Fight Against Opium Cultivation"), "'The annual Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2002, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC) has confirmed earlier indications of the considerable level of opium production in the country this year', the Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, announced at a press conference here today. Presenting the findings of the Survey, he said that 90 per cent of cultivation was concentrated in just five provinces in Afghanistan: Helmand in the south, followed by Nangarhar in the east, Badakhshan in the north, Uruzgan in the south/centre and Kandahar in the south."

ODC places none of the blame on the current Afghan government, and plans a host of measures to reduce opium production. According to ODC, "The total opium production in Afghanistan this year is estimated to amount to 3,400 metric tons, which is still 25 per cent lower than the record production of 1999 (4,600 metric tons). 'The high level of opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year is not a manifestation of a failure of the Afghan authorities or of the international efforts to assist them in drug control. The planting (of the 2002 crop) took place during the total collapse of law and order in the autumn of 2001, long before the new government of Dr. Hamid Karzai was in place', Mr. Costa said. He called for greater assistance to the Afghan authorities in carrying out their strong commitment to prevent opium cultivation. Immediately after assuming office, President Karzai issued a decree on 17 January, banning not only cultivation but also the processing, trafficking and abuse of opiates. Last month, his government reiterated that position, reasserting the ban on opium poppy planting in the autumn. 'What is needed in the period ahead is much stronger international support in establishing and developing law enforcement institutions, and providing Afghan farmers with alternative, licit means of livelihood', Mr. Costa said. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reopened its country office in Kabul in February and has appointed Mohammad-Reza Amirkhizi as the country representative. The office has been engaged in a wide range of projects, which include strengthening the Afghan drug control commission, assistance in law enforcement and the criminal justice sectors, and cross-border counter-narcotics cooperation with neighbouring States. The Office is also working on a pilot social compact with farmers in Kandahar and Badakhshan provinces, providing them with small amounts of financial assistance with the understanding that they would grow commercial crops other than opium poppy. Another area of activity covers drug demand reduction. Following a quarter century-long military strife, a large segment of the Afghan population has become addicted to opium and heroin. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is analysing the extent of drug abuse within the country and developing drug abuse prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services."

The full report is available for downloading as a PDF by clicking here. An executive summary of the survey can be downloaded by clicking here. Also, remarks by ODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa can be viewed by clicking here.

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UN Agencies Report Massive Increase In Opium Poppy Production In Afghanistan

The nation of Afghanistan is once again a major producer of opium poppies, according to a new report by the UN's World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The Boston Globe reported on August 19, 2002 ( "UN Cites Failure To Uproot Opium") that "The new Afghan government has 'largely failed' in its four-month effort to eradicate the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan, which in recent years became the world's biggest producer of the raw material for heroin, UN specialists reported yesterday. Their figures show this year's crop could be worth more than $1 billion at the farm level in Afghanistan. 'That's a big chunk of GDP,' said Hector Maletta, a spokesman for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Afghanistan's gross domestic product for 1999, the latest estimate available, was put at $21 billion."

The resurgence of opium production in Afghanistan is in some ways a classic example of blowback. As the AP story in the Globe notes, "By the late 1990s, Afghanistan was supplying 70 percent of the world's opium. In 2000, the Taliban government banned poppy cultivation, which led to a 96 percent reduction in acreage devoted to the crop in last year's growing season, according to UN and US drug agencies. But the US-led war that ousted the Taliban late last year prompted Afghan farmers to plant poppy over tens of thousands of acres."

An eradication campaign, announced by the new Afghan government earlier in 2002, seems to have been doomed to failure. "In April, the interim government of President Hamid Karzai announced an eradication program. Farmers would be compensated with $500 per acre for destroyed poppy, the government said. That's only a fraction of the estimated $6,400 per acre of gross income a farmer can earn on poppy, according to the UN report." According to the AP story in the Globe, the UN report "estimated that 225,000 acres of poppy were planted, and 150,000 to 175,000 acres have been or will be harvested. 'The government program had a very limited impact,' Maletta said at a news briefing, and eradication is 'only a transient thing. It can be replanted.' The Taliban prohibition had driven up prices for Afghan opium to about $500 a pound, and the 'farm gate' price remains relatively high, Maletta said, at $160 to $180 a pound. Farmers can produce some 35 pounds per acre of opium, a gum squeezed and scraped from the flower pods."

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Afghan Farmers Die In Protests; As Harvest Begins, Eradication Forces Clash With Farmers Protecting Poppy Crops

The new government of Afghanistan began its 2002 poppy eradication campaign early, with unfortunate results. The BBC News reported on April 8, 2002 ( "Afghan Farmers Die In Poppy Protest") that "At least eight Afghan farmers have been killed and another 35 wounded during protests against the government campaign to eradicate their opium poppy crops. The protest began in the Kajaki district of the south-western province of Helmand, Afghanistan's biggest poppy growing area."

According to the BBC, "The farmers are angered at what they see as derisory compensation. Afghan security men were ordered to fire on the protesters, most of them poor Afghan farmers, deeply unhappy with the government's plans to destroy their crops. Twelve of the injured are reported to be in critical condition in hospital." The BBC noted that "The Afghan interim government has said it will pay compensation of $250 per acre to each farmer who destroys their crop, with much of that money being donated by the European Union. But Afghan farmers say they can make up to $3,500 an acre from the poppies themselves. They often borrow money from drug smugglers in advance to buy the seeds before being paid for the harvest."

The poppy harvest began early this season, in an effort to beat the government eradication forces to the punch. As the Peshawar, Pakistan Frontier Post reported on April 11, 2002 ( "Poppy Harvesting Begins In Afghanistan"), "Some poppy farmers in Afghanistan's biggest opium-producing region have started harvesting this year's crop early in hopes of finishing before the government moves to destroy their narcotic-bearing plants. 'We're in a hurry. We're afraid the government will come and eradicate our fields,' village chief Mohammed Agha said Tuesday. His workers were slitting the green poppy bulbs and collecting the milky opium resin 10 days ahead of harvest time."

According to the Frontier News:
"Since Friday, at least nine poppy farmers and one government official have died in three separate confrontations linked to the state eradication plan, according to Afghan officials.
"In Lashkar Gah, the dusty capital of Helmand, farmer Abdul Hakim lay in a hospital bed with a bullet wound in his chest.
"Security forces shot him during a protest Sunday by poppy-growers in the district of Kajaki, north of the provincial capital.
"'People have spent so much money on their crops. They're tired, they work hard. And now the government is trying to eradicate their crops,' the 34- year-old Hakim said.
"Eight farmers died, according to local officials.
"'Death to America,' Hakim quoted the protesters as shouting.
"He said they accused the United States of pressuring the Afghan government to institute the poppy ban.
"The UN and foreign governments are urging the Afghan government to wipe out the poppies, source of much of the heroin available in Europe.
"American addicts get most of their heroin from Colombia and Mexico."

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UN Drug Agency Releases Preliminary Afghanistan Survey, Confirms Opium Poppy Cultivation At 'Relatively High Level'

The United Nations Drug Control Programme on Feb. 28, 2002, issued its preliminary Afghanistan Opium Poppy Survey 2002. According to the UN Information Service release on the survey, the report "confirms earlier indications that cultivation has resumed at a 'relatively high level' throughout the country after the considerable decline recorded in 2001. The UNDCP Country Office for Afghanistan and the Illicit Crop Monitoring Programme (ICMP) conducted a pre-assessment survey in 208 villages and 42 districts in the traditional opium poppy growing areas of Southern and Eastern Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand, Qandahar, Oruzgan, Nangarhar and Kunar. Those five provinces accounted for 84 percent of the total opium poppy cultivation area in Afghanistan in 2000. The Northern region of Afghanistan was not included in the pre-assessment survey because the colder climate in that area usually delays the opium poppy planting season and cultivation is not observed clearly in February."

The survey estimates that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan could cover an area between 45,000 hectares and 65,000 hectares in 2002. This compares to the level of cultivation reached during the mid-1990s, but remains lower than those recorded in 1999 (about 95,000 hectares) and 2000 (about 82,000 hectares). As noted in the release, "Based on an average national yield of 41 kg per hectare over the past 8 years, the resulting production of opium harvested between March and August 2002 in Afghanistan could reach between 1,900 and 2,700 metric tons of opium. Production in 1999 reached a record of 4,600 mt, while in 2000 it was 3,300 mt."

More comprehensive data-gathering by the UN will go on in April and May, with the results of this more in-depth survey reported in September 2002.

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Afghan Opium Trade Rejuvenated Since Fall Of Taliban; US, UN Accused Of Ignoring Cultivation

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is on the rise again after the fall of the Taliban, and international experts are concerned that the US and UN are ignoring the problem. The Financial Times of London reported on Feb. 18, 2002 ( "US and UN Ignoring Menace Of Drugs Cultivation") that "The US and United Nations have ignored repeated calls by the international anti-drugs community to address the increasing menace of Afghanistan's opium cultivation, threatening a rift between Europe and the US as they begin to reconstruct the country. With the US focused on its anti-terror campaign and the UN hamstrung by a drugs agency discredited by the misallocation of funds by Pino Arlacchi, its former chief, the fight against Afghanistan's drugs problem was facing an uphill battle, diplomats and anti-drugs officials said."

According to FT, "Intelligence estimates suggest that the current harvest has the potential to produce 4,500 tonnes of opium or 450 tonnes of heroin. About 150 tonnes of Afghan heroin has been entering the European market annually - equivalent to 95 per cent of the European heroin trade." This resurgence is unsurprising, as FT notes: "But the growing insecurity in Afghanistan had slowed development agencies' ability to begin crop substitution programmes among farmers who were about to sow next season's poppy harvest, officials said. Cindy Hamilton-Fazey, professor of international drug policy at Liverpool University, said: 'With a weak government in Kabul and a US government that is more interested in oil and counterterrorism in the region than drugs, it is inevitable that poppy cultivation is rapidly reasserting itself and that the tribal warlords will try and maximise their revenue from it.'"

The resurgence of the Afghan opium trade has been noted by other media as well. According to a story in the Austin American-Statesman on Feb. 17, 2002 ( "Afghan Opium Trade Grows Anew"), "The demise of the Taliban, the hard-line regime pushed out of power by US-led coalition forces, also meant the end of a ban on poppy cultivation. The Taliban's prohibition, begun in 2000, resulted in a 96 percent drop in Afghanistan's production of raw opium, from more than a million pounds in 1999 to 40,600 pounds last year, according to the United Nations Drug Control Program. US officials say their evidence suggests that the Taliban's ban was created to drive up prices on the world market and that despite the prohibition the Taliban, its al Qaeda allies and Afghanistan's economy profited from opium production and sales of surpluses from earlier harvests. Today, without a strong central government, the cultivation of poppies is a free-for-all."

The report, by Tasgola Karla Bruner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, continues: "In January, the interim government of Hamid Karzai issued a decree prohibiting poppy production and trafficking in narcotics, including opium and heroin. But the new government is seen as too weak to enforce the ban. 'It would have been impossible to have grown poppies during the time of the Taliban. I wouldn't have done it,' said Gul, 30 (Juma Gul, a farmer interviewed for the story). 'The new government has no control. They have no army, no tanks. If they did, they would be able to stop us, but they don't.'"

Yet even a new ban might do no more than boost prices, and profits. Again from the Bruner story: "Muhammad Akbar, 32, a raw opium merchant in Kandahar, would welcome an effort by Karzai's government and the international community to enforce a ban on production. For Akbar, the ban in 2000 meant that raw opium prices went from $100 per kilogram to $1,533 per kilogram, he said. He said he has cleared $100,000 in profits in three years' work. 'The new government has announced this ban but the can't implement it because people have no other source of income,' Akbar said. 'Eighty percent of Afghans are doing th is business -- the cultivation, the transport, the selling.'" The story notes that "Gul, the farmer, said he will make about $9,000 raising poppies this season, 10 times more money than any other of the crops he used to grow, such as wheat or corn. Other growers say they make many times more."

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CSDP Unveils New Website, Public Service Ad Addressing Issue Of Prohibition Funding Terrorist Groups

Is the funding of terrorism another unintended consequence of drug prohibition? Common Sense for Drug Policy President Kevin B. Zeese asks this question in a new CSDP public service advertisement. CSDP has also created a new website to explore these links in depth. Find out more by going to http://www.NarcoTerror.org/ .

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Blinded By The Drug War: FBI, Looking For Afghan Heroin, Ignored Tip On al-Qaeda Network

News reports from Boston allege that the FBI was given a tip about a terrorist cell operating in the Boston area, but it was ignored because the feds were focused on drugs. According to the Boston Herald on Oct. 17, 2001 ( "Report: FBI Probe Targeted Drugs, Not Terrorism" ), "Raed Hijazi, 32, an American citizen now awaiting trial in Jordan in a foiled millennium terrorist plot, told FBI agents about 'Arab terrorists and sympathizers,' but they were more interested in whatever knowledge he had about heroin being brought into Boston via Afghanistan, WCVB-TV reported last night. Hijazi is an admitted member of al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist ring founded by Osama bin Laden. Hijazi became a 'willing informant' for the Boston office of the FBI to avoid jail time on charges being investigated by the agency's drug squad, the station reported, citing a 'high-level source.'"

The Herald reports that Hijazi "left Boston in 1998 after working in Everett for several years as a cabdriver. He was arrested in Syria in October 2000 on charges he led a ring of terrorists in a botched plan to blow up a hotel and other sites expected to be filled with revelers celebrating the millennium in Jordan." The Herald also notes a direct link between Hijazi and the events of 9/11: "Hijazi reportedly told investigators his friend, another Boston cab driver, Nabil al-Marabh, 34, was an al-Qaeda agent. Hijazi has denied he made this claim. Al-Marabh was arrested in Chicago last month by FBI agents probing the Sept. 11 attack on America. Authorities believe al-Marabh had close ties to at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Authorities have also frozen al-Marabh's financial assets."

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Public, Media Discover Drug Trade Is Integral Part Of World Political Economy

As the US government builds a coalition against Osama bin Laden, suspected of being responsible for the Pentagon and WTC attacks as well as wanted for the bombing of two US embassy buildings, attention is turning toward the US's allies. The result has been a growing awareness of the links between drug traffickers and producers, official corruption, arms dealing, rebel groups, and terrorists around the world. As the Wall Street Journal on October 2, 2001 ( "In Targeting Terrorists' Drug Money, US Puts Itself In An Awkward Situation"), reported:
"In its assault on terrorism, the U.S. may seek to choke off profits from the Central Asian drug trade that are used to buy arms and explosives. But some important potential allies in Washington's struggle with Afghanistan are also believed to be reaping the rewards of the nation's burgeoning heroin trade.
"Nowhere is the problem clearer than along Afghanistan's northern border with Tajikistan, a sworn ally in President Bush's antiterrorist efforts-and a major conduit for heroin and opium on its way to consumers in Europe."
The Journal further reports, "U.N. officials hesitate to guess which side has been making more from the drug trade in Afghanistan, which produces about 75% of the world's heroin. But they do think the anticipated U.S. retaliation against terrorists in Afghanistan, and perhaps the Taliban government itself, has sparked selling. The officials say Afghan drug dealers, expecting a Western Strike, appear to be selling off their narcotic stockpiles for cash."

For more details about narcofunded terrorism, and the question of whether it is an inevitable byproduct of drug prohibition, click here and view NarcoTerror.org.

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Politics And War Make Strange Bedfellows: Ally In US Effort Against Taliban Also Involved In Drug Trafficking

The US effort against the Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban regime is resulting in some intriguing alliances. As the UK's Daily Telegraph reported on Sept. 26, 2001 ( "The Assassins And Drug Dealers Now Helping Us"), "Pakistan's shadowy intelligence service, one of the main sources of information for the US-led alliance against the Taliban regime, is widely associated with political assassinations, narcotics and the smuggling of nuclear and missile components - and backing fundamentalist Islamic movements." The Telegraph report continues:
"Locally referred to as Pakistan's 'secret army' and the 'invisible government', the Inter Services Intelligence ( ISI ) was founded soon after independence in 1948. Today it dominates the country's domestic and foreign policies. It is also responsible for manipulating the volatile religious elements, ethnic groups and political parties that are disliked by the army."
"Modelled on Savak, the Iranian security agency and, like it, trained by the Central Intelligence Agency ( CIA ) and the SDECE, France's external intelligence service, the ISI 'ran' the mujahideen in their decade-long fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"According to Brig Mohammad Yousaf, who headed the ISI's Afghan Bureau for four years until 1987, the counter-intelligence agency funnelled US money and weapons to the mujahideen to minister the 'time-honoured guerrilla tactic of death by a thousand cuts' on the Soviet 'Bear' that collapsed soon after it was driven from Afghanistan in 1989."

The Telegraph continues:
"In the early 1990s the ISI provided logistic and military support for the Taliban, which emerged from Pakistani madrassahs ( Muslim seminaries ), and helped it to seize power in Kabul five years ago.
"Thereafter, it maintained a 'formidable' presence across Afghanistan, helping the Taliban, who are mostly Pathans, to consolidate their hold over the country. The tactics used included bribery and raids that wiped out entire villages of different ethnic tribes.
"It is the knowledge gained of the Taliban into which the US is tapping before it launches punitive raids against Kabul, military officials said.
"Intelligence sources said that the ISI-CIA collaboration in the 1980s assisted Osama bin Laden, as well as Mir Aimal Kansi, who assassinated two CIA officers outside their office in Langley, Virginia, in 1993, and Ramzi Yousef.
"Yousef and his accomplices were involved in the failed bomb attack on the World Trade Centre in New York five years later. The intelligence link-up also helped powerful international drug smugglers.
"Opium cultivation and heroin production in Pakistan's northern tribal belt and adjoining Afghanistan was a vital offshoot of the ISI-CIA co-operation. It succeeded in turning some of the Soviet troops into addicts.
"Heroin sales in Europe and the US, carried out through an elaborate web of deception, transport networks, couriers and pay-offs, offset the cost of the decade-long 'unholy war' in Afghanistan.
"An intelligence officer said: 'The heroin dollars contributed largely to bolstering the Pakistani economy and its nuclear programme, and enabled the ISI to sponsor its covert operations in Afghanistan and northern India's disputed Kashmir state.'"

The Telegraph also notes that there is some concern over which side the ISI is actually on. "The main concern for Gen Pervaiz Musharraf, the current leader of Pakistan, is that the ISI's loyalties may still lie more with the Taliban than with its own government and its new American 'partner'."

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Afghan Heroin Floods Market, Price Drops In Half; Taliban May Lift Ban On Opium Production

Fears are growing that the ban on opium production in Afghanistan may soon be lifted, according to news stories. The BBC reported on Sept. 24, 2001 ( "Afghan Opium Prices 'Crash'" ) that "UN officials in Pakistan say the price of Afghan opium has collapsed following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Before 11 September, one kilo of opium was selling for $700. The price is now between $200-300. The Taleban regime in Afghanistan had outlawed poppy production, but it's now feared that cultivation will start once again." The BBC notes that "Reports from the semi-autonomous tribal areas of Pakistan say that prices have been driven down by the sheer quantity being sold by Afghan traders."

If opium production is to resume, farmers are expected to begin planting shortly. As The Times of London reported on Sept. 25, 2001 ( "Flood Of Cheap Afghan Heroin") that "The ban was imposed by Mullah Muhammad Omar last year, leaving many farmers ruined. But the sudden halving of the price of raw opium to $250 a kg suggests the decree has been reversed. Even if it remains in place, desperate farmers are expected to resume planting next month while Taleban security forces are engaged elsewhere."

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UN Official: Taliban Opium Ban May Hamper Afghan Military Capability

The Taliban's edict against opium planting in territories under their direct control may limit Afghanistan's military capability, according to a senior UN official. A Reuters wire service story on September 19, 2001 ( "UN Official -- Opium Cuts May Hit Afghan Capability") reported that "Smuggling the drug to western markets was seen as a major source of funding for the Taliban, currently under pressure to hand over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, suspected in last week's attacks on New York and Washington. (UNDCP Chief of Research Sandeep) Chawla said Afghanistan began cutting back opium production in the summer of 2000, following a Taliban view that it was un-Islamic. But it also cut off a crucial source of funding that has undermined its military capabilities."

According to Reuters, "the UNDCP, which monitors the illicit drug trade across the world and carries out surveys in Afghanistan, believes opium production has also been hit by a severe drought. In 2001, land used for growing opium in Afghanistan fell by 90 percent to around 19,768 acres, Chawla said." Yet, "The bulk of the heroin produced from opium is smuggled along the Balkan route -- through Iran, Turkey and southern Europe to markets in the West. The central Asia route is growing rapidly, while smuggling across the border into Pakistan and India has been reduced, he said." According to Reuters, Chawla said "'Opium cultivation played a pivotal role in the Afghan economy in the nineties, and funded resistance to Soviet occupation. Now Afghanistan's capability (to resist attack) is limited, unless other sources of financing like smuggling arms and other contraband, or the legitimate economy were to pick up."

Following are some very informative articles that help provide more background on this particular aspect of the US drug war in Afghanistan:

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UN, Taliban In Talks Over Tensions Between Aid Workers, Militia

The United Nations and representatives of the Taliban leadership are in talks over a mounting humanitarian crisis in that country. According to the Kyrgyzstan Times of Central Asia on June 8, 2001 ( "Opium and Aid Top Afghan Talks"), "The 16-member Afghan Support Group (ASG) will review the aid response to the emergency in Afghanistan, where more than 800,000 people have become homeless since mid-2000 due to war and drought." The Times reports that "The United Nations has lodged strong protests with the fundamentalist Islamic militia over growing incidents of abuse and harassment of aid workers in the troubled country. It is also understood to be seeking legal advice on a new code of conduct, which the Taleban will require all foreigners to sign. The code is designed to make foreigners abide by the Taleban's strict version of Islamic law, but aid workers are concerned its vague provisions could be used for political reasons."

The Taliban's actions are putting at risk future humanitarian relief. The ASG, "including two European Commission bodies and 14 countries, had provided $200m to Afghanistan so far this year, but future assistance was at risk" unless the Taliban cooperates with the relief community. The Times reports that "UN country coordinator Erick de Mul has also warned the world body may have no choice but to close its humanitarian projects unless the Taleban creates a secure operational environment. 'In many parts of the country, aid personnel, especially national staff, face sporadic harassment including detention on spurious charges,' a UN document presented to the meeting said."

The extent of the problem in Afghanistan is staggering. "The UN estimates more than a million Afghans could face famine this year unless massive international assistance is forthcoming. But efforts to raise funds from the international community have been stymied by the Taleban's record of human rights abuses and the ongoing war between the militia and opposition forces." The Times estimates that because of the Taliban's poppy ban, "Afghan poppy farmers have lost four fifths of their income by switching to other crops. Many have been left indebted -- some have had to sell land." Apart from the US, no other country has yet pledged any assistance.

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UN Report Casts Doubt On Taliban Anti-Opium Efforts

The United Nations on May 25, 2001 issued an expert panel report on enforcing sanctions against the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to a news briefing from the Office of the Secretary-General ( "Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General"), the five member Committee of Experts, chaired by Ambassador Haile Menkerios of Eritrea, "said it considered it essential to look into the illicit drugs trade by the Taliban, and while noting that the Taliban had banned opium production, it also pointed to a sizeable stock of opium and heroin. The report says, 'If Taliban officials were sincere in stopping the production of opium and heroin, then one would expect them to order the destruction of all stocks existing in areas under their control.'"

The Times of India reported on May 27, 2001 ( "UN Report Slams Taliban For Drugs, Pakistan For Terrorism") that the Committee of Experts "recommended setting up a new UN sanctions monitoring office based in Vienna which would employ specialists in illegal arms trafficking, drugs, money laundering and counter-terrorism." The Times story notes that "The five-member panel has questioned the sincerity of the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar in banning cultivation of poppy last July. It says the Taliban was stockpiling drugs and it has halted production only to keep opium and heroin prices from plummeting."

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US Experts Confirm Taliban's Success; US Anti-Drug Aid May Start Soon As Result

The New York Times reported on May 20, 2001 ( "Taliban's Ban On Growing Opium Poppies Is Called A Success") that "The first American narcotics experts to go to Afghanistan under Taliban rule have concluded that the movement's ban on opium-poppy cultivation appears to have wiped out the world's largest crop in less than a year, officials said today. The American findings confirm earlier reports from the United Nations drug control program that Afghanistan, which supplied three-quarters of the world's opium and most of the heroin reaching Europe, had ended poppy planting in one season. But the eradication of poppies has come at a terrible cost to farming families, and experts say it will not be known until the fall planting season begins whether the Taliban can continue to enforce it."

According to the Times, "The sudden turnaround by the Taliban, a move that left international drug experts stunned when reports of near-total eradication began to come in earlier this year, opens the way for American aid to the Afghan farmers who have stopped planting poppies." US funds for alternative development, which would help farmers who have given up growing lucrative opium poppies, has been held up for some time while officials sought to confirm the Taliban's claims.

According to a story in the New York Times on April 25, 2001 ( "US Sends 2 to Assess Drug Program for Afghans"), "The United Nations Drug Control Program had met resistance from the Clinton administration to any projects to assist Afghans in a drug-eradication program. American policy had been to isolate the Taliban and punish them through United Nations sanctions because of their refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born Islamic militant wanted in connection with bombings of two American Embassies in Africa. The United States may now have a less rigid policy. 'The United States is prepared to fund a United Nations International Drug Control Program proposal in Afghanistan to assist former poppy cultivators hard hit by the ban,' General Powell wrote to Mr. Annan on April 16. 'However, we want to ensure that assistance benefits the farmers, not the factions, while it also curbs the Afghan drug trade. I have authorized US participation in a UNDCP-led mission to Afghanistan to assess the potential for assistance and the cooperation of local authorities.' (Ed. Note: General Powell is US Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, and Mr. Annan is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.)

The Times reports in its May 20 story that "Some questions about the size of hidden opium and heroin stockpiles near the northern border of Afghanistan remained to be answered. But the drug agency has so far found nothing to contradict United Nations reports," and so "On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced a $43 million grant to Afghanistan in additional emergency aid to cope with the effects of a prolonged drought. The United States has become the biggest donor to help Afghanistan in the drought." Yet, other news reports raise questions about whether the Afghan population has noticed the assistance. The Guardian (UK) Weekly reported on April 5, 2001 ( "Taliban Rulers Get No Thanks For Ending Afghanistan's Opium Production" that:
"The ban has caused massive hardship to ordinary Afghans, who have suffered war, drought and Soviet occupation. 'I used to have one-and-a-half acres planted with poppy. Now we have nothing,' farmer Hussain Gul said. 'I have to feed a family of 14.'
"'I blame the Americans because they promised they would help us,' Khan Afzal said. 'But they didn't.' In Hadda last year's crop was destroyed by hail. But the previous year Afzal and other smallholders made around $500 each, a fortune in Afghanistan where the average monthly salary is $4.30. Since the ban, the price of a kilo of opium has soared from 3,000 Pakistani rupees ($50) to 40,000 ($670), sources say.
"To date this has had no discernible effect on the international heroin market, thanks to massive stockpiles in countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Turkey where the raw opium is refined. Intelligence experts from Britain and the United States believe the fall in production could lead to a worldwide shortage and price rise, although production in countries such as Burma and Colombia is likely to increase to satisfy demand."

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More Sources Confirm Rumors Of Sharp Cut In Afghan Opium Production

The Guardian (UK) reported on April 5, 2001 ( "Taliban Rulers Get No Thanks For Ending Afghanistan's Opium Production"), "Western sources in Kabul last weekend confirmed that poppy production in Afghanistan had virtually ceased. This follows an edict issued last year by the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, declaring opium to be un-Islamic." The story notes that "The ban has caused massive hardship to ordinary Afghans, who have suffered war, drought and Soviet occupation. 'I used to have one-and-a-half acres planted with poppy. Now we have nothing,' farmer Hussain Gul said. 'I have to feed a family of 14.' However, the Guardian also points out "To date this has had no discernible effect on the international heroin market, thanks to massive stockpiles in countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Turkey where the raw opium is refined. Intelligence experts from Britain and the United States believe the fall in production could lead to a worldwide shortage and price rise, although production in countries such as Burma and Colombia is likely to increase to satisfy demand."

Differing estimates of Afghanistan's success at eradicating opium production have stirred controversy. That nation's leader issued an edict in June 2000, calling for a complete end to opium production. Though widely hailed, the edict was reportedly ineffective. According to the US State Dept. report, cultivation in Afghanistan went up dramatically in 2000, with cultivation estimated at 64,510 hectares, up from 51,500 hectares in 1999, with a potential yield of 3,656 metric tons, up from 2,861 metric tons in 1999.

In contrast, the UN's International Narcotics Control Board, in its most recent report issued Feb. 20, 2001, estimates that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan declined by 10 percent in 2000 from the previous year, and further estimates that the yield declined by 28 percent.

Regardless of the claim of a downward trend in Afghanistan, the UN's estimate shows much higher amounts of poppy cultivation and opium production than does the US report. The UN Drug Control Programme's World Drug Report 2000, issued in early 2001, that in 2000 Afghanistan had 82,000 hectares of poppies under cultivation, as compared with 91,000 hectares in 1999. Similarly, the UN's estimate of potential opium differs significantly -- 4,565 metric tons in 1999, down to about 3,300 metric tons in 2000.

It is not possible to say which, if any, of the estimates are reliable. Indeed, the US report comments on its own estimates: "Potential production estimates for 1996-1999 have been revised upward from previous INCSRs, reflecting improved methodologies for estimating opium yields." The estimates of land under poppy cultivation were unchanged and not revised in this report.

Resistance To US Certification Process Grows, As Measures Of Progress Are Questioned

The US State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs released its 2000 International Narcotics Control Report and the list of countries certified as cooperating on matters of international drug control on March 3, 2001. Both Afghanistan and Myanmar (Burma) were decertified.

Several members of Congress have expressed opposition to the certification process, and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) has introduced legislation to eliminate the process. As well, leaders of several countries, most notably Mexican President Vicente Fox, have expressed their opposition to the process. Some have suggested the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism, used by the Organization for American States' Inter-American Council on Drug Abuse (CICAD), as a replacement.


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Afghanistan Update


Heroin Production On The Rise Again In Afghanistan

For more info on other South Asian nations, check out Common Sense for Drug Policy: Asia Drug War Update.

UNODC: Afghan Opium Output In 2007 Nearly Double Estimated Annual Global Consumption

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its 2007 Afghanistan Opium Survey in mid-November 2007. The UNODC estimated that Afghanistan produced approximately 8,200 metric tonnes of opium — nearly double the estimate of global annual consumption.

The Independent newspaper reported on Nov. 17, 2007 (Bid to wipe out Afghan opium failed, says UN") that "Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UNODC, gave new figures showing Afghanistan's export of drugs to the West was fuelling the insurgency in Afghanistan. Releasing the final draft of its 2007 Afghan opium survey, the UNODC chief said poppy growth increased 17 per cent to 193,000 hectares and the growth in heroin production leapt a third to 8,200 tonnes. The report shows that Afghanistan now accounts for 93 per cent of world opium production and is the biggest narcotics producer since 19th-century China. Helmand produces about half of the national output of heroin. Farmers gained around $1bn ( UKP 500m ) from the total income from the heroin trade, estimated at $4bn, while district officials took a percentage through a levy on the crops. The rest was shared among insurgents, warlords and drugs traffickers, it said. The wholesale price of a gram of heroin grew with every border crossed, it noted, rising from $2.50 in Afghanistan itself to $3.50 in Pakistan and Iran, $8 in Turkey, $22 in Germany, $30 in Britain and $33 in Russia."

UNODC Director Costa had previously written in the Washington Post ("An Opium Market Mystery," April 25, 2007) that "Annual demand for opium is approximately 4,500 tons. Last year a record 6,100 tons were produced in Afghanistan alone. That country's production is 30 percent more than total world demand. Heroin prices should, in theory, be plummeting. But they are not. So what is going on?" Later in this op-ed, Costa gave his guess as to the answer: "I fear there may be a more sinister explanation for why the bottom has not fallen out of the opium market: Major traffickers are withholding significant amounts. Drug traffickers have a symbiotic relationship with insurgents and terrorist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Instability makes opium cultivation possible; opium buys protection and pays for weapons and foot soldiers, and these in turn create an environment in which drug lords, insurgents and terrorists can operate with impunity. Opium is the glue that holds this murky relationship together. If profits fall, these sinister forces have the most to lose. I suspect that the big traffickers are hoarding surplus opium as a hedge against future price shocks and as a source of funding for future terrorist attacks, in Afghanistan or elsewhere."

A copy of the report can be downloaded from CSDP's research archive or from the UNODC website.

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United Nations Drug Office Says Afghanistan Produced Bumper Opium Crop In 2007

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released its Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007 in late August 2007. According to the UNODC, "The area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased by 17% in 2007, from 165,000 hectares in 2006 to 193,000 hectares. As a result of the upsurge in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, global opium poppy cultivation rose by 17% in 2007 to over 234,000 hectares. Afghanistan's share of global cultivation remains 82%."

The New York Times reported on August 28, 2007 ("Second Record Level For Afghan Opium Crop") that "In Helmand Province, which produces more opium than any other country in the world, there are now 7,000 British NATO troops, the largest concentration of foreign forces in Afghanistan. Helmand had a 48 percent increase in opium production in 2007, the report said. The province, which is twice the size of Maryland, produced 53 percent of Afghanistan's opium this year, up from roughly 42 percent last year. The northeastern province of Nangrahar, which had reduced cultivation in recent years, experienced a 285 percent increase in opium cultivation in 2007, the report found. The Southwestern province of Farah, the scene of increased Taliban activity, experienced a 93 percent increase."

According to the Times, "United Nations officials track opium cultivation through ground surveys and satellite images. The survey found that the number of hectares in Afghanistan cultivated with poppies grew to 193,000 in 2007, from 165,000 in 2006, a 17 percent increase. Favorable weather led to high yields, with the estimated opium produced rising to 9,000 tons in 2007, from 6,700 tons in 2006, a 34 percent increase. The report notes that no large increase in world demand for opium has occurred in recent years and that supply from Afghanistan 'exceeds global demand by an enormous margin.' It said up to 3,300 tons of opium was being stockpiled in Afghanistan."

The Times noted that "The report is likely to spark renewed debate over an American-backed proposal for the aerial spraying of opium crops with herbicide. Afghan and British officials have opposed aerial spraying, saying it would increase support for the Taliban among farmers who fear the herbicide would poison them and their families. A proposal to carry out pilot programs where herbicide would be sprayed by ground eradication teams is now being considered, according to Western officials."

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Sharpened Debate? Release Of A US Poppy-Fighting Strategy

The United States delivered a new plan to curb Afghan opium production on Thursday August 9. Despite the limited success of the previous poppy eradication efforts, are the most recent U.S. goals for eradicating Afghan opium poppies realistic? According to a Bloomberg update, dated August 8, 2007 ("Afghanistan At Odds With US On Plan To Curb Opium"), "Afghanistan is at odds with a U.S. strategy to stem opium production that is funding the Taliban and other militants opposed to President Hamid Karzai's rule, according to a top Afghan diplomat. While the Bush administration is seeking to expand efforts to destroy opium poppy plants, Afghanistan wants to emphasize long-term crop substitution. 'Right now the approach of the United States is more emphasis on eradication,' Jawad said in an interview, Afghanistan?s? ambassador to the U. S . 'But not only us, your friends the British do not agree with that either, and say no, that's not the right approach.' Jawad stressed that rather than 'punishing extensively the farmers, we have to go after traffickers.'"

According to the Bloomberg update, "William Wood, the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said in late June that 'there is not yet a consensus regarding eradication.' He lamented last year's results -- about 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) or 10 percent of the total Afghan crop eliminated. Wood was ambassador to Colombia while the U.S. mounted a major effort there to shrink cocaine production. The anti-drug effort, known as Plan Colombia, is aimed at curbing the flow of drug money to guerrillas and strengthening the authority of the elected government."

In the same August 8 update, the Bloomberg adds, "A U.S. government assessment of its counter-narcotics program in Afghanistan, released on July 31 by the inspectors general of the State and Defense departments, illustrated what a failure the U.S. effort has been to date. During fiscal year 2006, the U.S. spent more than $420 million combating Afghan narcotics. Still, the number of Afghans involved in cultivation grew to 2.9 million from 2 million in 2005, equivalent to an eighth of the population. Acreage devoted to poppy cultivation in 2006 was about 59 percent higher than in 2005. In 2006, income generated inside Afghanistan from the narcotics industry represented about 60 percent as much as that from legal economic activities. 'It is self-evident that there is no politically feasible way to outspend economic incentives that drive the narcotics trade,' the inspectors general said. If the entire poppy crop were converted to heroin, its street value would be $38 billion, they estimated."

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Anti-Drug Troops Launch New Offensive Against Poppy Production

A new anti-poppy operation is being launched in Afghanistan with the support of British troops. The Independent on Sunday reported on Jan. 21, 2007 ("Opium War Revealed: Major New Offensive In Afghanistan) that "The Independent on Sunday has learned that in the next week to 10 days, 300 members of the Afghan Eradication Force ( AEF ), protected by an equal number of police, will begin destroying fields of ripening opium poppies in the centre of lawless Helmand province, where Britain has some 4,000 troops. While British forces will not be directly involved in the operation, commanders concede that they will have to go to the aid of the eradication teams if they encounter armed resistance. 'A backlash is definitely possible,' said one senior officer. The poppy fields to be targeted are on the Helmand river near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital and headquarters of the British task force. The area has deliberately been selected because it is in the relatively peaceful "development zone", well away from the fighting which claimed the lives of two Royal Marines in the past week. 'These people are growing poppy out of greed rather than need,' a British counter-narcotics official in Lashkar Gah told the IoS. 'They could earn a living by other means.' The Afghan government has rejected calls for defoliants to be sprayed on the crop, and the plants will be cut down by hand, or crushed by tractors dragging heavy metal bars behind them. The British official said there were some 22,000 hectares of opium poppies in the target area. The Afghan operation might destroy up to a third, if it didn't encounter trouble, 'but it depends on the security situation as much as anything.'"

According to the Independent on Sunday, "Despite the deployment of British forces in Helmand last year, opium production in the province soared by 160 per cent, faster than anywhere else in Afghanistan. A record crop was harvested in May under the noses of arriving British troops, and the area under cultivation increased further during the autumn planting season. 'It is is wall-to-wall poppies everywhere you look, just a mile or two from Lashkar Gah,' said a source who travelled out of the provincial capital last week. 'There was some early planting by people hoping to beat any crackdown, but the weather has also favoured growers, with rain at just the right time. The crop will be earlier this year than in 2006.' As soon as they moved to southern Afghanistan, senior British officers dissociated themselves from suggestions in Whitehall that they would seek to stamp out the drugs trade. They were aware that a badly handled eradication operation in 2002 had sown deep bitterness: big growers paid bribes to save their crops, and it was small farmers with no other livelihood who suffered. Funds to compensate them were misspent or stolen. Poppy cultivation has since been declared illegal, and no compensation will be paid this time. 'The aim is to go after the big operators, who grow opium with impunity on government-owned land they have seized,' said the official. 'It will be a powerful disincentive if they are seen to have lost their crops, although some smaller farmers will inevitably suffer. But they are in an area where funds are available, mainly from USAid, for 'cash for work' projects, such as road building and canal clearing.'"

The Independent on Sunday noted that "Last February the provincial governor was sacked and replaced by Mohammed Daud, an English-speaking engineer and ex-UN worker. When he fell victim in December to internal political wrangling, it was feared that his deputy, Amir Muhammad Akhundzada, a member of a clan with close links to the drugs trade in northern Helmand, would take over, but he too was ousted. This month's eradication move is being carried out by the Kabul government, with the provincial administration having no say. The local authorities are supposed to make their own efforts to stamp out narcotics, but Governor Daud, fearing the backlash from destruction of crops, concentrated instead on seeking to persuade farmers not to plant poppies. It is understood that his successor, Asadullah Wafa, will meet President Karzai in Kabul tomorrow to discuss further measures to deal with the trade. Even if the AEF succeeds in destroying a third of the poppies in their target area, or about 7,000 hectares, that would be barely one-10th of the total under cultivation in Helmand, which could still produce more opium this year than last."

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World Bank Issues Report On Afghan Opium Production — Eradication Efforts Largely A Failure

The World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime issued a report titled "Afghanistan's Drug Industry: Structure, Functioning, Dynamics, and Implications for Counter-Narcotics Policy" in November 2006. According to the World Bank's news release dated Nov. 28, 2006, "Efforts to combat opium production in Afghanistan have been marred by corruption and have failed to prevent the consolidation of the drugs trade in the hands of fewer powerful players with strong political connections, says a report released today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank. According to the report, entitled Afghanistan's Drug Industry: Structure, Functioning, Dynamics, and Implications for Counter-Narcotics Policy, efforts to combat opium have achieved only limited success and have lacked sustainability. Strong enforcement efforts against farmers are often ineffective in remote areas with limited resources, assets, and markets. The impact of eradication of opium poppy fields, and of reductions in cultivation resulting from the threat of eradication, tends to be felt most by poor farmers and rural wage labourers, who lack political support, are unable to pay bribes and cannot otherwise protect themselves."

According to the World Bank press office, "The report says that, far from leading to sustained declines in total national cultivation, success in reducing cultivation in one province often leads to increases elsewhere, or cultivation in the province itself rebounds in the following year (as occurred in Helmand province after 2003). Corruption in the eradication process has also had negative side-effects. Wealthier opium producers pay bribes to avoid having their crops eradicated, greatly reducing the effectiveness of counter-narcotics measures and gravely undermining the credibility of the government and its local representatives."

The World Bank noted further in its release that "The latest UNODC report on opium production in Afghanistan is discouraging. There was a record opium harvest, with total cultivation increasing by 59 percent and production by 49 percent in 2006. Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of global illegal opium output. The bulk of opium growth this year has been concentrated in Helmand and a few other highly insecure and insurgency-ridden provinces in the south. Elsewhere in the country patterns have been much more mixed, with increases in some provinces and reductions in others. Yet, even in this record year, opium takes up less than 4 percent of the total cultivated area in Afghanistan. An estimated 13 percent of the population was involved in opium poppy cultivation. Most districts and localities do not grow opium. And although the opium economy accounts for around one-third of total economic activity in the country, most Afghans are not part of the drug industry. The report says that although both better-off and poorer households cultivate opium poppy, the latter are much more dependent on opium for their livelihoods. 'Efforts to discourage farmers from planting opium poppy should be concentrated in localities where land, water, and access to markets are such that alternative livelihoods are already available.' said Alastair McKechnie, World Bank Country Director for Afghanistan. 'Rural development programs are needed throughout the country and should not be focused primarily on opium areas, to help prevent cultivation from further spreading.'"

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United Nations: Increase In Afghan Opium Output "Staggering"

The United Nations estimate of Afghan opium output for 2006 shows a dramatic increase, according to news reports in advance of the release of the official estimate. The Chicago Tribune reported on Sept. 3, 2006 ("'Very Bad' News On Opium War") that "Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan increased 59 percent this year, producing a record-breaking 6,100 metric tons of opium, in part because of efforts by the Taliban and other insurgents in the troubled south, according to a UN survey. Antonio Maria Costa, the United Nations anti-drug chief, called the crop 'staggering.' Afghanistan now produces 92 percent of the world's opium supply. If security in the south does not improve, entire provinces could fail. The southern part of the country is 'displaying the ominous hallmarks of incipient collapse,' Costa said Saturday. 'The news is very bad,' he said."

According to the Tribune, "It is difficult to overstate the problem with poppies, the raw product for opium and heroin. Opium is the biggest employer in Afghanistan and the largest export. The drug trade makes up at least 35 percent of the country's gross domestic product. Police chiefs, governors and other government officials profit from the trade, Costa said. So do the Taliban and other insurgents, who urged farmers to grow poppies in southern Afghanistan this past year to destabilize the government and make money. Insurgents, whether Al Qaeda or the Taliban, also protect drug traffickers, even riding along with convoys in the south and west, Costa said. In exchange, they demand money. 'The insurgency derives a significant amount of revenue from drugs,' Costa said."

The Tribune noted that "The growth in poppies is directly linked to corruption and insecurity, officials said. It shows just how dire the situation has become in Afghanistan almost five years after the Taliban fell. A renewed insurgency is mounting its most serious challenge to the U.S.-backed government. Although the Taliban regime once successfully reduced poppy production, it now encourages cultivation. Farmers are growing poppies despite hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid spent on prevention, eradication and alternative-livelihood programs. Not all the news is negative. Six of the country's 34 provinces are now opium-free. Cultivation fell in eight provinces, most in the north. Three of the most corrupt governors in the south were replaced after the poppy growing season last year. But that is the only good news in the south. In the southern province of Helmand, where several districts have fallen under Taliban control, opium cultivation increased 162 percent this year, to 171,303 acres. That is 42 percent of the opium cultivation in the country. A senior U.S. official said poppies are grown on almost 30,000 acres of government land in Helmand province, showing the problem with government corruption and drugs. Punishment for drug crimes has been minimal. The Afghan government has been reluctant to jail poppy farmers. It has had little luck going after traffickers. Investigation is difficult -- Afghanistan doesn't have the capability to use fingerprints."

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Senlis Council: "Following US Policies Is Turning Canadian Military Operation In Afghanistan Into A Suicide Mission"

The Senlis Council, a European nonprofit focused on international security and development issues put out a report in June 2006 entitled "Canada in Kandahar: No Peace to Keep – A Case Study of the Military Coalitions in Southern Afghanistan." According to the Senlis Council's news release ("Following US Policies Is Turning Canadian Military Operation In Afghanistan Into A Suicide Mission," June 28, 2006), "Canadian troops are paying with their lives for Canada’s adherence to the US government’s failing military and counter-narcotics policies in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan said The Senlis Council, an international security and development think tank. Senlis warned in a Report released today that the US-led counter-terrorist operations under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and aggressive large-scale crop eradication have significantly contributed to the current war situation that is flaring-up in Kandahar and the other southern provinces. 'The Canada government and the international community continue to seemingly unquestioningly accept America’s fundamentally flawed approach to southern Afghanistan,' said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of The Senlis Council. 'But this is jeopardising both the troops’ lives and the stabilisation, reconstruction and development objectives. The Canadian troops in Kandahar are doing a heroic job in the most difficult of circumstances and are to be commended; but the overall policy context within which they are obliged to work is putting them at risk.'"

According to Senlis, "The Report indicates that the large-scale aggressive forced eradication of poppy crops in Kandahar, led by the US, has contributed in a significant way to the discontent of the local populations and that a wave of New Taliban are cashing-in on the local population’s disillusionment with the foreign military presence. 'Most farmers feel abandoned and cheated by the central government and the international community,' said Reinert. 'This has given way to a dramatic switch in alliance to the only people who they believe are showing any understanding of their needs – the Taliban.' In its report, Senlis notes that there is growing support for the Taliban who now offer protection to farmers against the eradication of their poppy crops."

The Senlis Council noted that "Senlis said that the recent resurgence of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and the sharp rise in violence which has come with it are an early warning of how the rest of the country could go if the international community, particularly the military, do not change their approach in the coming months."

A copy of the report is available through the CSDP research archive or through the Senlis Council website.

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UN: Afghan Opium Poppy Production To Increase In 2006

The UN now reports that opium poppy production in Afghanistan will increase in 2006. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported on Dec. 12, 2005 ( Press Briefing by Adrian Edwards, Spokesperson for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan) that "The great question now is whether, for the year 2006, this 21 percent reduction can be sustained, held or even increased. What will happen in 2006? Is this percentage sustainable? Here the news is not very good. Currently UNODC receives informal information from many of the provinces saying there will be an increase in poppy cultivation in 2006."

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Citing Worldwide Shortage Of Opiate Medicines, European Drug Policy Thinktank Recommends Legalizing Afghan Opium Production

The Senlis Council, an international drug policy think thank based in Europe, finally issued its controversial recommendations regarding Afghan opium in Sept. 2005. Reuters reported on Sept. 25, 2005 ( "Afghanistan Not Ready For Legal Opium - Minister") that "Afghanistan, the world's biggest producer of illicit opium and heroin, is not ready to adopt a controversial proposal to use its opium to help ease a global shortage of painkillers, its counter-narcotics minister says. The Senlis Council, a Paris-based non-governmental organisation, has suggested licensed Afghan opium production could be used to produce morphine and codeine and is to a launch a feasibility study on the proposal in Kabul on Monday."

Opposition to the idea also comes from the UN drug fighting agency, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. According to Reuters, "The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has also rejected the Senlis Council proposal, saying it risked creating confusion among farmers and raising false expectations. Senlis has estimated the worldwide shortage of morphine and codeine at about 10,000 tonnes of opium equivalent a year, while Afghanistan produces roughly 4,000 tonnes of opium a year. However, the UNODC, while conceding there is a shortage of narcotics for medical purposes, says lawful production of opiates worldwide had considerably exceeded global consumption in the past years and could be increased should demand increase."

The shortage of opiate medicines even hits the nations which currently produce legal opium. The San Jose Mercury News reported on July 15, 2005 ( "Crime And Politics Of Opium Trade") that "India is the world's largest producer of legal opium, the raw material for codeine, morphine and other painkillers. But corruption and red tape have left thousands of Indians such as Nevatia to die in agony. And strict licensing hasn't stopped drug gangs from diverting opium meant for medicines to smuggling routes shared by heroin and morphine traffickers, gun-runners and Islamist militants, police say. 'Organized crime and politics join together in this to make life miserable,' said A. Shankar Rao, zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau, a national police unit."

According to the Mercury News, "Mala Srivastava, the federal official who oversees the licensing system, denied that it had serious flaws. 'Whatever little diversion there is is internal,' she said. 'We have never heard of Indian opium, or Indian heroin, traveling abroad.' But the U.S. State Department's annual report on narcotics-control strategy calls India 'a modest but growing producer of heroin for the international market.' In an effort to keep opium out of criminal hands, India's federal and state governments license every step of the process, from growing poppies to stocking and transporting the painkilling drugs they produce. But officials who issue the permits often don't answer the phone, are away from their desks or let applications languish for weeks, doctors and pharmacists complain. Sometimes hospitals run out of morphine while waiting for permit applications to work their way through the bureaucratic labyrinth. 'We have so many patients suffering,' said Dr. Dwarkadas K. Baheti, a pain-management specialist at Bombay Hospital, in India's largest city, Mumbai. 'After two or three months, suddenly we have no morphine left, and for the next month, none is available.'"

The Mercury News noted that "But licensing hasn't stopped traffickers, aided by corrupt officials, from getting opium and other drugs, Rao said. 'With the support of local police and politicians, they convert this opium into 'smack,'' slang for heroin, said Vinod Kumar Shahi, a lawyer in Lucknow, capital of northern India's Uttar Pradesh state. Shahi has learned a lot about the drug trade in 20 years of defending many of the region's top gangsters. By helping traffickers, police can earn 50 times their official monthly salary of about $230, Shahi said. So they pay large bribes to superiors to be posted at police stations in the opium belt of northern India, he said. Tons of tarlike opium gum are skimmed off India's legal supply each year and sent to ad hoc chemists. With a plastic tub, a cup and chemicals easily found on the black market, they make the low-grade heroin base known as 'brown sugar' on the street. There, illegal morphine is worth as much as 25 times what the government pays for it, Rao said. India is a transit country for almost-pure Afghan heroin, which is smuggled in from neighboring Pakistan, often in inflated tire tubes that are floated across rivers along the border. The high-grade heroin produced from Afghan opium accounts for about 87 percent of the world supply, according to the United Nations. Indian drugs also go south to Sri Lanka, where guerrillas with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam use money from heroin trafficking to fund their war for independence. Meanwhile, those who need the painkilling peace that opium-based drugs brings go without."

Download the Senlis Council's Feasibility Study on Opium Licensing in Afghanistan for the Production of Morphine and Other Essential Medicines from here, or from the Senlis Council's website.

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Afghan Opium Production Down Mere Two Percent In Spite Of Intense Crackdown

The United Nations announced that Afghan opium production may have fallen by a mere two percent in 2005, in spite of intensive UN-led eradication and crop substitution efforts. The Associated Press reported on Aug. 29, 2005 ( "Afghan Opium Production Down Just 2 Percent Despite Crackdown") that "Bumper growing conditions meant that Afghanistan's opium production remained almost unchanged this year even though a crackdown on poppy farming cut the land under cultivation by 21 percent, the U.N. anti-drug chief said Monday. Antonio Maria Costa warned it could take another 20 years to eradicate opium from the impoverished country -- despite the recent injection of hundreds of millions in foreign aid to fight the world's biggest drug industry. The narcotics trade is blamed for fighting in some poppy-growing areas and is suspected to be partially funding an insurgency by Taliban-led rebels that has killed more than 1,100 people in the past six months. It has also sparked warnings the country is fast becoming a 'narco-state' less than four years after the U.S.-led invasion. Opium production this year was 4,519 tons, just 2 percent down from the 4,630 tons in 2004, said Costa, director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime."

In spite of the near-record opium production, UN officials insisted there was some good news. According to AP, "'We see a significant improvement in the amount of land cultivated in Afghanistan, a major reduction. One field out of five that was cultivated in 2004 was not cultivated this year,' Costa told The Associated Press in an interview. But he said that 'heavy rainfall, snowfall and no infestation of crops resulted in a very significant increase in productivity.' A report by the U.N. agency said the total amount of land being used to grow poppies dropped from 323,570 acres in 2004 to 256,880 acres this year. But the jump in crop yield -- the opium harvested from each acre of poppies - -- was 22 percent, it added. The money being pumped into anti-drug campaigns by the United States, Britain and other countries is largely used to train police units to destroy laboratories, arrest smugglers and destroy opium crops, as well as to fund projects to help farmers grow legal crops. Costa said another $510 million has been earmarked by donors for further assistance this year and next."

Indeed, the UN's official news release on the subject was headlined "United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announces major reduction in 2005 opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan," with the subhead "UNODC Executive Director says one field out of five cultivated in 2004 were not replanted in 2005." The data regarding the near-record opium production in 2005 was contained in the fourth paragraph of the release:
"Production of Afghan opium in 2005 stands at 4,100 tonnes, only slightly less than the 4,200 tonnes produced in 2004. In 2005, favourable weather conditions also led to increased agricultural productivity, from 32 kg/ha in 2004 to 39kg/ha in 2005. As a result, Afghanistan remains the largest supplier of opium to the world, accounting for 87 percent of the world supplies. In terms of opium cultivation, however, Afghanistan’s share in the global total dropped from 67 percent in 2004 to 63 percent in 2005."

The report itself, "The Opium Situation in Afghanistan as of 29 August 2005," is more cautious than Director Costa. The report notes on page two that "In terms of drug control, the latest news on opium cultivation is good. UNODC will release its full 2005 Afghan Opium Survey in early Autumn, but it is already possible to anticipate certain trends. UNODC expects to confirm a decrease in cultivation from 131,000 hectares in 2004 to 104,000 hectares this year, a significant decline of 21%. In other words, one field out of five cultivated in 2004, this year were dedicated to other cause."

The report on page 4 further notes:
"The progress made in curtailing cultivation in 2005 must be viewed with caution: these achievements are fragile and could be easily reversed in the course of a season. Also, crop decline has been uneven, as some provinces actually increased cultivation in 2005 (Kandarhar, +162%, but especially some of the smaller provinces like Nimroz, 1370%, Balkh, 334% and Farah, 348%). Whether this year’s decline will persist, or even accelerate over the years, will depend on the ability to stay the policy course, to address the corollaries to illicit drugs (corruption, etc), and to sustain development assistance. Since drugs in Afghanistan are both the cause and effect of corruption and insurgency, any such trend reversal – namely, new increases in cultivation and production -- are still quite possible and loaded with strategic consequences for Afghanistan, as well as for the entire international community."

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House Members Attack US Afghan Drug Policy In Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing

US counterdrug policy in Afghanistan came under fire by members of the US House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations in a hearing in mid-July. The Voice of America reported on July 13, 2005 ( "US Officials Frustrated With Counternarcotics Strategies In Afghanistan") that "[L]awmakers are concerned about an upsurge in violence in which more than 30 U.S. soldiers have died since March, and want more done to fight opium cultivation that could be financing terrorist activity. Congressman Jerry Lewis, Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, raised questions about the determination of the Afghan government to bring regional leaders under control. 'I really wonder from what I have heard just today whether there really are plans in place to dramatically reduce on a committed basis, while we commit ourselves to improving their roads, etc. I mean it's not acceptable that we end up supporting more poppies,' he said. Joining Congressman Lewis was another Republican, Congressman Don Sherwood. 'I hope you can convince me differently, but I am afraid our drug policy in Afghanistan has been an utter, abject, total failure,' he said."

US State Dept. officials place the blame on Afghan provincial officials. According to the VOA, "Nancy Powell, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Control, says the frustrating results and what she calls major challenges have triggered a review of strategies. 'Even though our programs to assist the government of Afghanistan in combating the drug trade are working reasonably well in their initial stages, we have encountered major challenges, notably with regard to helping the Afghan authorities in destroying poppy fields when self-restraint is not sufficient to curb production,' she said. The problem lies principally at the Afghan provincial level where Assistant Secretary Powell says hard and valuable lessons have been learned."

The State Dept.'s plans involve placing more responsibility in the hands of the Afghan national government. The VOA noted that "Under plans being discussed, counter-narcotics teams would be sent to key poppy-growing areas to monitor cultivation, compliance, coordinate public information campaigns, deal with alternative crop programs and when needed, request eradication. Part of the plan involves a new Air Mobile Rapid Reaction Eradication Force to be deployed if local authorities are failing to follow through with opium eradication objectives. With a successful election, formation of a central government, expansion of political and human rights, and ongoing training of an army and police, U.S. officials remain optimistic about Afghanistan's prospects."

Still, Congressmen were skeptical, noting the high cost of US counterdrug programs in Afghanistan. Reuters News Service reported on July 12, 2005 ( "Afghanistan Drug-Fighting Efforts Failing - Lawmakers") that " Michigan Republican Rep. Joseph Knollenberg said even though Congress allocated about $1 billion last year to fight Afghanistan's poppy trade, the crop was at record levels and this year was on track for another bumper crop. While officials had hoped to eradicate far more than the 2,220 acres of poppies done last year, Powell said bad weather and a lack of cooperation from local authorities resulted in the destruction of just 533 acres. Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Arizona Republican who chairs the subcommittee, said the cost worked out to about $200,000 per hectare. 'I hope that's not your measure of a successful program, is it?' he asked Powell."

Committee members expressed support for alternative development and crop substitution, approaches which have tended to lose out in the funding battle in the past. According to Reuters, " Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, questioned 'if we're applying any real imagination' and suggested the possibility of a long-term subsidy program for Afghan farmers to encourage alternative crops. 'The children of Europe are being killed by this addiction and it's not acceptable for us to let this go on,' Lewis said of Afghanistan's drug trade which largely supplies Europe. 'If we've got to subsidize the farmers, let's subsidize them.'"

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US Officials Distance Themselves From Afghan Anti-Drug Effort As Evidence Grows Of Bumper Crop In 2005

US officials have begun the process of shifting the blame for the failure of anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan. The Scotsman reported on May 23, 2005 ( "US Memo Critical Of Afghan President's Efforts On Heroin") that "A message sent earlier this month from the US embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital, said that provincial officials and village elders had impeded destruction of significant poppy acreage and that top Afghan officials, including Mr Karzai, had done little to overcome that resistance. The claims were angrily denied by the Afghan leader, who claimed that the international community had not done enough to help his country."

According to The Scotsman, "The three-page memo, which was sent to the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, also criticised British personnel working in the area, who decide where eradication teams work, for being 'substantially responsible' for the lack of progress. It said the British were not targeting the main growing areas and had been unwilling to change their priorities. However, perhaps the strongest criticism was aimed at Mr Karzai. 'Although President Karzai has been well aware of the difficulty in trying to implement an effective ground eradication programme, he has been unwilling to assert strong leadership, even in his own province of Kandahar,' said the cable, which was drafted by embassy personnel involved in the anti-drug efforts. The criticism of Mr Karzai reflected mounting frustration among some American officials that plans to uproot large swathes of Afghanistan's poppy crop have produced little success."

The concerns come at a bad time for Mr. Karzai, who visited the US at the end of May seeking more aid for his wartorn country. As The Scotsman reported, "Mr. Karzai is scheduled to visit Washington this week and meet President George Bush today. Relations have been soured recently between America and Afghanistan after a US military investigation found that US personnel were responsible for widespread and horrific abuse of prisoners at the Bagram detention centre near Kabul. Mr. Karzai, seen by some as a puppet of Washington, has said he wants greater control over American military operations in his country and punishment for any US troops who mistreat prisoners. The United Nations also yesterday called for America to allow an Afghan human rights group to investigate. Speaking in Boston last night, Mr. Karzai sharply rejected the claims that he had not worked strongly enough to deal with poppy production. 'We are going to have probably all over the country at least 30 per cent poppies reduced,' he said. 'So we have done our job. The Afghan people have done our job.'"

Sadly however, it is possible that Mr. Karzai's confidence is misplaced. According to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting on May 28, 2005 ( "Another Bumper Opium Crop"):
"Thanks to plentiful rains earlier this year and late efforts at poppy eradication, farmers in northern Afghanistan say they're enjoying a bumper crop of the opium-producing plant this season.
"While President Hamed Karzai has called for a jihad, or holy war, against poppy growing and an international coalition has been carrying out its own campaign against the drug, even some senior government officials acknowledge that most eradication efforts have come too late and achieved too little.
"Afghanistan produced an estimated 4,200 metric tons of raw opium last year, amounting to 87 per cent of world supply, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
"'This year's rainfall has increased our harvests over last year's,' said Mohammad Nazar, a farmer in the northern Balkh province, happily showing a fat green poppy pod to an IWPR reporter.
"Opium, the raw material for heroin, is produced in most provinces of Afghanistan. While no official estimates were available, reports suggest that this year's crop will surpass last year's harvest."

The IWPR report noted that "Local farmers who heeded warnings that their poppy crop would be eradicated and opted to grow other plants are now sorely disappointed that they will miss out on the profits from a lucrative harvest. 'The poppy fields have not been destroyed as people said they would be, so those farmers who didn't plant poppies were very sad,' said Nasrullah, another Balkh farmer. The harvest was a boon for farm workers. "I was unemployed before the opium collection season but now I'm working in the poppy fields making 300 to 400 afghanis a day," labourer Mohammad Omar told IWPR."

The situation may prove difficult to change. As IWPR reports, "While authorities are upset at the situation, farmers are looking forward to a prosperous year. Nor are they likely to change crops voluntarily, many say. The average gross income from a hectare of opium poppies was about 4,600 US dollars last year, and the same area planted with wheat yielded just 390 dollars, according to UN figures."

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UN Report Projects Drop In Afghan Opium Production: Is There Less Than Meets The Eye?

The spin being given a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime released in March 2005 has added some confusion to the question of Afghanistan's opium production. BBC News reported on March 27, 2005 ( "Fall In Afghan Poppy Cultivation") that "A new survey on drugs in Afghanistan indicates the recent increase in poppy cultivation has been reversed. In most of the country's 34 provinces, farmers are growing alternative crops, the survey by the Afghan government and UN Office on Drugs and Crime says. It is the first time a decrease has been registered since the surge in poppy cultivation that followed the fall of the Taleban. But there is still an upward trend in five provinces, the survey warns."

The survey is not an indicator of actual production and, as noted in the report's introduction, "It does not produce a quantitative forecast of the forthcoming opium harvest." It also presents the forecast out of context: According to UNODC's "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004," "[O]pium cultivation increased by two-thirds, reaching an unprecedented 131,000 hectares. Bad weather and disease lowered the opium yield per hectare resulting in output of 4,200 tons, an increase of only 17%, thus preventing a bumper harvest. Opium cultivation also spread to all 32 provinces -- making narcotics the main engine of economic growth and the strongest bond among previously quarrelsome populations. Valued at $2.8 billion, the opium economy is now equivalent to about 60% of Afghanistan’s 2003 GDP ($4.6 billion, if only licit activity is measured)."

Indeed, that report, issued in November 2004, predicted the downturn which the new Rapid Assessment Survey predicts: "In the countryside, because of excess supply, opium prices are two-thirds (67%) lower than last year: the incentive for farmers to plant the next opium crop should now be lower."

The table below is from the 2004 Opium Survey and shows the amount of land devoted to opium production over the years.

Afghanistan opium poppy cultivation, 1994-2004 (hectares)
1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
71,000 54,000 57,000 58,000 64,000 91,000 82,000 8,000 74,000 80,000 131,000

In terms of specific regions, the report shows the primary provinces involved in opium production and which had the greatest increase from 2003 to 2004:

Regional breakdown of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan (hectares)
Province 2002
(ha)
2003
(ha)
2004
(ha)
Change
2003-2004
% of total in
2004
Cumulative
%
Hilmand 29,950 15,371 29,353 91% 22% 22%
Nangarhar 19,780 18,904 28,213 49% 22% 44%
Badakhshan 8,250 12,756 15,607 22% 12% 56%
Uruzgan 5,100 7,143 11,080 55% 8% 64%
Ghor 2,200 3,782 4,983 32% 4% 68%
Kandahar 3,970 3,055 4,959 62% 4% 72%
Rest of the country 4,796 19,472 36,441 87% 28% 100%
Rounded total 74,000 80,000 131,000 64%

The Rapid Assessment Survey reported that "In Helmand, Nangarhar and Uruzgan provinces, which jointly accounted for 52 % of the total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in 2004, an expected decrease in cultivation is reported. An expected increase of opium poppy cultivation is reported in only a few provinces. Farmers in these provinces were aware of the Government’s ban on opium poppy cultivation and the planned eradication campaign, but did not believe these would be enforced. The 5 provinces with an expected increase in cultivation in 2005 (Kandarhar, Farah, Baghlan, Sari Pul and Badghis) only covered 10% of the total area under opium poppy cultivation in 2004."

The UN's optimistic tone is tempered by the reality of the numbers in its earlier report: production in the three provinces which project a possible decrease for 2005 had all gone up dramatically in 2004. One of the provinces in which production is expected to increase, Kandahar, was the 6th most productive in 2004 and accounted for 4% of the total area under production, and production is projected to remain unchanged for the two others in the top five. Any decrease in cultivation would have to be substantial to have any impact.

In addition, growing conditions in 2005 are better than they had been in 2004. The UN reported in its Rapid Assessment that "It is expected that more water will be available for the irrigation both of rain-fed and irrigated areas, due to the large amount of snow in many parts of Afghanistan in January 2005. Consequently, the majority of villages visited (80%) did not expect drought. This could have a positive effect on agricultural production, possibly including higher yields of wheat and opium. In addition, cultivation on rain-fed areas could increase. This is in line with reports of opium poppy cultivation shifting to remote and hilly (i.e. rain-fed) areas, also because the eradication campaign is not expected to reach those areas."

The report also notes that "In 2004, opium poppy cultivation was affected by disease and pests, which resulted in low production. Farmers reported that the disease Zardi, affected cultivation in the majority of villages in 2004. This disease caused a drying out of the opium poppy, resulting in a lower gum production. To obtain more information on agricultural practices, which could influence yield and possible spread of disease, villagers were asked whether they cultivate opium poppy in the same field every year. Most of the respondents reported that crop rotation is common and it is estimated that only 14% of villagers plant poppy every year in the same fields."

Yet another UN report pinpointed the source of the problems driving opium production and heroin production in Afghanistan: abject poverty. According to the UNODC's "Afghanistan Farmers' Intentions Survey 2003/2004," published in February 2004:
"Main motivations to grow / not grow opium poppy
To grow:

  • to alleviate poverty (31% of the farmers’ replies; 30% of headmen replies)
  • high opium prices (30% farmers; 28% headmen)
  • to access credit (‘salaam arrangements’) (18% farmers; 18% headmen)
  • to purchase ‘luxury’ items (such as motor-cycles) (7% farmers; 6% headmen)
  • expected compensations from eradication (6% farmers; 6% headmen)

Not grow:
  • it is against Islam (24% farmers; 17% headmen)
  • it is illegal (23% farmers; 15% headmen)
  • fear of eradication (17% farmers; 16% headmen)
  • fear of imprisonment/fines (16% farmers; 16% headmen)
  • unfavourable climatic/soil conditions (11% farmers; 7% headmen)"

The Opium Survey 2004 also noted that "The yearly gross income of opium growing families was estimated at around US$1,700 in 2004. The gross income from poppy cultivation per hectare amounted to US$4,600, a decline by 64% from a year earlier, but still almost 12 times higher than the gross income a farmer could expect from one hectare of wheat (US$390). Net income could not be estimated, but costs for opium poppy cultivation are thought to be relatively high, including labour, fertilizer, seed, fuel, depreciation of agricultural equipment, as well as taxes to local commanders and various bribes."

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International Narcotics Control Board Releases Annual Report: Warns Of Massive Increase In Opium Production And Heroin Use

The International Narcotics Control Board, a body of the United Nations, released its 2004 Annual Report on March 2, 2005. As The Guardian reported on March 2, 2005 ( "Attempt To Eradicate Afghan Opium Fails"), "Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a "narcotic state" with its biggest annual crop of opium since the overthrow of the Taliban, the United Nations drug control board warns today. The International Narcotics Control Board reports that the opium crop in Afghanistan - which is the source of more than 90% of the heroin sold on Britain's streets - reached a bumper 4,200 tonnes, up 800 tonnes on the previous year."

According to The Guardian, "Hamid Ghodse, the INCB's president, said the British-led attempt to persuade Afghan farmers to grow other cash crops had failed. In 2003 farmers grew 3,600 tonnes of opium poppies in 17 out of the 28 districts of Afghanistan. Now it has spread to all 28 districts, with the area under cultivation increasing last year from 80,000 hectares ( 200,000 acres ) to 130,000 hectares. The INCB said this compared with only 165 tonnes grown during the brutally enforced ban by the Taliban on opium production. 'The Afghanistan government needs to do something very serious, very quickly,' said Professor Ghodse. 'If it is not going to be a narcotics state, which is a risk, then Afghanistan needs to do very urgent action in eradication and alternative development.' Although opium prices fell considerably between 2003 and 2004 they remain above $100 ( £52 ) a kg - far higher than any other cash crop - and a crucial source of finance for the private armies of the drug warlords in Afghanistan. The crop eradication programme is supported by a British-led international consortium, and tries to persuade farmers to grow alternative crops through negotiation. But it is now believed to be under pressure from the American administration which wants to adopt a forced crop eradication programme similar to that seen in Colombia in the last five years."

The Guardian also noted that "The UN report also warns of an alarming spread in HIV/Aids among injecting drug users in eastern Europe, Russia and central Europe with an estimated 4 million people now believed to be infected. Britain's former deputy drug tsar Mike Trace said yesterday there would be an alarming US-led attempt next week at the UN's annual commission on narcotic drugs meeting in Vienna to rule out the use of needle exchange and other programmes to deal with the growing epidemic. Needle exchange schemes have been used in Britain since the 1980s to ensure one of the lowest rates of HIV infection among heroin injectors in Europe. Mr Trace, now a spokesman for the International Drug Policy Consortium, said governments that provided practical help, such as free access to clean syringes, could achieve significant reductions in the level of HIV infections. But he said the US was consciously trying to tie aid to 'moral lines in the sand' and would not endorse needle exchanges or heroin substitution programmes. Britain and the rest of the EU are expected to criticise the move in Vienna next week but a vote to withdraw support from needle exchange programmes would send a damaging signal to the governments of the former Soviet Union."

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To Spray Or Not To Spray? The Question Should Be, Did They Or Didn't They?

The US drug war in Afghanistan has never been easy to understand. The latest controversy is over spraying herbicides or other plant-killing agents on the poppy crops. First, the US considered and then discarded the idea of spraying. As the LA Times reported on Jan. 22, 2005 ( "US Backs Away From Afghan Aerial Spraying"), "Deferring to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Bush administration has backed off its plans to use aerial spraying to destroy Afghanistan's poppy crop, at least for the time being, administration officials and lawmakers said. Instead, the United States will help develop alternative livelihoods for poor farmers, build up the police and counter-narcotics forces and pay teams of Afghans to cut and burn poppy fields by hand this spring to demonstrate that opium production will be a risky business in the new Afghanistan. The State Department had asked Congress to earmark $780 million in aid to Afghanistan for counter-narcotics programs, of which $152 million had been earmarked for aerial eradication beginning this month."

According to the Times, "There was division within the department and the National Security Council over the wisdom of spraying and whether the United States should use its powerful influence to overcome Karzai's opposition. Supporters of spraying have argued that opium profits are swelling the coffers of warlords and enriching Taliban and possibly Al Qaeda elements as well. Critics, including senior U.S. diplomats and military officers in Afghanistan, warned that spraying would alienate the voters Karzai desperately needs in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this spring. 'Everybody supports an aggressive program on drugs including manual eradication, interdiction and alternative livelihoods,' said a congressional source who asked to remain anonymous. 'But the idea of U.S. military helicopters swooping down on villagers . stirred up memories of what the Russians did in the '80s,' when Soviet helicopter gunships strafed villages."

Though it seems counter-intuitive, some experts in the field have argued that narcotics traffickers would have benefited from an eradication program. As noted in the Times story, "New York University professor Barnett R. Rubin, who served as a U.N. advisor in Afghanistan, said opium prices that had plummeted because of the bumper poppy harvest last year quadrupled on the expectation that eradication would make for a smaller crop this year. Because opium can be stored indefinitely and sold when the price is right, the traffickers 'are big supporters of crop eradication right now,' said Rubin, who argues that supporting other forms of rural development is a better investment. 'The net result of crop eradication will be a net transfer of income from opium growers to drug traffickers,' he said."

In spite of the US decision it has been reported that there may have been aerial spraying. BBC News reported on Feb. 8, 2005 ( "Afghans Probe 'Poppy Spray' Claim") that "The Afghan government has said it is investigating reports that an unidentified aircraft sprayed opium poppies with herbicide. It comes amid continuing controversy over how to curb Afghanistan's booming drugs trade. The governor of Helmand province in the south of Afghanistan told the BBC that poison had certainly been sprayed, but he did not know who was responsible."

According to the BBC, "It is the second time since November that Kabul has launched an investigation into allegations of aerial spraying. The last inquiry proved inconclusive. Both Washington, which had previously earmarked cash for aerial spraying programmes, and the British government, which leads the international counter-narcotics effort in Afghanistan, denied responsibility."

The Afghan government however reports that it has found no evidence of aerial spraying. According to the San Diego Union Tribune on Feb. 9, 2005 ( "Afghans Say No Evidence That Opium Fields Sprayed"), "Afghan investigators sent to investigate fresh reports that opium fields had been aerially sprayed with pesticide in violation of official policy found no evidence that it had occurred, the government said on Wednesday. Officials and villagers in the southern province of Helmand, a major poppy-growing area, said this week that several aircraft had sprayed pesticide on opium fields in four villages last Thursday, prompting the dispatch of Interior Ministry investigators. 'There was no evidence of aerial spraying for eradication of poppy,' General Mohammad Dawood, the deputy minister of interior for counter narcotics, said in a statement. 'The MOI investigation team found that a naturally occurring disease affected those four villages in Helmand province.' Dawood did not identify the disease but described reports that spraying had happened as 'propaganda' by enemies of Afghanistan who wanted to create misunderstandings between local people, the government and the international community. The statement said about 150 residents of the province had complained that they were suffering from skin diseases and that livestock had been affected. It said the investigators had brought samples to Kabul for tests."

The Union Tribune story notes that "Government spokesman Jawed Ludin said on Tuesday that aerial spraying of opium fields had occurred in the past even though this was against government policy. He said the United States, whose troops overthrew the former Taliban government in late 2001, scrapped plans to eradicate opium crops by aerial spraying after President Hamid Karzai declared his opposition to it last year. Afghanistan's air space is tightly controlled by U.S.-led forces, but the U.S. military and government has repeatedly denied involvement in spraying of opium fields. Wednesday's Interior Ministry statement came a day after the U.S. embassy said there was 'no credible evidence' that aerial spraying had taken place in Helmand. U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has suggested in the past that such reports could have been concocted by drug lords to thwart international efforts to cut production of narcotics. Karzai took his position after reports of a mystery spraying of opium fields in an eastern province last year."

Or has there been spraying? According to an article in The Nation magazine on Jan. 24, 2005 ( "Afghan Poppies Bloom"), "Already there is trouble brewing in Nangarhar, where next year's crop is just starting to sprout. Farmers report low-flying planes spraying poison on their fields. Doctors in the area say they've seen a sudden jump in respiratory illness and skin rashes, while veterinarians are seeing sickened livestock. In a harbinger of what a real war on drugs might bring, one farmer in Nangarhar whose son had been poisoned by the spraying told a local journalist, 'If my son dies, I will join the Taliban, and I will kill as many Americans as I can find.' Nangarhar's provincial governor, a former mujahedeen commander named Haji Din Mohammed, has said there is 'no doubt that an aerial spray has taken place.' Other Afghan officials have called it illegal. The United States controls Afghan airspace but denies that it has sprayed, though it is promising a 'robust' eradication campaign come spring."

Indeed, reports coming from Afghanistan are completely contradictory. The Nation:
"The rotund landlord, Mr. Attock, sits on the carpeted floor of his little office and living quarters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. From this one room he publishes a slight and sporadic weekly or sometimes monthly newspaper, but like most people around here, his real business is farming opium poppy. Mr. Attock's land lies about an hour and a half away in the countryside of Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, not too far from Tora Bora.
"'My dear, everyone grows poppy. Even me,' says Mr. Attock in slightly awkward English as he leans over to grab my leg, again. Mr. Attock is a bundle of physical and intellectual energy, not all of it well focused. 'My dear, you see. Listen. My dear, wheat is worthless. Everyone grows poppy. We will go to my village and you will see.'
"The next day we tour the village where Mr. Attock owns or manages a farm ( it's not entirely clear who actually owns the establishment, but he is in charge ). Nangarhar is one of Afghanistan's top three drug-producing provinces. The surrounding fields rotate between corn and poppies. Mr. Attock says he has almost 100 people living and working here as tenant farmers and laborers.
"For the past three years, growing poppy in Afghanistan, as Mr. Attock and his tenants do, has been a relatively risk-free and open business. The Taliban had imposed a ruthlessly successful ban on poppy cultivation in 2000; more than 90 percent of cultivation stopped. But since the US invasion in 2001, eradication efforts have been minimal and ineffective and production has again soared."

Yet, on Feb. 9, 2005, the San Jose Mercury News reported ( "Poppy Farming Declines In Afghanistan") that "Across Afghanistan, government officials and foreign aid workers who monitor poppy cultivation have reached a remarkable conclusion: One year after Afghan farmers planted the largest amount of poppies in their nation's history and provided the world with nearly 90 percent of its opium supply, many of them have stopped growing it. Poppy farming, officials said, may have declined by as much as 70 percent in three provinces that together account for more than half of Afghanistan's production: Nangarhar in the east, Helmand in the south and Badakhshan in the north. In Nangarhar, where last spring poppies bloomed all along the main road from the provincial capital, Jalalabad, to the Pakistani border, the contrast today is striking. 'I visited 16 out of 22 districts and I couldn't find a single plant of poppy,' marveled Mirwais Yasini, head of the Afghan government's counternarcotics directorate. 'It was all wheat.' Several factors may be responsible, including a drop in opium prices after the previous banner harvest, and a reluctance to plant among farmers whose crops were destroyed last season by disease or the police."

Other reports also show that poppies may be on the decline in some areas, though not without significant social costs. According to the Pak Tribune on Jan. 2, 2005 ( "Haven Of Poppy-Production Devastated"), "The provincial authorities of Nangarhar said this month that 95% of the poppy fields in the province had been destroyed. Whilst there have been many reports of drug-eradication raids and extensive poppy destruction, the extent of the programs has in the past often failed to match the publicity. But when Pajhwok Afghan News visited leading poppy-producing districts, its reporter found that the claims about poppy destruction appear to be correct. In Ghani Khil, Achin, Nazyan, Dur Baba and Spin Gar districts, farmers have destroyed their own crops after pressure from the tribal leaders. But now they claim that they are having to abandon their homes and leave for other provinces because they have not been adequately compensated for the destruction of their poppy crops."

According to the Tribune, however "according to some farmers, promised compensation from the government has not appeared. Malik Niaz Mohammed said: 'The government and the international community have not fulfilled their promise yet. We have not started destroying our own crops to help them, but to improve the reputation of the region.' He said that for the past 20 years foreigners had made empty promises, and filled the pockets of a few. Many farmers are disillusioned and have no money to survive on. A forlorn farmer, Mir Dad, speaking by his destroyed poppy field, told Pajhwok: 'We were obliged to destroy our poppies; we were not ready to eradicate them.' Another farmer from Achin district, Sarfraz Khan, said Afghan tradition and the decision of the elders were 'like diamonds' for them. But he added: 'I sent my two sons to Peshawar to find work. If, with that, we still cannot live in this drought-stricken area, then we must leave.'"

Where there is no money, other forms of exchange get used. The Tribune reported that "Zeva's eyes filled with tears as the 10-year-old's father took her by the arm and handed her over to the man from whom he had borrowed 50,000 afghanis, or about 1,000 US dollars.
"'I cannot pay you in any other way. Take my daughter,' said Gul Miran, 42, a farmer in Nangarhar province.
"Like many other farmers in Afghanistan, Gul Miran had planned to pay back the loan with the proceeds from his crop of poppies, which would eventually be turned into heroin. But as part of its stepped up effort to combat the drug trade in the country, the government had ploughed under his fields and Gul Miran was left with nothing.
"'I accepted the girl in return for my loan,' said Haji Naqibullah, who had advanced Gul Miran the money. 'We had an agreement. He would [pay me back] regardless of whether his crops were wiped out by the weather or by the government. In a year or 18 months I will marry her off to my youngest son,' he said. 'He is 19-years-old and has been married to his first wife for two years but has not had a child yet.'
"Payenda Gul, who grows poppies in the Shinwar district, was forced to give his 17-year-old daughter to a divorced man of 38 in order to pay his debt.
"'When you have an agreement with an opium dealer, nothing but the opium can be paid but they cannot refuse the daughters.
"'It is a way in which a dealer can find a wife for himself or for a son. The son may be disabled or he may be growing older and not had a wife. It is easy to present him with a pretty girl.'
"Payenda Gul holds the government responsible for the situation.
"'They cannot do anything about the big drug dealers but they come and plough up the small farmers' poppies and this creates the problem,' he said.
"A 17-year-old girl from Jalalabad province, who refuses to disclose her name, said her father forced her into an engagement with a blind man.
"She said her father had taken out a loan of 80,000 afghanis, 1,600 dollars ) but his fields had been ploughed under and he had had no choice but to offer her in return for his debt.
"'I will be serving my blind husband to the end of my life,' she said. 'I am an Afghan girl and have to respect my father's choice even though I disagree with it.'"

Tragically, there seem to be no other options for many of these farmers, and international officials are powerless to help. As the Tribune reported, "Syed Jafer Muram, deputy director of the Nangarhar narcotics-control section in Nangarbar province, said that farmers have few legal options to resolve their debts with drug dealers.
"'Cases like this don't come to the notice of officials,' he said. 'If a father tried to get help for his daughter he would be arrested for opium trading. Such issues are usually solved through a jirga.'
"Malik Sydullah Momand, a tribal elder of the Batikoat district, agreed that such disputes should be resolved by a local jirga, an Afghan tradition where village elders settle disputes between families.
"'People respect jirga and accept its resolutions,' he said. 'It is a matter of shame if a man has to take his daughter's case to the courts.
"'If daughters are being paid in return for opium debts it should be stopped. It is likely we will try to prohibit this practice,' he said. 'But it needs time. It can't happen overnight.'
"An official with the International Committee on Human Rights said the organization is aware about the situation but that there is little that can be done unless official complaints are lodged.
"'If such practices were brought to our attention we could act,' said Sharifa Shahab. 'But neither ICHR nor the police are informed.
"'Unfortunately many of these women who are paid in return for opium debts either end up addicted to the drug or commit suicide. It's a very sad situation.'"

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Afghanistan Opium Production Reaches Record High For 2004; Afghan President Considers Amnesty Offer To Traffickers

Production of opium reached record levels in Afghanistan in 2004, the UN reports. According to the United Nations Information Service on Nov. 25, 2004 ( "Record Opium Cultivation In Afghanistan Is A Threat To Central Asia And CIS Countries"), "According to the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004, just released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium cultivation in Afghanistan grew by 64 per cent in 2004, a statistic which promises increased trafficking and a steady supply of high-grade heroin for Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Announcing the Survey findings to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of UNODC, stated, 'With 131,000 hectares dedicated to opium farming, this year Afghanistan has established a double record -- the highest drug cultivation in the country’s history, and the largest in the world.'"

According to the release, "According to the UN report '…opium cultivation has spread to all of Afghanistan’s 32 provinces, making narcotics the main engine of economic growth: valued at US$2.8 billion, the opium economy is now equivalent to over 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s 2003 GDP.' This increase in cultivation also represents a growing and significant health risk: 30 per cent of the heroin produced in Afghanistan leaves the country via Central Asia, a region where heroin addiction, the accompanying risk of HIV/AIDS, and drug-related deaths are on the rise."

The situation has gotten so out of hand that the newly-elected Afghan government is considering an amnesty offer to traffickers. The Financial Times reported on Jan. 10, 2005 ( "Afghanistan Considers Amnesty For Drug Traffickers") that "Afghan officials said the government needed to ponder unorthodox approaches to combat an industry that has ballooned over the past three years, awarding huge means to drug traffickers that overshadow those of the government that is trying to fight them. If you're in the UK and you have the luxury of state institutions, you don't have to do this. But in Afghanistan you have to be pragmatic and consider different solutions given the precarious security situation, said Hanif Atmar, minister of rural rehabilitation and development. One possibility was to offer to protect traffickers from prosecution if they put their ill-gotten gains to work in the countrys rehabilitation, he said."

According to the FT, "Some western officials in Kabul expressed cautious support for the proposition on Monday but said discussions were at an early stage. The proposition was in keeping with the governments offer of amnesty to moderate members of the former Taliban regime they said. They warned that the practicalities of an amnesty - such as how it would be applied and towards whom - would be complicated and could run counter to other initiatives, such as the recent formation of a judicial task force to target high-profile traffickers. Offering an olive branch to some traffickers while putting others in jail would send a mixed message, they said."

The FT notes that "Afghanistan and its international allies have pledged to spend more than $800m this year on a counternarcotics programme that includes opium poppy-eradication, economic alternatives for farmers and arresting traffickers. But they are struggling to find a middle line between aggressive policies and outright war with the powerful druglords. Mr Atmar, minister for rural rehabilitation and development, said drug traffickers made about $2.2bn inside Afghanistans borders last year. Their drug industry was so intertwined with the provincial power structures as to be indistinguishable, he said. They have $2.2bn to destroy our police, our army and our administration. If money determines loyalty, then you have a problem here, he said. The lines between a druglord and a warlord are [completely] blurred. One western security adviser who is familiar with drug policy called the idea insane. What would they offer amnesty in exchange for? That they wouldn't do it again? he asked."

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More Aid to Afghanistan: Donor Nations Pony Up In Response To UN Plea

A March 2004 conference in Berlin resulted in billions of dollars of pledges in aid for Afghanistan. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Australia reported April 1, 2004 ( "Donors Pledge $US8 Billion To Afghanistan") that "Afghanistan says donor nations have pledged more than $US8 billion in aid over the next three years. The country's finance minister, Ashraf Ghani, made the announcement at an international conference in Berlin, saying almost $4.5 billion has been promised for this year alone. Mr Ghani has described the pledge as very generous, and essential to help rebuild the war-ravaged nation. The figure of $8.2 billion falls short of the Kabul government's three-year goal of almost $12 billion, but is broadly in line with what officials had been predicting earlier."

The UN is highly concerned about development efforts in Afghanistan. The Financial Times reported on March 29, 2004 ( "Afghan Economy 'At Risk Of Relying On Drug Trade'"), that the UN Development Program (UNDP) warns that "Afghanistan is in danger of reverting to an economy entirely dependent on the illegal drug trade and a "terrorist breeding ground" unless the international community significantly increases development funding to the war-torn country. The warning comes in a UN Development Programme ( UNDP ) report to be presented to the international Afghanistan conference opening in Berlin on Wednesday. The report, obtained by the Financial Times, complains that "aid . . . has been much lower than expected or promised. In comparison to other conflict or post-conflict situations, Afghanistan appears to have been neglected"."

The Afghan economy is in miserable condition, which makes it nearly impossible to contain the illicit drug trade. According to the Financial Times, "The report, which compiles the UN's latest data on Afghanistan, says the country's $4bn estimated gross domestic product is small compared with the $14bn in "military costs" spent annually in Afghanistan by western powers. More than half the population live in extreme poverty, and only Sierre Leone ranks below Afghanistan on the UNDP's human development index. Life expectancy is below 50. In Badakshan, northern Afghanistan, a maternal mortality rate of 6,500 per 100,000 is the "highest ever recorded in any part of the world", the report says. The reliance on poppy production for drugs has become part of ordinary people's "coping strategy", especially as only 37 per cent of poppy-producing households are poor, compared with 54 per cent of those not involved in poppy production."

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US Military Leader: Stopping Afghani Opium Production Someone Else's Problem

Stopping Afghani production and trafficking of opium and heroin is someone else's responsibility, according to the commander of US forces in the Persian Gulf region, Gen. Tommy Franks. The New York Times reported on Oct. 30, 2002 ( "US To Add To Forces In Horn Of Africa") that "General Franks said resolving the issue was up to the Afghans and nonmilitary agencies."

According to the Times, "One area American troops will stay clear of is drug interdiction, Gen. Franks said. Opium production in Afghanistan skyrocketed to near-record levels this year, making the war-ravaged nation again the world's leading producer of the drug, according to a United Nations estimate released over the weekend. During the war in Afghanistan, allied forces, particularly British forces, targeted production, storage and transportation facilities for heroin and other drugs that flood European markets. Efforts by the Karzai administration to eradicate opium production by paying farmers to destroy their crops have failed because of a lack of money, violent demonstrations by farmers fearing their livelihoods were in jeopardy and the refusal of some local officials to destroy the crops."

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UN Office On Drugs and Crime Issues 2002 Final Report On Afghan Opium Production; ODC Director Costa Calls Afghanistan "A Global Challenge"

The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC, formerly the UN Office on Drug Control and Crime Prevention and the UN Drug Control Program) has released its final report on Afghan opium production in 2002. ODC estimates that Afghanistan produced 3,400 metric tons of opium this year. According to ODC's news release of Oct. 24, 2002 ( "United Nations Calls For Greater Assistance To Afghans In The Fight Against Opium Cultivation"), "'The annual Afghanistan Opium Survey for 2002, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC) has confirmed earlier indications of the considerable level of opium production in the country this year', the Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa, announced at a press conference here today. Presenting the findings of the Survey, he said that 90 per cent of cultivation was concentrated in just five provinces in Afghanistan: Helmand in the south, followed by Nangarhar in the east, Badakhshan in the north, Uruzgan in the south/centre and Kandahar in the south."

ODC places none of the blame on the current Afghan government, and plans a host of measures to reduce opium production. According to ODC, "The total opium production in Afghanistan this year is estimated to amount to 3,400 metric tons, which is still 25 per cent lower than the record production of 1999 (4,600 metric tons). 'The high level of opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year is not a manifestation of a failure of the Afghan authorities or of the international efforts to assist them in drug control. The planting (of the 2002 crop) took place during the total collapse of law and order in the autumn of 2001, long before the new government of Dr. Hamid Karzai was in place', Mr. Costa said. He called for greater assistance to the Afghan authorities in carrying out their strong commitment to prevent opium cultivation. Immediately after assuming office, President Karzai issued a decree on 17 January, banning not only cultivation but also the processing, trafficking and abuse of opiates. Last month, his government reiterated that position, reasserting the ban on opium poppy planting in the autumn. 'What is needed in the period ahead is much stronger international support in establishing and developing law enforcement institutions, and providing Afghan farmers with alternative, licit means of livelihood', Mr. Costa said. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reopened its country office in Kabul in February and has appointed Mohammad-Reza Amirkhizi as the country representative. The office has been engaged in a wide range of projects, which include strengthening the Afghan drug control commission, assistance in law enforcement and the criminal justice sectors, and cross-border counter-narcotics cooperation with neighbouring States. The Office is also working on a pilot social compact with farmers in Kandahar and Badakhshan provinces, providing them with small amounts of financial assistance with the understanding that they would grow commercial crops other than opium poppy. Another area of activity covers drug demand reduction. Following a quarter century-long military strife, a large segment of the Afghan population has become addicted to opium and heroin. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is analysing the extent of drug abuse within the country and developing drug abuse prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services."

The full report is available for downloading as a PDF by clicking here. An executive summary of the survey can be downloaded by clicking here. Also, remarks by ODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa can be viewed by clicking here.

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UN Agencies Report Massive Increase In Opium Poppy Production In Afghanistan

The nation of Afghanistan is once again a major producer of opium poppies, according to a new report by the UN's World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The Boston Globe reported on August 19, 2002 ( "UN Cites Failure To Uproot Opium") that "The new Afghan government has 'largely failed' in its four-month effort to eradicate the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan, which in recent years became the world's biggest producer of the raw material for heroin, UN specialists reported yesterday. Their figures show this year's crop could be worth more than $1 billion at the farm level in Afghanistan. 'That's a big chunk of GDP,' said Hector Maletta, a spokesman for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Afghanistan's gross domestic product for 1999, the latest estimate available, was put at $21 billion."

The resurgence of opium production in Afghanistan is in some ways a classic example of blowback. As the AP story in the Globe notes, "By the late 1990s, Afghanistan was supplying 70 percent of the world's opium. In 2000, the Taliban government banned poppy cultivation, which led to a 96 percent reduction in acreage devoted to the crop in last year's growing season, according to UN and US drug agencies. But the US-led war that ousted the Taliban late last year prompted Afghan farmers to plant poppy over tens of thousands of acres."

An eradication campaign, announced by the new Afghan government earlier in 2002, seems to have been doomed to failure. "In April, the interim government of President Hamid Karzai announced an eradication program. Farmers would be compensated with $500 per acre for destroyed poppy, the government said. That's only a fraction of the estimated $6,400 per acre of gross income a farmer can earn on poppy, according to the UN report." According to the AP story in the Globe, the UN report "estimated that 225,000 acres of poppy were planted, and 150,000 to 175,000 acres have been or will be harvested. 'The government program had a very limited impact,' Maletta said at a news briefing, and eradication is 'only a transient thing. It can be replanted.' The Taliban prohibition had driven up prices for Afghan opium to about $500 a pound, and the 'farm gate' price remains relatively high, Maletta said, at $160 to $180 a pound. Farmers can produce some 35 pounds per acre of opium, a gum squeezed and scraped from the flower pods."

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Afghan Farmers Die In Protests; As Harvest Begins, Eradication Forces Clash With Farmers Protecting Poppy Crops

The new government of Afghanistan began its 2002 poppy eradication campaign early, with unfortunate results. The BBC News reported on April 8, 2002 ( "Afghan Farmers Die In Poppy Protest") that "At least eight Afghan farmers have been killed and another 35 wounded during protests against the government campaign to eradicate their opium poppy crops. The protest began in the Kajaki district of the south-western province of Helmand, Afghanistan's biggest poppy growing area."

According to the BBC, "The farmers are angered at what they see as derisory compensation. Afghan security men were ordered to fire on the protesters, most of them poor Afghan farmers, deeply unhappy with the government's plans to destroy their crops. Twelve of the injured are reported to be in critical condition in hospital." The BBC noted that "The Afghan interim government has said it will pay compensation of $250 per acre to each farmer who destroys their crop, with much of that money being donated by the European Union. But Afghan farmers say they can make up to $3,500 an acre from the poppies themselves. They often borrow money from drug smugglers in advance to buy the seeds before being paid for the harvest."

The poppy harvest began early this season, in an effort to beat the government eradication forces to the punch. As the Peshawar, Pakistan Frontier Post reported on April 11, 2002 ( "Poppy Harvesting Begins In Afghanistan"), "Some poppy farmers in Afghanistan's biggest opium-producing region have started harvesting this year's crop early in hopes of finishing before the government moves to destroy their narcotic-bearing plants. 'We're in a hurry. We're afraid the government will come and eradicate our fields,' village chief Mohammed Agha said Tuesday. His workers were slitting the green poppy bulbs and collecting the milky opium resin 10 days ahead of harvest time."

According to the Frontier News:
"Since Friday, at least nine poppy farmers and one government official have died in three separate confrontations linked to the state eradication plan, according to Afghan officials.
"In Lashkar Gah, the dusty capital of Helmand, farmer Abdul Hakim lay in a hospital bed with a bullet wound in his chest.
"Security forces shot him during a protest Sunday by poppy-growers in the district of Kajaki, north of the provincial capital.
"'People have spent so much money on their crops. They're tired, they work hard. And now the government is trying to eradicate their crops,' the 34- year-old Hakim said.
"Eight farmers died, according to local officials.
"'Death to America,' Hakim quoted the protesters as shouting.
"He said they accused the United States of pressuring the Afghan government to institute the poppy ban.
"The UN and foreign governments are urging the Afghan government to wipe out the poppies, source of much of the heroin available in Europe.
"American addicts get most of their heroin from Colombia and Mexico."

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UN Drug Agency Releases Preliminary Afghanistan Survey, Confirms Opium Poppy Cultivation At 'Relatively High Level'

The United Nations Drug Control Programme on Feb. 28, 2002, issued its preliminary Afghanistan Opium Poppy Survey 2002. According to the UN Information Service release on the survey, the report "confirms earlier indications that cultivation has resumed at a 'relatively high level' throughout the country after the considerable decline recorded in 2001. The UNDCP Country Office for Afghanistan and the Illicit Crop Monitoring Programme (ICMP) conducted a pre-assessment survey in 208 villages and 42 districts in the traditional opium poppy growing areas of Southern and Eastern Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand, Qandahar, Oruzgan, Nangarhar and Kunar. Those five provinces accounted for 84 percent of the total opium poppy cultivation area in Afghanistan in 2000. The Northern region of Afghanistan was not included in the pre-assessment survey because the colder climate in that area usually delays the opium poppy planting season and cultivation is not observed clearly in February."

The survey estimates that opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan could cover an area between 45,000 hectares and 65,000 hectares in 2002. This compares to the level of cultivation reached during the mid-1990s, but remains lower than those recorded in 1999 (about 95,000 hectares) and 2000 (about 82,000 hectares). As noted in the release, "Based on an average national yield of 41 kg per hectare over the past 8 years, the resulting production of opium harvested between March and August 2002 in Afghanistan could reach between 1,900 and 2,700 metric tons of opium. Production in 1999 reached a record of 4,600 mt, while in 2000 it was 3,300 mt."

More comprehensive data-gathering by the UN will go on in April and May, with the results of this more in-depth survey reported in September 2002.

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Afghan Opium Trade Rejuvenated Since Fall Of Taliban; US, UN Accused Of Ignoring Cultivation

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan is on the rise again after the fall of the Taliban, and international experts are concerned that the US and UN are ignoring the problem. The Financial Times of London reported on Feb. 18, 2002 ( "US and UN Ignoring Menace Of Drugs Cultivation") that "The US and United Nations have ignored repeated calls by the international anti-drugs community to address the increasing menace of Afghanistan's opium cultivation, threatening a rift between Europe and the US as they begin to reconstruct the country. With the US focused on its anti-terror campaign and the UN hamstrung by a drugs agency discredited by the misallocation of funds by Pino Arlacchi, its former chief, the fight against Afghanistan's drugs problem was facing an uphill battle, diplomats and anti-drugs officials said."

According to FT, "Intelligence estimates suggest that the current harvest has the potential to produce 4,500 tonnes of opium or 450 tonnes of heroin. About 150 tonnes of Afghan heroin has been entering the European market annually - equivalent to 95 per cent of the European heroin trade." This resurgence is unsurprising, as FT notes: "But the growing insecurity in Afghanistan had slowed development agencies' ability to begin crop substitution programmes among farmers who were about to sow next season's poppy harvest, officials said. Cindy Hamilton-Fazey, professor of international drug policy at Liverpool University, said: 'With a weak government in Kabul and a US government that is more interested in oil and counterterrorism in the region than drugs, it is inevitable that poppy cultivation is rapidly reasserting itself and that the tribal warlords will try and maximise their revenue from it.'"

The resurgence of the Afghan opium trade has been noted by other media as well. According to a story in the Austin American-Statesman on Feb. 17, 2002 ( "Afghan Opium Trade Grows Anew"), "The demise of the Taliban, the hard-line regime pushed out of power by US-led coalition forces, also meant the end of a ban on poppy cultivation. The Taliban's prohibition, begun in 2000, resulted in a 96 percent drop in Afghanistan's production of raw opium, from more than a million pounds in 1999 to 40,600 pounds last year, according to the United Nations Drug Control Program. US officials say their evidence suggests that the Taliban's ban was created to drive up prices on the world market and that despite the prohibition the Taliban, its al Qaeda allies and Afghanistan's economy profited from opium production and sales of surpluses from earlier harvests. Today, without a strong central government, the cultivation of poppies is a free-for-all."

The report, by Tasgola Karla Bruner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, continues: "In January, the interim government of Hamid Karzai issued a decree prohibiting poppy production and trafficking in narcotics, including opium and heroin. But the new government is seen as too weak to enforce the ban. 'It would have been impossible to have grown poppies during the time of the Taliban. I wouldn't have done it,' said Gul, 30 (Juma Gul, a farmer interviewed for the story). 'The new government has no control. They have no army, no tanks. If they did, they would be able to stop us, but they don't.'"

Yet even a new ban might do no more than boost prices, and profits. Again from the Bruner story: "Muhammad Akbar, 32, a raw opium merchant in Kandahar, would welcome an effort by Karzai's government and the international community to enforce a ban on production. For Akbar, the ban in 2000 meant that raw opium prices went from $100 per kilogram to $1,533 per kilogram, he said. He said he has cleared $100,000 in profits in three years' work. 'The new government has announced this ban but the can't implement it because people have no other source of income,' Akbar said. 'Eighty percent of Afghans are doing th is business -- the cultivation, the transport, the selling.'" The story notes that "Gul, the farmer, said he will make about $9,000 raising poppies this season, 10 times more money than any other of the crops he used to grow, such as wheat or corn. Other growers say they make many times more."

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CSDP Unveils New Website, Public Service Ad Addressing Issue Of Prohibition Funding Terrorist Groups

Is the funding of terrorism another unintended consequence of drug prohibition? Common Sense for Drug Policy President Kevin B. Zeese asks this question in a new CSDP public service advertisement. CSDP has also created a new website to explore these links in depth. Find out more by going to http://www.NarcoTerror.org/ .

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Blinded By The Drug War: FBI, Looking For Afghan Heroin, Ignored Tip On al-Qaeda Network

News reports from Boston allege that the FBI was given a tip about a terrorist cell operating in the Boston area, but it was ignored because the feds were focused on drugs. According to the Boston Herald on Oct. 17, 2001 ( "Report: FBI Probe Targeted Drugs, Not Terrorism" ), "Raed Hijazi, 32, an American citizen now awaiting trial in Jordan in a foiled millennium terrorist plot, told FBI agents about 'Arab terrorists and sympathizers,' but they were more interested in whatever knowledge he had about heroin being brought into Boston via Afghanistan, WCVB-TV reported last night. Hijazi is an admitted member of al-Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist ring founded by Osama bin Laden. Hijazi became a 'willing informant' for the Boston office of the FBI to avoid jail time on charges being investigated by the agency's drug squad, the station reported, citing a 'high-level source.'"

The Herald reports that Hijazi "left Boston in 1998 after working in Everett for several years as a cabdriver. He was arrested in Syria in October 2000 on charges he led a ring of terrorists in a botched plan to blow up a hotel and other sites expected to be filled with revelers celebrating the millennium in Jordan." The Herald also notes a direct link between Hijazi and the events of 9/11: "Hijazi reportedly told investigators his friend, another Boston cab driver, Nabil al-Marabh, 34, was an al-Qaeda agent. Hijazi has denied he made this claim. Al-Marabh was arrested in Chicago last month by FBI agents probing the Sept. 11 attack on America. Authorities believe al-Marabh had close ties to at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Authorities have also frozen al-Marabh's financial assets."

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Public, Media Discover Drug Trade Is Integral Part Of World Political Economy

As the US government builds a coalition against Osama bin Laden, suspected of being responsible for the Pentagon and WTC attacks as well as wanted for the bombing of two US embassy buildings, attention is turning toward the US's allies. The result has been a growing awareness of the links between drug traffickers and producers, official corruption, arms dealing, rebel groups, and terrorists around the world. As the Wall Street Journal on October 2, 2001 ( "In Targeting Terrorists' Drug Money, US Puts Itself In An Awkward Situation"), reported:
"In its assault on terrorism, the U.S. may seek to choke off profits from the Central Asian drug trade that are used to buy arms and explosives. But some important potential allies in Washington's struggle with Afghanistan are also believed to be reaping the rewards of the nation's burgeoning heroin trade.
"Nowhere is the problem clearer than along Afghanistan's northern border with Tajikistan, a sworn ally in President Bush's antiterrorist efforts-and a major conduit for heroin and opium on its way to consumers in Europe."
The Journal further reports, "U.N. officials hesitate to guess which side has been making more from the drug trade in Afghanistan, which produces about 75% of the world's heroin. But they do think the anticipated U.S. retaliation against terrorists in Afghanistan, and perhaps the Taliban government itself, has sparked selling. The officials say Afghan drug dealers, expecting a Western Strike, appear to be selling off their narcotic stockpiles for cash."

For more details about narcofunded terrorism, and the question of whether it is an inevitable byproduct of drug prohibition, click here and view NarcoTerror.org.

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Politics And War Make Strange Bedfellows: Ally In US Effort Against Taliban Also Involved In Drug Trafficking

The US effort against the Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban regime is resulting in some intriguing alliances. As the UK's Daily Telegraph reported on Sept. 26, 2001 ( "The Assassins And Drug Dealers Now Helping Us"), "Pakistan's shadowy intelligence service, one of the main sources of information for the US-led alliance against the Taliban regime, is widely associated with political assassinations, narcotics and the smuggling of nuclear and missile components - and backing fundamentalist Islamic movements." The Telegraph report continues:
"Locally referred to as Pakistan's 'secret army' and the 'invisible government', the Inter Services Intelligence ( ISI ) was founded soon after independence in 1948. Today it dominates the country's domestic and foreign policies. It is also responsible for manipulating the volatile religious elements, ethnic groups and political parties that are disliked by the army."
"Modelled on Savak, the Iranian security agency and, like it, trained by the Central Intelligence Agency ( CIA ) and the SDECE, France's external intelligence service, the ISI 'ran' the mujahideen in their decade-long fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"According to Brig Mohammad Yousaf, who headed the ISI's Afghan Bureau for four years until 1987, the counter-intelligence agency funnelled US money and weapons to the mujahideen to minister the 'time-honoured guerrilla tactic of death by a thousand cuts' on the Soviet 'Bear' that collapsed soon after it was driven from Afghanistan in 1989."

The Telegraph continues:
"In the early 1990s the ISI provided logistic and military support for the Taliban, which emerged from Pakistani madrassahs ( Muslim seminaries ), and helped it to seize power in Kabul five years ago.
"Thereafter, it maintained a 'formidable' presence across Afghanistan, helping the Taliban, who are mostly Pathans, to consolidate their hold over the country. The tactics used included bribery and raids that wiped out entire villages of different ethnic tribes.
"It is the knowledge gained of the Taliban into which the US is tapping before it launches punitive raids against Kabul, military officials said.
"Intelligence sources said that the ISI-CIA collaboration in the 1980s assisted Osama bin Laden, as well as Mir Aimal Kansi, who assassinated two CIA officers outside their office in Langley, Virginia, in 1993, and Ramzi Yousef.
"Yousef and his accomplices were involved in the failed bomb attack on the World Trade Centre in New York five years later. The intelligence link-up also helped powerful international drug smugglers.
"Opium cultivation and heroin production in Pakistan's northern tribal belt and adjoining Afghanistan was a vital offshoot of the ISI-CIA co-operation. It succeeded in turning some of the Soviet troops into addicts.
"Heroin sales in Europe and the US, carried out through an elaborate web of deception, transport networks, couriers and pay-offs, offset the cost of the decade-long 'unholy war' in Afghanistan.
"An intelligence officer said: 'The heroin dollars contributed largely to bolstering the Pakistani economy and its nuclear programme, and enabled the ISI to sponsor its covert operations in Afghanistan and northern India's disputed Kashmir state.'"

The Telegraph also notes that there is some concern over which side the ISI is actually on. "The main concern for Gen Pervaiz Musharraf, the current leader of Pakistan, is that the ISI's loyalties may still lie more with the Taliban than with its own government and its new American 'partner'."

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Afghan Heroin Floods Market, Price Drops In Half; Taliban May Lift Ban On Opium Production

Fears are growing that the ban on opium production in Afghanistan may soon be lifted, according to news stories. The BBC reported on Sept. 24, 2001 ( "Afghan Opium Prices 'Crash'" ) that "UN officials in Pakistan say the price of Afghan opium has collapsed following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Before 11 September, one kilo of opium was selling for $700. The price is now between $200-300. The Taleban regime in Afghanistan had outlawed poppy production, but it's now feared that cultivation will start once again." The BBC notes that "Reports from the semi-autonomous tribal areas of Pakistan say that prices have been driven down by the sheer quantity being sold by Afghan traders."

If opium production is to resume, farmers are expected to begin planting shortly. As The Times of London reported on Sept. 25, 2001 ( "Flood Of Cheap Afghan Heroin") that "The ban was imposed by Mullah Muhammad Omar last year, leaving many farmers ruined. But the sudden halving of the price of raw opium to $250 a kg suggests the decree has been reversed. Even if it remains in place, desperate farmers are expected to resume planting next month while Taleban security forces are engaged elsewhere."

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UN Official: Taliban Opium Ban May Hamper Afghan Military Capability

The Taliban's edict against opium planting in territories under their direct control may limit Afghanistan's military capability, according to a senior UN official. A Reuters wire service story on September 19, 2001 ( "UN Official -- Opium Cuts May Hit Afghan Capability") reported that "Smuggling the drug to western markets was seen as a major source of funding for the Taliban, currently under pressure to hand over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, suspected in last week's attacks on New York and Washington. (UNDCP Chief of Research Sandeep) Chawla said Afghanistan began cutting back opium production in the summer of 2000, following a Taliban view that it was un-Islamic. But it also cut off a crucial source of funding that has undermined its military capabilities."

According to Reuters, "the UNDCP, which monitors the illicit drug trade across the world and carries out surveys in Afghanistan, believes opium production has also been hit by a severe drought. In 2001, land used for growing opium in Afghanistan fell by 90 percent to around 19,768 acres, Chawla said." Yet, "The bulk of the heroin produced from opium is smuggled along the Balkan route -- through Iran, Turkey and southern Europe to markets in the West. The central Asia route is growing rapidly, while smuggling across the border into Pakistan and India has been reduced, he said." According to Reuters, Chawla said "'Opium cultivation played a pivotal role in the Afghan economy in the nineties, and funded resistance to Soviet occupation. Now Afghanistan's capability (to resist attack) is limited, unless other sources of financing like smuggling arms and other contraband, or the legitimate economy were to pick up."

Following are some very informative articles that help provide more background on this particular aspect of the US drug war in Afghanistan:

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UN, Taliban In Talks Over Tensions Between Aid Workers, Militia

The United Nations and representatives of the Taliban leadership are in talks over a mounting humanitarian crisis in that country. According to the Kyrgyzstan Times of Central Asia on June 8, 2001 ( "Opium and Aid Top Afghan Talks"), "The 16-member Afghan Support Group (ASG) will review the aid response to the emergency in Afghanistan, where more than 800,000 people have become homeless since mid-2000 due to war and drought." The Times reports that "The United Nations has lodged strong protests with the fundamentalist Islamic militia over growing incidents of abuse and harassment of aid workers in the troubled country. It is also understood to be seeking legal advice on a new code of conduct, which the Taleban will require all foreigners to sign. The code is designed to make foreigners abide by the Taleban's strict version of Islamic law, but aid workers are concerned its vague provisions could be used for political reasons."

The Taliban's actions are putting at risk future humanitarian relief. The ASG, "including two European Commission bodies and 14 countries, had provided $200m to Afghanistan so far this year, but future assistance was at risk" unless the Taliban cooperates with the relief community. The Times reports that "UN country coordinator Erick de Mul has also warned the world body may have no choice but to close its humanitarian projects unless the Taleban creates a secure operational environment. 'In many parts of the country, aid personnel, especially national staff, face sporadic harassment including detention on spurious charges,' a UN document presented to the meeting said."

The extent of the problem in Afghanistan is staggering. "The UN estimates more than a million Afghans could face famine this year unless massive international assistance is forthcoming. But efforts to raise funds from the international community have been stymied by the Taleban's record of human rights abuses and the ongoing war between the militia and opposition forces." The Times estimates that because of the Taliban's poppy ban, "Afghan poppy farmers have lost four fifths of their income by switching to other crops. Many have been left indebted -- some have had to sell land." Apart from the US, no other country has yet pledged any assistance.

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UN Report Casts Doubt On Taliban Anti-Opium Efforts

The United Nations on May 25, 2001 issued an expert panel report on enforcing sanctions against the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to a news briefing from the Office of the Secretary-General ( "Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General"), the five member Committee of Experts, chaired by Ambassador Haile Menkerios of Eritrea, "said it considered it essential to look into the illicit drugs trade by the Taliban, and while noting that the Taliban had banned opium production, it also pointed to a sizeable stock of opium and heroin. The report says, 'If Taliban officials were sincere in stopping the production of opium and heroin, then one would expect them to order the destruction of all stocks existing in areas under their control.'"

The Times of India reported on May 27, 2001 ( "UN Report Slams Taliban For Drugs, Pakistan For Terrorism") that the Committee of Experts "recommended setting up a new UN sanctions monitoring office based in Vienna which would employ specialists in illegal arms trafficking, drugs, money laundering and counter-terrorism." The Times story notes that "The five-member panel has questioned the sincerity of the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar in banning cultivation of poppy last July. It says the Taliban was stockpiling drugs and it has halted production only to keep opium and heroin prices from plummeting."

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US Experts Confirm Taliban's Success; US Anti-Drug Aid May Start Soon As Result

The New York Times reported on May 20, 2001 ( "Taliban's Ban On Growing Opium Poppies Is Called A Success") that "The first American narcotics experts to go to Afghanistan under Taliban rule have concluded that the movement's ban on opium-poppy cultivation appears to have wiped out the world's largest crop in less than a year, officials said today. The American findings confirm earlier reports from the United Nations drug control program that Afghanistan, which supplied three-quarters of the world's opium and most of the heroin reaching Europe, had ended poppy planting in one season. But the eradication of poppies has come at a terrible cost to farming families, and experts say it will not be known until the fall planting season begins whether the Taliban can continue to enforce it."

According to the Times, "The sudden turnaround by the Taliban, a move that left international drug experts stunned when reports of near-total eradication began to come in earlier this year, opens the way for American aid to the Afghan farmers who have stopped planting poppies." US funds for alternative development, which would help farmers who have given up growing lucrative opium poppies, has been held up for some time while officials sought to confirm the Taliban's claims.

According to a story in the New York Times on April 25, 2001 ( "US Sends 2 to Assess Drug Program for Afghans"), "The United Nations Drug Control Program had met resistance from the Clinton administration to any projects to assist Afghans in a drug-eradication program. American policy had been to isolate the Taliban and punish them through United Nations sanctions because of their refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born Islamic militant wanted in connection with bombings of two American Embassies in Africa. The United States may now have a less rigid policy. 'The United States is prepared to fund a United Nations International Drug Control Program proposal in Afghanistan to assist former poppy cultivators hard hit by the ban,' General Powell wrote to Mr. Annan on April 16. 'However, we want to ensure that assistance benefits the farmers, not the factions, while it also curbs the Afghan drug trade. I have authorized US participation in a UNDCP-led mission to Afghanistan to assess the potential for assistance and the cooperation of local authorities.' (Ed. Note: General Powell is US Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, and Mr. Annan is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.)

The Times reports in its May 20 story that "Some questions about the size of hidden opium and heroin stockpiles near the northern border of Afghanistan remained to be answered. But the drug agency has so far found nothing to contradict United Nations reports," and so "On Thursday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced a $43 million grant to Afghanistan in additional emergency aid to cope with the effects of a prolonged drought. The United States has become the biggest donor to help Afghanistan in the drought." Yet, other news reports raise questions about whether the Afghan population has noticed the assistance. The Guardian (UK) Weekly reported on April 5, 2001 ( "Taliban Rulers Get No Thanks For Ending Afghanistan's Opium Production" that:
"The ban has caused massive hardship to ordinary Afghans, who have suffered war, drought and Soviet occupation. 'I used to have one-and-a-half acres planted with poppy. Now we have nothing,' farmer Hussain Gul said. 'I have to feed a family of 14.'
"'I blame the Americans because they promised they would help us,' Khan Afzal said. 'But they didn't.' In Hadda last year's crop was destroyed by hail. But the previous year Afzal and other smallholders made around $500 each, a fortune in Afghanistan where the average monthly salary is $4.30. Since the ban, the price of a kilo of opium has soared from 3,000 Pakistani rupees ($50) to 40,000 ($670), sources say.
"To date this has had no discernible effect on the international heroin market, thanks to massive stockpiles in countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Turkey where the raw opium is refined. Intelligence experts from Britain and the United States believe the fall in production could lead to a worldwide shortage and price rise, although production in countries such as Burma and Colombia is likely to increase to satisfy demand."

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More Sources Confirm Rumors Of Sharp Cut In Afghan Opium Production

The Guardian (UK) reported on April 5, 2001 ( "Taliban Rulers Get No Thanks For Ending Afghanistan's Opium Production"), "Western sources in Kabul last weekend confirmed that poppy production in Afghanistan had virtually ceased. This follows an edict issued last year by the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, declaring opium to be un-Islamic." The story notes that "The ban has caused massive hardship to ordinary Afghans, who have suffered war, drought and Soviet occupation. 'I used to have one-and-a-half acres planted with poppy. Now we have nothing,' farmer Hussain Gul said. 'I have to feed a family of 14.' However, the Guardian also points out "To date this has had no discernible effect on the international heroin market, thanks to massive stockpiles in countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Turkey where the raw opium is refined. Intelligence experts from Britain and the United States believe the fall in production could lead to a worldwide shortage and price rise, although production in countries such as Burma and Colombia is likely to increase to satisfy demand."

Differing estimates of Afghanistan's success at eradicating opium production have stirred controversy. That nation's leader issued an edict in June 2000, calling for a complete end to opium production. Though widely hailed, the edict was reportedly ineffective. According to the US State Dept. report, cultivation in Afghanistan went up dramatically in 2000, with cultivation estimated at 64,510 hectares, up from 51,500 hectares in 1999, with a potential yield of 3,656 metric tons, up from 2,861 metric tons in 1999.

In contrast, the UN's International Narcotics Control Board, in its most recent report issued Feb. 20, 2001, estimates that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan declined by 10 percent in 2000 from the previous year, and further estimates that the yield declined by 28 percent.

Regardless of the claim of a downward trend in Afghanistan, the UN's estimate shows much higher amounts of poppy cultivation and opium production than does the US report. The UN Drug Control Programme's World Drug Report 2000, issued in early 2001, that in 2000 Afghanistan had 82,000 hectares of poppies under cultivation, as compared with 91,000 hectares in 1999. Similarly, the UN's estimate of potential opium differs significantly -- 4,565 metric tons in 1999, down to about 3,300 metric tons in 2000.

It is not possible to say which, if any, of the estimates are reliable. Indeed, the US report comments on its own estimates: "Potential production estimates for 1996-1999 have been revised upward from previous INCSRs, reflecting improved methodologies for estimating opium yields." The estimates of land under poppy cultivation were unchanged and not revised in this report.

Resistance To US Certification Process Grows, As Measures Of Progress Are Questioned

The US State Department's Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs released its 2000 International Narcotics Control Report and the list of countries certified as cooperating on matters of international drug control on March 3, 2001. Both Afghanistan and Myanmar (Burma) were decertified.

Several members of Congress have expressed opposition to the certification process, and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) has introduced legislation to eliminate the process. As well, leaders of several countries, most notably Mexican President Vicente Fox, have expressed their opposition to the process. Some have suggested the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism, used by the Organization for American States' Inter-American Council on Drug Abuse (CICAD), as a replacement.


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