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Thailand, Afghanistan, Myanmar -- US Wages Drug War On Several Fronts In Asia
Less than a month after human rights groups condemned the use of the death penalty in drug cases, Iran orchestrated a mass execution of "24 international drug traffickers [who] were hanged at the Karaj prison, after the country's supreme court approved their executions," according to an August 6, 2009 Australian Broadcasting Corporation report ("Iran Hangs 24 in Mass Execution"). The same prison hosted another mass execution in July, though the article does not reveal the crimes for which those convicts died. Rape, murder, robbery and adultery all join drug trafficking on the list of offenses that are "punishable by death in Iran." Iran stands among several other Asian nations - like China and Thailand - in subjecting drug offenders to the death penalty. The article does not divide Iran's total yearly executions by crime, but the country is well on its way to surpassing last year's 246 executions; according to the article, the "latest hangings mean that 219 people have been executed in the Islamic republic so far this year." As of 2008, only China "surpassed" Iran's execution record.
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.
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."
While other countries in the Central Asian Region in which Kyrgyzstan sits have refused to adopt harm reduction protocols, according to a July 26, 2009 blog post by Drug Reform Coordination Network Executive Director David Borden, "Kyrgyzstan has embraced [such] strategies [...] as needle exchange and methadone maintenance." Despite its location "along a drug trafficking route" and roughly 50,000 injection drug-using population - realities that might scare other nations away from less punitive drug control measures - the Central Asian Republic has successfully established its harm reduction programs among the top in the region. Follow the link above to see an explanatory video from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.
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.
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".
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.
Human Rights Groups Call on Nations to End Death Penalty for Drug Offenses
As UPI reported on June 22, 2009 ("Groups Want End to Drug Offense Executions"), several advocacy groups - including the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, Human Rights Watch, and the International Harm Reduction Association "said in a release as the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking approaches [on] June 26, Asian governments need to rethink their willingness to execute people for drug related offenses." Although 16 of the region's country's mete out the death penalty for drug law violations, human rights groups "singled out China, Indonesia, and Vietnam for particular concern, saying that they continue to execute people for drug offenses and that some countries have marked the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with such executions." Groups also warn that the exact number of drug offenders sentenced to death is difficult to estimate, but "reports from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand indicate a high percentage of executions in those countries are imposed on those convicted of drug offenses."
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."
As the Drug War Chronicle reported on March 27, 2009 ("Indonesia to Treat Drug Users, Not Jail Them"), "the Indonesian Supreme Court [...] issued a memo to judges ordering them to send drug users to drug treatment centers, not prisons." The memo is not retroactive, but new arrestees will now "be eligible for treatment [...] if the amount of drugs with which they were caught [is] below certain 'personal use' quantities" - 5 grams for marijuana; 0.15 grams for cocaine, heroin, and morphine, and 0.25 grams for methamphetamine. In addition to the rather stringent "personal use" criteria, the memo stated that "drug users in treatment must submit to drug tests on request, must obtain a letter of recommendation for treatment from a court-appointed psychiatrist, must not relapse, and must not be drug dealers," the Chronicle states. Additionally, some offcials within Indonesia's Judiciary Supervisory Committee have expressed concerns about corruption.
Still, Southeast Asia currently boasts some of the world's most extreme policies aimed at drug users. As the Chronicle contends, "Even with reservations about coerced treatment, the Supreme Court's move is an advance in drug policy" for the region.
Iran, home to approximately 2 million opiate - mainly heroin - addicts, will embark on a "pilot program to provide syringes and condoms to drug users in an effort to prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis," according to an April 24, 2008 piece in the Drug War Chronicle ("In Harm Reduction Move, Iran to Provide Condoms, Syringes in Vending Machines"). "The items," the Chronicle reports, "will cost the equivalent of a nickel." Iranian officials say that "Five of these machines [...] will be installed in five of Tehran city's welfare shelters for addicts," and more machines are on their way. Deputy head of the country's anti-narcotics organization, Mohammad Reza Jahani, told Agence France-Press that the "machines will be used for a three month trial period and if the scheme is successful then we will upgrade them and increase their distribution to other shelters."
The Chronicle reports that the measure "is the latest in a series of [harm reduction] moves in the Islamic Rebuplic's approach to drug use and addiction." Although Iran "still hangs traffickers and guns down smugglers, it now tries to treat users as 'people who need help,' [...] rather than throwing them into already overcrowded jails."
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."
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."
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."
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.'"
The new Thai government has been strongly urged to investigate killings which occurred during the drug war begun by deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The Bangkok Post reported on Nov. 14, 2006 ("Call To Re-Examine Drugs War Killings") that "Kraisak Choonhavan, a former Nakhon Ratchasima senator, has urged the Justice Ministry to re-examine the human rights violations which occurred during the rule of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He said the interim government should attach importance to the cases because the United Nations had submitted 26 questions on them to Thai authorities last year. 'More than 2,000 people died in the extra-judicial killings during the war on drugs launched by the Thaksin government in 2003. It was believed that state officials were also involved in many of the deaths,' said Mr Kraisak after an hour-long meeting with Justice Permanent Secretary Jarun Pukditanakul. Evidence linking some state officials to the extra-judicial killings has also been submitted to the ministry, he said."
The Post noted that "A source said Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont last week ordered Kitti Limchaikij, the newly appointed secretary-general of the Office of Narcotics Control Board, to dig into the extra-judicial killings of 2,500 people during the Thaksin government's war on drugs that began in February 2003. The prime minister wants a clearer picture of how many deaths actually involved drug dealers and how many did not, the source said. Mr Surayud also wants to know the exact number of cases in which state officials were implicated, said the source."
The Thai News Agency reported on Nov. 14, 2006 ("Justice Ministry To Re-Examine 'Drug War' Killings") that "ustice Ministry officials are now collecting evidence related to the extra-judicial killings of some 2,500 people during the Thaksin government's war on drugs campaign, said a senior official of the ministry. Jarun Pukditanakul, Permanent Secretary for Justice, told journalists that concerned officials were now collecting evidence after complaints were lodged and said that he expected that the re-examination process should be completed soon."
According to the TNA, "Asked whether the decision to re-examine possible human rights violations was adopted after a request by Kraisak Choonhavan, a former Nakhon Ratchasima senator, Mr. Jarun said that Mr. Kraisak only submitted evidence on a former senator who was shot dead in the South. Mr. Kraisak on Monday called on the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to probe human rights violations in the three southern provinces --Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala. He said the death of former Narathiwat senator Fakruddin Boto was suspicious and may have involved government officials. Mr. Jarun said the request to re-examine the alleged extra-judicial killings is to be carried out because the issues are being watched by the United Nations and it is necessary for the Thai government to answer the truth."
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."
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."
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.
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."
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:
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 United Nations praised Laos for its successful near-elimination of opium poppy production when it released its annual Laotian poppy survey June 22, 2005. According to the UN Information Service ( "New United Nations Survey Documents Dramatic Decline In Opium Poppy Cultivation In Laos") "With the release today of the 2005 Laos Opium Survey, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced that 'Laos has taken one more step towards freedom from opium.' The Survey shows a 73 per cent decline in opium poppy cultivation and a 67 per cent drop in opium production since 2004. This marks the first time in many years that the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) no longer qualifies as a major supplier of illegal opiates to the international drug market. Over the past seven years, the area of land under opium poppy cultivation in Lao PDR has decreased dramatically, from 26,800 hectares in 1998 to approximately 1,800 hectares at the beginning of 2005. According to Mr. Costa, 'It now seems likely that the country will reach the goal its Government set for itself four years ago: freedom from opium by the end of 2005.'
The effort has been at a tremendous cost. The UNIS release touches lightly on this when they note "While farming families who have abandoned illicit cultivation of opium poppy have worked hard to cope with their loss of income, more needs to be done to help them escape the poverty associated with opium production. UNODC also conducted a study on the coping strategies of Laotian farmers who gave up opium cultivation. While farmers who benefited from alternative livelihood programmes realized quicker recovery, even farmers who were not offered assistance coped by undertaking activities such as off-farm employment, establishing small-scale irrigation systems, developing livestock or collecting non-timber forest products."
The UN Development Programme study mentioned in the paragraph above was more blunt. As the BBC News reported on July 15, 2005 ( "Lao Tribes Suffer From Drug Crackdown"), "The opium poppy that has long bloomed across the mountains of northern Laos has almost been wiped out by the government's drastic eradication campaign. But what is being hailed as a victory by the international anti-narcotics agencies has also spawned a humanitarian crisis, due to the massive displacement of hill tribes and their loss of economic livelihood. The campaign was spearheaded by the US government, with support from the European Union."
The BBC noted that "Such was its success that the authorities in Laos claim the country has achieved its 2005 deadline to become an opium-free country. The UNODC ( the UN Office for Drugs and Crime ) has confirmed that Laos had achieved a poppy reduction of 73% since 2000. But unlike the major opium producers such as Afghanistan and Burma, Laos was only ever a marginal player in the international drugs trade. And in order to eradicate production, an estimated 65,000 hill tribe people have been displaced from the mountains of northern Laos where the opium poppy thrives. A survey by UN development consultant Charles Alton found that 'hill tribe people moving to new villages not only lack sufficient rice, but they face fresh diseases - malaria, gastro-intestinal problems and parasites'. Many are said to be dying of malaria and dysentery, and mortality rates as high as 4% have been recorded - rates normally found only in war zones and areas of refugee resettlement."
According to the BBC, "In the words of one NGO leader, who prefers to remain anonymous, 'they pushed for opium elimination before economic development was in place, so they put the cart before the horse'. The dangling of a $80m carrot in aid, promised by the UN drugs control agency, led to a capitulation. In 2001 the Lao authorities plunged headlong into a hardline Western agenda of all-out war on the opium poppy. Western embassies concede that their anti-drug policy may have been over-zealously implemented. Sandro Serrato, the EU's chief of mission in Vientiane, admitted that 'the implementation of opium eradication has probably been too rapid and [has] lacked resources'."
The BBC continues:
The BBC noted that "The apparent success in wiping out opium has only contributed to far worse drug, social and economic problems, according to anthropologist David Feingold. He warned that 'likely long-term consequences will be increasing heroin and amphetamine use, [and] greater vulnerability of highland girls and women to trafficking and unsafe migration. Both of these outcomes will contribute to exacerbating HIV/Aids'. Lao specialist Bruce Shoemaker also pointed out that opium produced a high value crop using a very small amount of land. The average opium farmer could earn about $200 a year, and Mr Shoemaker said that 'no one alternative crop can come even close to matching this - it is just not sustainable'."
Sadly, even some international aid organization representatives support harsh measures. According to BBC, "Whether opium is grown under legal control or illegally, many aid workers are convinced that only by ignoring human rights can they stop poor farmers from growing such a lucrative crop. William Dangers from Church World Service development agency in Laos said these farmers would 'always go back to opium unless the government uses repression to stop them'."
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.'"
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"):
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."
(For more specifically on Afghanistan, check out Common Sense for Drug Policy: Afghanistan Update.)
Thai Officials Launch Yet Another Drug War Campaign; Human Rights Activists Brace For More Abuses, Executions
The Thai government announced that it would begin yet another round of its war on drugs and drug users. The Nation newspaper reported on April 12, 2005 ( "Anti-Narcotics Campaig: PM Launches New Round In War On Drugs") that "Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday launched a new round of the 'War on Drugs', sparking fears that drastic action could lead to another wave of extrajudicial killings and further tarnish the country's standing on human rights. 'We will pay extra attention to former convicts and drug suspects who have had arrest warrants issued against them,' Thaksin said, as representatives from relevant agencies gathered to hear his anti-drugs policy."
According to the Nation, "The new crackdown will last from this month until June. 'And as long as I am the prime minister, the scourge of drugs will never be able to frighten people again,' he said. Human right activists day expressed concern yesterday over the new 'war', saying the government had not yet answered questions over extrajudicial killings stemming from the last crackdown. Up to 3,000 people died in the first round of the war on drugs, from February to April 2003. Many countries, including the United States, strongly criticised the campaign and called on the government to explain the high death toll."
The Nation reported that Thaksin said the first 'War on Drugs' was the government policy that the public was most happy with during the last administration." This assertion is more or less borne out by a survey reported on in the Bangkok Post on March 20, 2005 ( "Public Senses War On Drugs Futile"), though that same poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Thai citizens feel the campaign will not succeed. According to the Post, "The majority of people polled in 25 provinces across the country have no confidence in the government's ability to eradicate drugs from Thailand. In a recent survey by Assumption University's Abac poll, 68% of 5,168 respondents, representing a range of age groups, said they had no confidence in the plan's success, while only 23% thought the campaign would be successful. However, 74% of respondents supported the campaign to eradicate drugs, saying they were ready to provide information and clues regarding illicit drugs to the authorities. About half said they were willing to help spread information about the dangers of drugs. About 62% of respondents wanted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to continue with the campaign against drugs and a similar percentage said the government should take tough action against politicians and state officials found to be involved in the drug trade."
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.
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:
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:
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."
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."
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.
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
"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.
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.
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 dont 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."
The Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, has ordered yet another round of drug war. As reported by The China Post on Oct. 5, 2004 ( "Thai PM Launches Yet Another War, His 2nd On Drugs"), "Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, undaunted by an avalanche of criticism after more than 2,500 people were killed in his first war on drugs, launched another one on Monday, vowing to destroy drug bosses. "We have to take serious actions against them because these wicked diseases never die," Thaksin said."
According to the China Post, "Thai and foreign rights groups accuse Thai police of assassinating drug suspects during a 10-month war on drugs last year. The government says most of those killed were victims of warfare between drug gangs or killed in self defence. The government's own Human Rights Commission said in its annual report in August the anti-drugs war had "destroyed the rights to live of more than 2,500 people without fair trials under the principles of democracy and rule of law". Krisana Polanan, head of the Narcotics Control Board, implied on Monday some of that was true. He was asked by journalists if there would be extra-judicial killings this time. "It depends on the circumstances," he replied. "There won't be many this time because we have done that in the first war and we don't think there will be many left.""
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."
A US State Dept. report on human rights critical of the Thai government and its (real) war on drug users was issued in early 2004. According to Thailand's The Nation on Feb. 27, 2004 ( "Human Rights: US Report Slams War On Drugs"), "The US State Department's 2003 Human Rights Report on Thailand is particularly critical of the Thaksin administration's war on drugs. Released yesterday, the report lists many areas of concern, such as the role of police, the killing of separatists, and freedom of expression. When US Ambassador Daryl Johnson was asked by The Nation to compare it with last year's, he said a key difference was the war on drugs. "If you want to take that as a judgement, then that's a judgement." He added that the report, which he said aimed to be balanced, had been submitted to the US Congress on Wednesday but was not tied to trade issues or trade sanctions."
Below are some excerpts from the report as published by The Nation
"A US State Dept. Look At The War On Drugs"):
Amnesty International has begun a campaign around the excesses of the Thai government in their pursuit of drug war. As Thailand's The Nation reported on March 4, 2004 ( "Deaths During War On Drugs"), "Amnesty International is calling for people throughout the world to write to the government and demand an 'independent, thorough and impartial investigation into those killed' during the war on drugs. Investigation methods and findings must be transparent and made public, the organisation said. Any government official suspected of being involved should be brought to justice and relatives of the deceased provided with reparations, including compensation. A sample letter and the Thai government's address, fax number and email have been posted on Amnesty's website, www.web.amnesty.org/pages/tha010304actioneng. 'Since 2001, hundreds of men and women, including foreign nationals and members of Thailand's ethnic minorities, have been sentenced to death for drug offences, and the numbers on death row have tripled,' Amnesty added."
In spite of the international criticism, Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra has announced another crackdown. The Bangkok Post reported on Feb. 29, 2004 ( "Thaksin Orders New Round Of Suppression") that "Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has ordered another round of drug suppression despite a row with the United States, following the US State Department's criticism of human rights abuse in the government's anti-drug campaign. 'I've ordered authorities to devise an anti-drug plan for the upcoming school holidays in Bangkok and neighbouring provinces. We'll step up the social order campaign along with the drug crackdown. We won't let our children fall victim to drugs again,' he said during his weekly radio programme. The government's fresh anti-drug campaign came after the prime minister on Friday called the US an 'annoying friend' following Washington's human rights report released Thursday. In its annual report for 2003, the US said Thailand's human rights record worsened last year with extra-judicial killings and arbitrary arrests during the war on drug. Mr Thaksin declared a victory in early December after the intensive crackdown. Pol Lt Gen Thanee Somboonsap, commissioner of Metropolitan Police Bureau, said yesterday the crackdown would start in mid March and last until May."
The Post also noted that "On Friday, 839 people were rounded up in a crackdown on crime. Police seized five pistols, two knives, 102 pieces of ammunition, 10 items of pornographic material, 34 vehicles, and confiscated drugs. The operation involved 3,100 police in Bangkok at 254 spots."
A senior US anti-drug official has praised the bloody Thai crackdown on drugs as a success. The Bangkok Post reported on Nov. 27, 2003 ( "US Official Declares War On Drugs A Success") that "William J. Snipes, the regional director of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, said the war on drugs has been effective. 'Whether that's a lasting effect, we'll have to wait and see. Temporarily, we look at it as successful,' he said. Thailand had the will to eradicate drugs, but as evidenced in the United States it was a problem that might never disappear altogether."
To celebrate their 'success', the Thai government plans to declare their nation drugfree in early December. The Thai news outlet The Nation reported on Nov. 28, 2003 ( "Final Assault In War On Drugs") that "Bangkok police launched a major onslaught yesterday against the drug trade ahead of a planned declaration of victory in the government's war on drugs next Wednesday. More than 3,000 officers raided and searched several locations around the city, particularly in Klong Toei where the drug problem has been toughest to uproot. "There were 204 locations targeted in Bangkok. A total of 3,211 police officers were involved in the operation," said Lt-General Thani Somboonsap, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. He said that the main targets were in small communities of the Klong Toei slum, long associated with the drug trade."
The Nation notes that "Interior Minister Wan Muhamad Noor Matha said that he believed all 76 provinces would be able to declare victory over the drug trade by next Wednesday. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said that it was impossible to make the country 100 per cent free of drugs by next Wednesday but that the amount of drugs available would no longer be a threat to social stability. "No country will be able to completely stamp out drugs from its society. What we're doing is to limit the amount of drugs to a controllable level," Thaksin said."
The killing in Thailand continues. The Scotsman newspaper reported on Feb. 25, 2003 ( "Thai Police Officers Arrested On Murder Charges") that "Three Thai police officers who gunned down a nine-year-old boy as part of a controversial drugs crackdown that has left more than 500 dead were arrested on murder charges yesterday. In a war on drugs championed by Thailand's political leadership, but now under heavy fire from human rights groups, a pregnant woman was also shot to death." The officers reportedly deny the charges.
According to the Scotsman, "The prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's no-holds-barred campaign to root out drugs, from Thailand within three months, launched with great fanfare on 1 February, has seen about 500 people killed. Bullet-ridden bodies have turned up daily, with drug suspects shot to death by masked gunmen. The Thai police have admitted causing only a handful of the deaths, insisting almost all the killings were by drug gangsters trying to silence possible informers."
London's Independent newspaper on Feb. 26, 2003 reported that the death toll could actually be much higher. According to the Independent ( "Nine-Year-Old Dies As Thai Drug Sweep Claims 901 Lives"), "The campaign has has resulted in 901 deaths of suspected drug dealers over the past three weeks across Thailand. A one-year-old baby was killed yesterday during a drug-related shooting in southern Songkhla province that left his mother seriously wounded."
The Independent continues:
The Independent also notes that "A recent university poll showed 92 per cent approval of Mr Thaksin's tough drugs policy. Yet 70 per cent feared they might be set up or killed by police or drug gangs."
The Thai government began an all-out offensive against drug users on Feb. 1, 2003. There are grave concerns however that police in the crackdown are out of control and have already committed hundreds of murders. The BBC News reported on Feb. 14, 2003 ( "Thai Drugs Killings Condemned") that "The police crackdown began on 1 February, and so far more than 350 people are reported to have been killed and 9,000 arrested. The human rights group Amnesty International told the BBC Thai service it had grave concerns about any extra-judicial killings, saying they were only justified in cases of self-defence."
The Thai government claims that police have killed only a few of the total. The BBC reported that "Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters that only 13 suspects had been shot by police, and that violence within drug gangs was responsible for the rest." This assertion is questionable, however. The Bangkok Post reported on Feb. 17, 2003 ( "Extra-Judicial Killings") that "Pornthip Rojanasunan, acting director of the Forensic Science Institute, said the justice system could be jeopardised by a lack of explanation of extra-judicial killings. Many drug dealers had died since the Feb 1 launch of the government's crusade against drugs. Some were killed by police who said they were acting in self-defence, and others by unknown assailants, although police attribute the murders to scared drug gangs cleaning out their ranks. Dr Pornthip said it was essential to identify the cause of death where police were involved. 'It should be made clear whether the killing was done in self-defence or not,' she said. The law required the presence of at least one doctor at the scene of an unnatural death. This was intended to ensure justice for both the suspect and the police by identifying the cause of the death, but few people were willing to intervene in such cases. They worried about how the police would react. 'As it is, doctors don't want to go out to the crime scene. They don't want to have any problems with police,' she said. This could result in the judicial system being twisted and cases where people had actually been murdered could be overlooked, Dr Pornthip said."
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."
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.
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."
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:
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.
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."
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/ .
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."
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:
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.
Politics And War Make Strange Bedfellows: Ally In US Effort Against Taliban Also Involved In Drug Trafficking
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
The Telegraph continues:
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'."
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."
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:
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.
Cannabis Farming Making Comeback In Lebanon
Reports are coming out of Lebanon that cannabis farming is becoming widespread in the Bekaa Valley once again. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 6, 2001 ( "Struggling Lebanese Farmers Return To Illegal Crop"), "Nasser Ferjani, head of the UN program for Integrated Rural Development in the area of Baalbeck-Hermel in the northern Bekaa, blames foreign donors for failing to help support the farmers after getting rid of the marijuana. The Lebanese government, burdened by a $25 billion debt, has little money to offer. 'I warned the international community since we started in 1994, that in the absence of substantive support to development efforts, farmers will return to the illicit crops,' Ferjani said."
It seems a simple choice. According to the Inquirer, "This summer, an estimated 37,000 acres are planted with marijuana as farmers give up on potatoes, which sell for 9 cents a pound, and revert to cannabis, which can bring them up to $130 a pound." The article quotes a mother of six from the town of Hermel: "'People are hungry, we need to feed our families. We know drugs are haram (forbidden by God), but isn't starving your children haram too?'"
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."
New Bill In Thai Parliament Would Expand Army's Power
A controversial bill in the Thai parliament would give the military "the power to arrest anyone and search homes without a court order," according to a story in the Bangkok Post on May 27, 2001 ( "New Bill Vital If Army Is To Ensure Success"). The Post reports that General Panlop Pinmanee, security advisor to the Thai prime minister and acting deputy director of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), "said a new security act was indispensable if the government wanted soldiers to play an active role in tackling drug and other national security issues, stipulated under the new ISOC structure. The ISOC had been gtiven a direct role in tackling drug trafficking illegal immigrants and ethnic minority groups." General Panlop, who is also a Thai Rak Thai party list Member of Parliament, told the Post "'Military officers assigned to tackle these problems could easily face lawsuits if there was no security bill to give them protection.'"
Yet "General Panlop, a close associate of former Palang Dharma leader Major-General Chamlong Srimuang, distanced Thai Rak Thai from the controversial People and State Security Protection Bill. The measure, he said, was drafted by a New Aspiration party-appointed panel led by former defence permanent secretary General Prasert Sararit, and had nothing to do with his party." The Post goes on to note that "Some provisions came as a surprise, including a proposal to replace the ISOC with a new outfit called the People and State Security Protection Command. 'That is really weird,' said Gen. Panlop. He also denied the army had anything to do with the bill. 'We have not talked about a security bill that would give absolute power to the military.'"
US Troops Training Thai Troops For Anti-Drug Operations, Have Military Exercises Near China Border
The Chicago Tribune reported on May 20, 2001 ( "US Troops In Military Exercises Near China's Border") that "Some 5,000 American troops are in northern Thailand not far from the Chinese border this weekend as part of long-scheduled Cobra Gold 2001 military exercises being staged at a time when Thailand and Myanmar are trading angry diplomatic missives and live artillery shells."
These exercises, and the addition of US military
at a time when tensions in the region are high. The Tribune
reports "Periodic hostilities over control over drug
trafficking are no novelty. But this time the United States and
China are playing key roles on opposite sides, just weeks after
the US spy plane incident strained their bilateral relations."
The Trib goes on to note:
Thai Officials Step Up Drug War, Institute Death Penalty; Thai, Myanmar Forces In Border Skirmishes Over Drug Trade
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on March 29, 2001 ( "Thailand To Executive Drug Convicts In Narcotics Crackdown"), that "Thailand will next month execute a group of drug convicts and publicy destroy a haul of confiscated narcotics." The news report notes that "Death sentences handed down to traffickers are normally commuted to life sentences in Thailand, but after declaring a 'war on drugs' earlier this year Mr. Thaksin said the executions, by firing squad, would now be sped up." (Mr. Thaksin is Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.)
This get-tough approach comes at the same time that Prime Minister Thaksin's government is moving toward favoring treatment over incarceration for users. According to an editorial in the Bangkok (Thailand) Post on April 11, 2001 ( "Users Don't Deserve A Life Behind Bars"), "One of the foremost tasks of the high-powered committee set up by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during last month's national drug conference in Chiang Rai was to change the emphasis in the narcotics law so that drug addicts and those who support their habits by selling small amounts of drugs are treated as having a medical conditions rather than as criminals and must undergo compulsory rehabilitation at an army camp."
The border between Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma) is
a major concern.
The Asian Wall Street Journal reported April 6, 2001 (
A Cross-Border Mess"):
The Journal notes that the drug trade has escalated tensions on the Thai border, and has led to clashes with Myanmar. According to the Journal story, "The Thais have become almost hysterical, pointing at the United Wa State Army, which has good relations with Myanmar's military government, as the dominant methamphetamine producer, suggesting collusion between them. The reality is Myanmar gives priority to security, happy to have the USWA end its insurgency and content to leave the group armed and with time to shift out of narcotics. If it wants its claims of fighting drugs and of being a sincere neighbor to be taken seriously, Myanmar must pressure the UWSA to go straight. As it is, the UWSA it in the process of resettling several hundred thousand of its followers from arid, poppy-growing highlands to fertile plains opposite Thailand's Chiang Rai province. Within sight of the border, they are building towns and opening new fruit and livestock farmlands. But they are also producing methamphetamines at an alarming rate, according to Thai and Western intelligence sources, protected by thousands of well-trained, motivated soldiers."
The Journal also notes, however, "Myanmar is correct when it accuses the Thai authorities of supporting the Shan State Army, formed by a former aide to retired drug baron Khun Sa, encamped close to the border and arguably on Thai soil. Although the armed group recently has made a show of combating narcotics, Thai and Western officials confirm it is involved in trafficking in order to buy arms. Some of the recent clashes have occurred because Myanmar government forces have been trying to strike at the Shan State Army."
The Malaysia Star reported on March 23, 2001 ( "Thaksin Wants List of MP Drug Traffickers") about allegations made by "Lt. Gen. Wattanachai Chaimuanwong, commander of Thailand's third army, that several politicans and businessmen were involved in drug trafficking. Lt. Gen. Wattanachai, responsible for defending the country's northern border with Myanmar, told Thai radoi yesterday he could not take legal action against the culprits because he did not have the authority or evidence to do so. 'I can't arrest them because we are not authorised to, even though we know what they are doing,' he said. 'Narcotics trafficking is a multi-billion baht business involving hundreds of people and networks... Politicians need money from them to buy votes.'"
Thai authorities are also pointing blame at Buddhist temples for methamphetamine use. According to the Straits Times of Singapore ( "Drugs At Temple Embarrass Monks Further") on March 30, 2001, "The seizure of 16,000 methamphetamine pills from a Buddhist temple in Bangkok on Tuesday is the latest blow for Thailand's monks already embarrassed by revelations that one in 10 is hooked on the pills. The drugs, sealed in a container, were pulled out from a temple pond in Khao San Road -- Bangkok's colourful backpacker haunt made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach. The discovery came just a day after revelations by Mr. Manop Polparin, a specialist with the state's Religious Affairs Department, that an estimated one in 10 of Thailand's 30,000 Buddhist monks and novice monks were addicted to methamphetamines. But he admitted that temple abbots did not want to face the problem and refused to work with the police, fearing a backlash from the public."
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:
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 dordinary 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.