Global Policy Forum

Afghanistan's Drug Problem


By Tom Regan

New UN Report Warns the Country Could Become a 'Narco State'

Christian Science Monitor
November 18, 2004

An annual United Nations' survey released Thursday in Brussels finds that opium poppies are being grown in record levels across Afghanistan. The BBC reports that these levels have been achieved despite efforts by coalition countries to "tackle the problem." Remarkably, bad weather and crop problems kept growers from setting a new record. Opium from Afghanistan this year accounted for 87 percent of world supply, up from 76 percent in 2003.

The BBC also reports that during the reign of the Taliban, poppies were grown in only four or five provinces of Afghanistan. That number has grown to 28 out of 32 since the US-led coalition invaded the country in 2002. Radio Free Europe reports that opium is now the "main engine of economic growth" in Afghanistan and "the strongest bond among previously quarrelsome peoples." The UN report says this illegal drug trade accounts for more than $2.8 US billion annually, or "more than 60 percent of Afghanistan's 2003 gross domestic product." For this reason, the UN believes that Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a "narco state."

The drug problem in Afghanistan has been allowed to become ever more serious [says the report]. If it persists, the political and military successes of the last three years will be lost. The author of the report, Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said the US and NATO forces currently stationed in Afghanistan have to become involved in the battle against drug trafficking. "It would be an historical error to abandon Afghanistan to opium, right after we reclaimed it from the Taliban and Al Qaeda," said Mr. Costa.

NATO said it understood the problem, but had no immediate comment on the report. The Scotsman reports Thursday that Britain's Foreign Office promises a "new crackdown" in the wake of the report, which the paper characterized as "devastating." Britain has been leading the fight against the drug trade in Afghanistan as part of the establishment of democracy there. But the Scotsman notes that the UN reports shows that only the Taliban during its rule were able to "crush the rampant opium cultivation." In Brussels, where the report was released to the world's media, British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said that there were no "quick fixes" to the problem. "As today's UN survey makes clear, the challenge is substantial and complex – but we and the Afghans are in this for the long haul. We will be working with the Afghan government and all their international partners to ensure increased activity and delivery (of drugs-busting measures) over the next 12 months." The Seattle Times reports that on Wednesday, US drug enforcement agencies asked Congress for an additional $780 million to fight the "expanding drug trade" in Afghanistan.

The US plan calls for eradicating an area five to seven times larger than the nearly 10,000 acres of poppy fields destroyed this year. The destruction is to be offset by more than $100 million in aid to Afghan farmers to plant wheat, barley, corn and other crops and for other rural economic-development projects. The BBC reports that US officials, who were focused on the recently completed presidential elections in Afghanistan until this point in time, feel they are now free to give more attention to the drug problem. Other aids groups have proposed different solutions, including a program to replace opium product with the growth of industrial hemp.

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