August 22, 2006

Karzai says world not doing enough on Afghan drugs

By Yousuf Azmiy

KABUL (Reuters) - Drugs pose a far greater threat to
Afghanistan than terrorism but the international community is
not doing enough to tackle the scourge, President Hamid Karzai
said on Tuesday.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium, the
raw material for heroin, and production is expected to rise to
record levels this year as drug barons and Taliban insurgents
cash in on the harvest.

"Once, we thought terrorism was Afghanistan's biggest
enemy," Karzai told a counter-narcotics conference in the
Afghan capital.

"Poppy, its cultivation and drugs are Afghanistan's major
enemy," he said.

The narcotics trade accounts for about a third of
Afghanistan's economy -- and about 87 percent of the world's
illegal heroin -- and the United Nations fears the country
could become a narco-state.

The Taliban managed to stamp out poppy cultivation during
the last year of their rule, but despite tens of millions of
dollars in anti-narcotics aid from donor countries, opium
growing has boomed since they were ousted.

Now the Taliban have joined forces with the drug gangs,
security officials say, promising to help impoverished farmers
protect their crops and reaping a share of the profits.

The Taliban are fighting to keep foreign forces and
government authorities out of opium-growing regions such as the
southern province of Helmand, the country's main opium area.

The drug gangs are also intent on resisting the spread of
government authority and Karzai said drug barons were
responsible for some of the attacks on schools and aid workers
in drug-producing regions.


Afghanistan's opium output last year was about 4,100
tonnes, a slight drop over the previous record year, largely
because of efforts by the government to persuade farmers to
stop, coupled with threats to destroy fields.

But international experts say production has ballooned this
year and might be a third or more bigger than 2005.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime is compiling figures for
this year's crop and is expected to release its findings

Karzai said the world was not doing enough.

"We are not happy about the aid so far. The effects are not
really visible," he told the conference, attended by government
and aid officials and diplomats.

"The aid has been scanty and minor ... we ask the world to
help us in this regard substantially," he said.

Karzai said Afghans had to fight narcotics even if the
world did not help as it threatened the country's stability and

Karzai said it was drug barons and mafia outside
Afghanistan who gained most from drugs and that farmers would
abandon the crop if they got alternative ways to earn a living.

Experts say that in the long-term, the key to stopping
drugs was providing farmers with other ways to survive, but
that means developing the rural economy, which could take

In the meantime, farmers must be convinced that they risk
having their fields destroyed and facing punishment if they
grow opium, experts say.

Karzai has opposed the aerial spraying of herbicide over
opium fields. Some experts say spraying fields would enrage
farmers and drive rural communities into the arms of the