The cultivation of the poppy plant -- which is used to make opium and other narcotic drugs -- is a major and growing problem in Afghanistan. Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan doubled between 2002 and 2003. This level is thirty-six times higher than in 2001, the last year of Taleban rule.
Drug cultivation and trafficking are undermining the rule of law in Afghanistan and are putting money in the pockets of terrorists, who use drug profits to finance their operations.
Drug production enables local Afghan warlords to run small armies. It gives the warlords a financial incentive to retain their autonomy and resist central authority. As a result, the new Afghan government, led by President Hamid Karzai, has been unable to impose its will in many areas of the country. As U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says, the drug trade is hindering the ability of the Afghan people to rebuild Afghanistan:
“People are projecting and estimating that the crop this year will be sizable and that it will represent a rather major chunk of the illegal drugs that end up moving into Europe and Asia, Russia and that part of the world. It’s a concern to the Karzai government. It’s a concern to the coalition -- all members. The [British] have taken a lead on this issue and certainly the United States has tried to be helpful.”
With Britain taking the lead, the U.S. and other members of the coalition are implementing an anti-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan. The strategy focuses on promoting alternative livelihoods for farmers who cultivate the poppy plant. It also aims at strengthening enforcement, interdiction, and eradication programs, and raising public awareness of the central government's anti-drug policies.
The U.S. and its coalition partners will work with the Afghan people to combat narcotics production and trafficking, and will stand with them as they continue to make the difficult transition to peace, security, and self-rule. As President George W. Bush said, “We've seen in Afghanistan that the road to freedom can be hard. . . . We've also seen in Afghanistan that the road to freedom is the only one worth traveling."