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2/15/04 - AFGHANISTAN AND NARCOTICS - 2004-02-17

Afghan president Hamid Karzai told delegates to the International Conference on Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan that, “The problem of poppy production and the production of heroin and other drugs which are produced from poppies are the major problem of Afghanistan.”

Afghanistan produces almost three-quarters of the world’s opium. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says that farmers in Afghanistan will plant even more poppies this year. The U-N estimates that seven percent of the Afghan population is engaged in poppy production.

President Karzai said that his government is trying to stop drug trafficking and smuggling. But smugglers and terrorist groups earn millions of dollars from the illegal drug trade. Zieba Shorish-Shanley, director of the Women’s Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan, says the drug trade in Afghanistan is funding Taleban remnants and al-Qaida terrorists:

“The farmers of Afghanistan, a lot of them, really don’t want to plant opium but they don’t have any other means and at the same time opium plantations seem to produce plenty of opium and give them more money than if they [plant] a regular crop. However, if there is reconstruction, if there are jobs, if there is an improvement of the standard of living and if there is education, I think that the terrorists will lose and the narcotics people will lose, but unless that is done, it’s going to be, unfortunately, a vicious circle.”

Observers agree that rural poverty and the lack of income from other sources are the main reasons why Afghan farmers continue to produce opium poppies. The U-N recommends that Afghan farmers be offered financial credit, training in modern agricultural technology, and ways to create alternative sources of income.

Change will not come overnight. President Karzai says Afghanistan has a five-year strategy to reduce narcotics production. “We expect other countries to help us in the struggle,” says Mr. Karzai, “by helping financially, technically, and to have a sharing of information.”