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2/28/04 - AFGHANISTAN’S NARCOTICS PROBLEM - 2004-03-01


In the past twenty-nine months, many al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists have been apprehended or killed, including nearly two-thirds of al-Qaida’s known leaders. The oppressive Taleban regime no longer rules the people of Afghanistan. As an Afghan farmer named Qalandar told a Washington Post reporter, “The Taleban took my son and made him disappear. How could I ever want them back?”

The new Afghan army is adding to the stability of that country. President George W. Bush says Afghanistan is “a world away from the nightmare of the Taleban”:

“Afghanistan has a new constitution, guaranteed free elections and full participation of women. Businesses are opening, health care centers are being established, and the children of Afghanistan are back in school.”

But problems remain. Among them is the fact that poppy production is on the rise. Seventy-five percent of the world’s illegally produced heroin comes from Afghanistan’s poppies. And poppy production in Afghanistan is entrenched. As Ibrahim, a farmer in Naw Zad, said, growing poppies “was the work of our fathers and grandfathers, and it is how we will feed our children.”

Robert Charles is the U.S. State Department’s chief counter-narcotics official. He says the Afghan government has little capability to fight the drug trade.

To meet the challenge, the U.S. is working with Britain, Germany, Italy, and others to support an Afghan-led poppy eradication campaign, providing alternative livelihoods, and supporting an Afghan public affairs program against poppy cultivation.

The coalition will also train fifty-thousand Afghan law-enforcement personnel to counter the drug trade. “We believe that this program,” says Robert Charles of the U.S. State Department, “will give the Afghan government, for the first time, the capacity to enforce the law throughout the country -- a necessary condition for legitimate, sustainable economic development to take place.”

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