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3/7/04 - DRUGS IN AFGHANISTAN - 2004-03-08

After more than two decades of Soviet occupation, civil war, and Taleban misrule, the new Afghan government is trying to cope with a number of serious problems. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that “poppy production and the production of heroin and other drugs which are produced from poppies are the major problem of Afghanistan.”

With German and British assistance, Afghanistan is establishing a counter-narcotics police force. The British, who have the lead in coordinating counter-narcotics assistance to Afghanistan, are also working with Afghan provincial governments in poppy eradication efforts. But the economics of supply and demand plays a big role in keeping poppy production high. In a just released report, the U.S. estimates that more than sixty-thousand hectares of opium-producing poppies were cultivated by Afghan farmers in the past year. Poppies are grown in twenty-eight of Afghanistan’s thirty-two provinces. The International Monetary Fund says that the sale of poppies makes up between forty and sixty percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. According to narcotics experts, when the Afghan farmer sells his poppy crop in Afghanistan, he makes only about a hundredth of what heroin derived from that crop will earn when it is sold in Europe or the U.S.

Robert Charles, the U.S. State Department’s chief counter-narcotics official, says it is important to help Afghan poppy farmers switch to other crops:

“We have to prevent the institutionalization of the heroin market. If we get to a point two years from now where we have the same environment we have now, we will be basically on a course to institutionalize cartels in Afghanistan, and we cannot allow that to happen. As a result, you have to hit the warehouses and you have to hit all the stockpiles, and you have to hit the labs.”

To win the fight against illicit narcotics, Afghanistan will need continued assistance from the U.S. and other countries to improve law enforcement, eradicate poppy crops, and provide alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers. The country will also require political stability.