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8/22/04 - DRUGS THREATEN AFGHANISTAN - 2004-08-23

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produces three-quarters of the world's supply of opium. "It is a terrible thing," said U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "It produces great wealth for people who use it to harm society."

To help combat the illegal drug threat, said Mr. Rumsfeld, "You need a broad effort in Afghanistan to make sure that the undoubtedly billions of dollars that people are willing to pay for these destructive drugs will not go into the hands of people who want also simultaneously to destroy democracy, or reinstitute a Taleban government, or provide funds for al-Qaida."

The human costs of drug trafficking can be seen in Afghanistan's growing population of addicts. Among the millions of refugees from Iran and Pakistan who returned to Afghanistan are a significant number of heroin users. Zalmay, a young man in his early twenties, is one of them. He told a British Broadcasting Corporation reporter that he encouraged others to use heroin. "Just as I was misled in Iran, I have misled others," he said. Some Afghans turn to heroin or other opiates to relieve pain. Poverty and despair bred by decades of war and repression are another cause of drug addiction.

But help is beginning to arrive. Britain is the lead country in helping Afghanistan to develop a counter-narcotics effort. The U.S., Germany, and Japan are also playing a role. Japan recently donated one-million dollars to support a U-N program aimed at treating and rehabilitating drug addicts in three major opium-producing areas -- Badakshan, Nangarhar, and Kandahar. President George W. Bush says the U.S. remains committed to helping the Afghan people:

"We have a mission in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that is to help them achieve freedom. So we’ll help them. We'll be there to help train their troops so they can stand up and take responsibility for their own societies. And we will complete the mission."

Defeating hopelessness and poverty says Mr. Bush, "is the way you defeat terror."