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11/22/04 - AFGHANISTAN NARCOTICS - 2004-11-23

According to the latest United Nations survey, the 2004 opium crop was the second-largest in Afghanistan's history. Experts say more than half the Afghan economy is based on the illegal narcotics trade. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that, "The problem of poppy production, and the production of heroin and other drugs which are produced from poppies, is the major problem of Afghanistan." This is a struggle Afghans "must win," said Mr. Karzai, "so we are going to work against it."

Robert Charles is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He says that after the removal of the Islamic extremist Taleban regime, an increase in illegal drug production was expected:

"It's pretty natural as a result of the economic circumstances of the country and the gradual movement toward a more stable democracy and a more stable, legitimate economy."

The income from illegal drugs is sought by criminals, extremists, and terrorists, says Mr. Charles. But Mr. Charles points out that the amount of land used to cultivate opium poppy is "only eight percent of the total land used to cultivate all crops in Afghanistan." He also notes that current agricultural production is not enough to meet the country’s food needs, and observes that:

"Once you get the price differential down, once you begin to tackle this by raising the risks and costs of growing and processing poppy, which is quite doable, you end up creating an equilibrium in which the other legitimate market begins to flow."

Afghanistan's democratically elected government is committed to cracking down on opium poppy cultivation. The U.S. and other countries are committed as well. But it is a job, says Assistant Secretary of State Charles, that will be difficult.