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12/2/04 - AFGHAN DRUG WAR  - 2004-12-02

Afghanistan has more than one-hundred-thirty-thousand hectares of land being used to grow opium poppies. According to the United Nations, one out of every ten Afghans is somehow involved in the illicit opium trade.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U-N's Office on Drugs and Crime, says opium cultivation is now a major part of the Afghan economy:

"No doubt, we can talk about a narco-economy. All the connotations, at least in terms of size, are there, when we talk about the proceeds from drug cultivation and trafficking being equivalent to about two-thirds of the G-D-P of 2003 of Afghanistan."

"Narcotics production has been a major problem for Afghanistan for decades," says John Walters, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. But, says Mr. Walters, "It is by no means a problem that defies solution, and the Afghans have already drawn up a national drug control strategy."

The U.S. is committed to helping Afghanistan reduce illegal poppy production in a number of ways. These include the development of a special narcotics prosecution task force in Afghanistan. Also, compensation is provided to Afghan poppy growers who switch to legitimate crops. Other programs improve irrigation and help Afghan farmers gain access to improved seeds.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, sees poppy eradication as one of his administration's most important tasks:

"There will definitely, definitely not be any drug thing in Afghanistan. We are going to be dedicated, strong, in working against that."

The illegal drug trade fosters corruption, undermines the rule of law, can finance terror, and will destabilize the south Asia region, says John Walters of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "In a troubled region's newest democracy," he says, "there simply is no place for that terrible trade."