Karzai targets Afghan drugs trade

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called a two-day meeting of tribal elders and provincial officials to discuss strategies to combat the country's burgeoning drug trade.

    Karzai faces a formidable challenge to curb the drug trade

    Many of those involved in the trade will meet Karzai to

    thrash out their concerns.

    They are certain to 

    discuss the thorny problem of forcing 2.3 million Afghan farmers to

    take a huge cut in income if they are to give up poppy cultivation.

    "Our principal promises concern the strengthening of the security sector and ensuring lasting stability throughout the country, the elimination of poppy cultivation and the fight against the processing and trafficking of drugs," Karzai told assembled Afghan dignitaries at his inauguration on Tuesday.

    Afghanistan is now the source of 87% of the world's opium and the origin of 90% of the heroin on the streets of Europe, according to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

    Poppy cultivation is the main engine of Afghanistan's

    economic growth - producing 60% of GDP - and binds together

    previously quarrelsome local communities, the report said.

    Lucrative trade

    Reversing the tide will not be easy.


    Opium cultivation has surged
    64% in the past year

    "There are warlords involved, high government officials, police

    commanders, governors are involved.

    "We have to reform our judicial

    system and put big culprits behind bars, otherwise going after poor

    farmers we will fill our prisons but still the drug business will be

    going on," Mirwais Yasini, head of Afghanistan's Counter-Narcotics

    Directorate said last month.

    Opium cultivation has surged more than 64% over the last

    year according to the UNODC, but for ordinary farmers it has meant

    food on the table and the chance for their children to get an


    After 25 years of war, Afghanistan has no infrastructure to

    transport goods to market and farmers can earn over 10 times more

    growing opium than cultivating fruit, vegetables or other cash


    "There are amazing parallels with Colombia and Bolivia where

    ordinary farmers are forced into growing opium or coca because there

    is no economic alternative," said a Westerner working on counter-

    narcotics in Kabul.


    After this year's surge in production, the US has

    finally got tough and earmarked $780 million to combat

    narcotics in Afghanistan over the next year.



    We have to reform our judicial

    system and put big culprits behind bars, otherwise going after poor

    farmers we will fill our prisons but still the drug business will be

    going on"

    Afghanistan Counter-Narcotics Directorate head Mirwais Yasini

    This comes after three years of

    focusing on fighting the Taliban in the country's troubled south.

    However, only around $120 million of that sum will be

    funnelled into providing alternative livelihoods for farmers and

    widespread eradication could lead to instability if not managed


    With parliamentary elections scheduled for early next year, there

    are fears that local rivalries could flare into violence.

    If the parliamentary elections are to go successfully, both "the

    Afghan government and the international community need to put in

    more resources and make more progress in the next few months on

    improving security, cutting down the power of the warlords and

    attacking the spreading influence of the drugs trade", said a report

    by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.



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