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.
Reversing the tide will not be easy.
Opium cultivation has surged
“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 education.
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 crops.
“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 properly.
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.