Interview: Afghan war on narcotics

Kabul in need of strong judicial system, UN official tells Al Jazeera.

Afghan farmers in some provinces have continued to cultivate poppy fields [EPA]

Afghanistan’s fight against the drug trade is becoming more challenging as ties between the insurgency and drug-traffickers appear to strengthen.

In her tenure as the the country director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, Christina Oguz, has had to fight a multi-faceted battle.

Though 2008 saw a drop in poppy cultivation for the first time, Oguz says real dangers remain.

Speaking to Al Jazeera just before concluding her term in Afghanistan, Oguz discussed her concerns about the justice sector, the lack of trained judges, what she says is an ineffective police force and the absence of the fundamental right of all citizens – the presumption of innocence.

Al Jazeera: You have had one of the most challenging assignments in Afghanistan – dealing with both drug control and the justice sector. Which are the areas which have shown progress and which have not?

Oguz: I wish I could be only positive but I think there are still so many things that are needed in this country. If I look at the justice side it is very gloomy I am afraid because the rule of law doesn’t really exist in this country and that is very grave because it is fundamental to democracy.

But now there is the first independent bar association and I am very hopeful that will make a lot of difference with more defence lawyers.

But it will take time. Because in terms of the authorities, there is a presumption of guilt rather than innocence.

Has progress been made in Afghanistan’s war on the drug trade?

Christina Oguz has had to fight a multi-faceted battle against drug-traffickers

Drug reduction its still a major major major major problem so there remains a lot to do, to say the least.

But I think what has happened in the last two years is quite interesting. First of all this year we saw a little bit of a reduction – 20 per cent in terms of cultivated area.

But also what is quite important is that this year, 98 per cent of the production is taking place in seven provinces in the south and southwest while the rest of the country is either free of poppy cultivation or is cultivating very little.

The reduction is in the areas where there is a government. The rest of the 98 per cent of the production is in the areas where the government has lost control; areas which are controlled by a kind of alliance of insurgents, corrupt officials and criminal networks.

In a way it is easier to understand the problem and see what you could do about it but it is also in a way more difficult.

The carrot-and-stick approach has worked in the north. But the north and also the east are characterised by small landholdings and as you know there has been a drought which has very very severely affected these parts of Afghanistan because it is rain-fed land there isn’t enough irrigation.

The implications can be very serious.

If people suffer during the winter because they do not have any more food and because they do not have any means to buy food then they may turn back to cultivating opium. I would urge the international community and the government to speed up and really make a concerted effort.

I am not talking about bureaucratic layers of analysing, reviewing and planning. I am talking about action. We have to get food aid out to these areas and we have to start to involve the people themselves in building up income opportunities.

The drug control policy and implementation has been somewhat controversial or at least debated with differences over whether there should be more emphasis on eradication or interdiction. What is the shift in policy direction you think is necessary?

I think you have to have a two-pronged policy. What I talked about in the northern part is containing the problem. In the south it is obvious that because there is this overlap between insecurity, lack of control over territory and opium cultivation that eradication will play a very marginal role because they are not even afraid of eradication.

In the south they do not care about that because the government cannot enforce the law or anyhow only around the areas where they are in control or close to the city or whatever but otherwise they cannot enforce that.

So you have to keep eradication or the threat of eradication as a tool in your toolbox but you have to sharpen the other weapons which is interdiction.

When I talk about interdiction I mean wiping out some laboratories, emptying stocks interdicting convoys of drugs going out of the country and chemicals used in manufacturing of heroin and morphine going in.

That has to be done but I do not have the illusion that it would be forever because the laboratories are small and mobile so its not that you  would solve the problem by bombing the laboratories or something like that but you induce a risk to those who are running these businesses and you make it more expensive for them. T

hat is important.

Some consider reform of the justice sector in Afghanistan to be lacking. What is your assessment of where it stands today?

There is so much to do in the justice sector. It is absolutely crucial for people’s lives but you have for example judges that have no legal training – very common.

You have low investigative capacity within the police and the prosecution and you have very very few defence lawyers. So it is a weak system for the ordinary Afghan.

There are many who are working with training these groups and criminal justice institutions. It will take a long time but I think it is not only professional training, it is also the mindset.

How you view crime and punishment because for example detention and incarceration should be the exception not the rule but here it is the rule, the norm.

It seems that the first thing that comes to mind is to arrest people or put them in prison and many people are there without having had a trial.

Even young people and children are incarcerated for years for crimes that are minor and for crimes that they may not even have committed.

It is important to have a reaction to these kind of criminal activities but there must be proportion between the offence and the punishment. Now the connection here seems to be the poorer you are the less power you have and the more severe the punishment.

How is the government incorporating the protection of human rights as it moves towards a democratic country?

Experts say the drug trade and the insurgency are strongly linked [AFP]

The Constitution is very clear – it does not apply only to some people. It is the task of the state to defend the dignity and liberty of everybody in the country so I really don’t think that Afghanistan is different from other countries in that respect and I am convinced that the people of Afghanistan would not accept anything else.

The problem we are facing here is the low level of education and the fact that so many people are not reached by radio or television the kind of institutions that could play a crucial role in educating the public.

The rule of law is fundamental to democracy and I cannot imagine that the Afghan people would say that human rights do not matter to them. I cannot envision that.

There is growing anti-foreigner sentiment. Where will this lead?

Are we sure that this sentiment is an Afghan sentiment? I am not sure it is.

I do not think this anti-foreigner feeling is a general sentiment. I know that it is a sentiment that can be exploited by various groups obviously.

I do think, however, that we as the intentional community need to learn how to communicate with people. We need to understand better where this country is in terms of development.

For us, coming, in many cases from well-functioning countries it is difficult to understand what it means to work in a country where 60 per cent of the police officers cannot read and write for example.

With no bad intention is easily done that we start at the wrong level. We start with something we are familiar with rather than what people need.

I think we need to become better in communicating with people and having a dialogue with people and talking to people to find out what they need and what is it they want but we also need to come with new ideas because being so isolated means you need ideas.

What are your hopes and fears for this country?

My fear is that the international community and the government will not be strong enough, united enough, to put in place some positive measures for the people here. That is what I fear because I don’t believe a military solution is the only solution in this country.

But if we allow the insurgents to take on even distributing electricity or collecting the electricity bills which they do in some places down in Helmand; if we allow them to run the justice system because the government is not able to do it, then I think this country is in great danger.

We cannot allow that. We need to make sure we reach people to provide for their immediate needs with the winter coming up and the drought. We need to create simple solutions, not come up with grand schemes about how to transform this or how to do that.

Very simple things can be done here including increasing the number of people who can read and write, increasing the number of judges who have legal training and increasing the number of police who are honest and willing to work.

These are some of things I hope for.

Source : Al Jazeera

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