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'Limited' success against Kabul's poppy production

After two years of record-high poppy production, Afghanistan makes some "limited progress" fighting drug cultivation and trade, the US state department says.

WASHINGTON // After two years of record-high poppy production in Afghanistan, that country made some "limited progress" fighting drug cultivation and trade last year, the US state department has said. At the release of the department's annual global narcotics report, David Johnson, assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said on Friday that poppy production in Afghanistan declined 19 per cent over all in 2008. Eighteen of the country's 34 provinces were declared free of poppies, up from 13 in 2007 and six in 2006.

Last year's smaller crop of 157,000 hectares was attributed to a combination of bad weather, a drop in opium prices relative to the price of other crops and what the report called "better governance and security" in certain key provinces. Even despite the progress, Afghanistan remained by far the largest source of opium poppy, supplying 93 per cent of the world's total. The 2008 harvest was valued at about US$3.4 billion (Dh12.5bn), or about one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product, according to United Nations and International Monetary Fund estimates.

The report said the link between poppy cultivation, the drug trade and the funding of insurgent groups became "even more evident" last year, with the vast majority of cultivation occurring in Afghanistan's less stable southern provinces, on the borders with Pakistan and Iran. But even while cultivation is centred in the south, the report said, the Afghan drug industry "continues to threaten efforts to establish security, governance and a licit economy throughout the country".

The United Nations estimates the Taliban and other anti-government forces received between $50m and $70m in "tax" payments from opium growers last year. Drug processing and trafficking was worth another $200m to $400m to drug lords, warlords and others. "Narcotics traffickers provide revenue and material support, such as vehicles, weapons and shelter to the insurgents, who, in exchange, provide protection to growers and traffickers and promise to prevent the Afghan government from interfering with their activities," the report said.

The central government has been "unwilling or unable" to implement fully the national drug control programme - corruption has remained a major problem - even in some cases where provincial leaders have wanted to take steps to. But the interior and defence ministries joined together last year to create a poppy-eradication force, and that force is expected to conduct operations jointly with the Afghan army this year.

The report said "more political will and effort" by both the central and provincial governments will be needed to decrease cultivation in the south and maintain the declines seen in much of the rest of the country. eniedowski@thenational.ae

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