Challenges Face Afghanistan, U.S. Anti-Drug Cooperation
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 7, 2005 Two new reports outline the challenges ahead as the United States supports Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's crackdown on illegal drug production, which threatens the country's long-term stability.
The State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released March 4, notes that opium poppy production in Afghanistan is on the rise, with the acreage devoted to poppies soaring almost 240 percent in 2003.
Another report, released March 1 by the International Narcotics Control Board, expresses similar concern, noting that drug production in Afghanistan "has become a severe threat to this new democracy, as well as the stability and economic recovery of the country as a whole." This board is independent of the United Nations and governments, but a U.N. council elects its members and the board's work is U.N.-financed.
Robert B. Charles, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said the development doesn't come as a complete surprise. "The reality is (that) in a post-conflict environment in which you have very fragile institutions of democracy, and you have the third poorest country in the world, it is not unlikely that you would see a growth rate like that," he told State Department reporters.
Drug trafficking can have a severe destabilizing effect on a society, he noted. "It has a direct impact on violence, stability, corruption, terrorist funding - all of the pieces of what we worry about most," Charles said.
Recognizing this, he said, "we need to redouble our counternarcotics efforts, even as we continue to press the counterterrorism and democracy-building efforts more broadly."
The Bush administration has a $780 million fiscal 2005 supplemental appropriations request before Congress to help support counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan, he noted.
The five-point U.S. plan, announced in mid-December, will focus on helping the Afghan government increase public outreach, judicial reform, interdiction, alternative livelihoods and eradication.
"President Karzai's counternarcotics initiatives will go a long way in growing a legitimate economy to sustain the country and will, ultimately, lead to prosperity for all people," a Combined Forces Command Afghanistan spokesman said of the U.S. assistance program in mid-December. "The United States government and coalition forces stand ready to support the government of Afghanistan in this effort in concrete ways."
These efforts include intelligence sharing, logistics support and other support for counternarcotics forces on the ground. And although coalition forces are not directly involved in poppy-eradication, the spokesman said they are helping in other ways.
"If coalition forces do come across processed narcotics during the course of routine operations, we are permitted to confiscate narcotics and turn them over to the appropriate authorities for destruction," the spokesman said.
Charles told reporters last week the United States is encouraged that Karzai has remained "resolute in battling the growth of heroin poppy" and to introducing alternative development in his country.
During Feb. 3 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Ambassador Maureen Quinn, State Department's coordinator for Afghanistan, said Karzai has "mobilized his government" to address the drug issue. He called in the mullahs, governors and district leaders in December to "give them the central government message that they needed to take back their provinces, which they are doing," she said.
Quinn said she had received preliminary reports of voluntary eradication actions that involve plowing over poppy fields.