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The Globe and Mail, August 27, 2007

Drugs 'cancer' threatens Afghanistan survival

"Certainly corruption has been a major factor facilitating the spread of this cancer," Mr. Costa said


KABUL - The Afghan government and its international backers must do much more to curb the "disastrous" record drug crop, which is like a cancer threatening the survival of the country, the United Nations' drugs control chief said.

The four largest players in the heroin business are all senior members of the Afghan government – the government that our soldiers are fighting and dying to protect.
The Mail, July 21, 2007

Afghanistan's opium crop has risen every year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001 and another record crop was recorded in 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Monday.

"The opium situation in Afghanistan is disastrous," UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa told Reuters in an interview. "There is a cancer spreading throughout the body of Afghanistan."

The Taliban insurgency is driving the surge, with drug production increasing in the south of the country where security is weakest, more than wiping out progress made in the more peaceful north and centre where opium cultivation has fallen.

"It is the symbiosis, the inter-linkage between the cultivation of drugs on the one hand and the insurgency on the other which creates, I would say, the greatest difficulty and the greatest threat to the government of Afghanistan, even to the survival of the country as we have known it," Costa said.

Since 2001, the international community, led by the United States, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into halting poppy cultivation, heroin processing and trafficking abroad, but costly foreign contractors take the lion's share.

"A large segment of that money is actually spent on processes, on consultants, mostly on Western enterprises," said Mr. Costa.

Opium crops in W. Nooristam (RAWA photo - June 2003)
"Some cabinet ministers in Afghanistan are deeply implicated in the drugs trade"
The Telegraph (UK), February 5, 2006

International donors had given nearly $100 million (U.S.) to the Afghan government for counter-narcotics operations, Mr. Costa said.

But, he said, "that money has actually not even been spent because of bureaucratic inertia, delays, bickering among different ministries and so on."

Only 2.5 per cent of the fund had so far been used — "an abysmal number which means there is probably about $97 million sitting around waiting".

The huge profits from drugs — worth some $3 billion a year to the Afghan economy — have a corrupting influence on government and weaken the state's grip on parts of the country, helping the Taliban and further boosting drug production.

"Certainly corruption has been a major factor facilitating the spread of this cancer," Mr. Costa said. "We are pleading with the government to clamp down on corrupt government officials ... We would welcome stronger measures against corrupt officials, their dismissals, their prosecutions, the recovery of assets."

A UN Security Council resolution passed late last year allowed member states to add the names of drug traffickers to a list of al Qaeda and Taliban suspects in order to seize their assets, ban their travel and extradite them for prosecution.

A recent Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UN Office of Drugs and Crime joint survey said there were 920,000 addicts in Afghanistan, an estimated 120,000 of whom are women. It is estimated that there are 50,000 cases of addiction in Kabul alone.
BBC News, Aug. 28, 2007

"So far no member state has submitted any name to the security council," Mr. Costa said.

"We are pleading with names to be provided starting with the ones that the government of Afghanistan could provide," he said. "Some of them are walking around freely, perhaps in the palaces of Afghanistan, others are on the margins of the law."

Foreign troops in Afghanistan also needed to be more active in detecting and destroying heroin laboratories and providing security to Afghan drug eradication forces, Mr. Costa said.

"I believe that no military operation can be successful unless the drug trafficking is also dealt with."

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