By Stephen Fidler in London
Afghanistan's record poppy crop is fuelling an intensifying drugs emergency in neighbouring countries, a United Nations report published today warns.
The UN International Narcotics Control Board says the rise in Afghanistan's opium cultivation is "alarming" and that its effects - including an increase in organised crime, corruption and the incidence of drug use - are spilling over into Iran, Pakistan and the central Asian republics.
Afghanistan is estimated to supply more than 90 per cent of the world's illicit opium, from which heroin is made. Poppies were cultivated on an estimated 193,000 hectares last year, 17 per cent up on 2006, according to UN estimates. The opium harvest jumped 34 per cent last year to an estimated 8,200 tonnes.
Much of the growth in poppy cultivation is taking place in the south of the country, where the Taliban insurgency against the government of President Hamid Karzai is most intense.
The issue is the subject of fierce policy disagreement, marked by disputes within Mr Karzai's government and with foreign donors and troop contributors.
Iran, the chief transit country for drugs from Afghanistan, now has the highest rate of opiate abuse in the world, the report states.
Some 2.8 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 64 use opiates, the UN says, equivalent to 1.3m people. This compares with 3.8m users in the whole of Europe.
"CIA assets again controlled this heroin trade. As the Mujahideen guerrillas seized territory inside Afghanistan, they ordered peasants to plant opium as a revolutionary tax. Across the border in Pakistan, Afghan leaders and local syndicates under the protection of Pakistan Intelligence operated hundreds of heroin laboratories. During this decade of wide-open drug-dealing, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Islamabad failed to instigate major seizures or arrests.
The report says that more than half of inmates in Iran's prisons have been convicted for drug-related offences, and seizures of opium, morphine and heroin have risen rapidly. Iran seizes more opiates than any other country and im-pounded more than 180 tonnes of opium in the first half of 2007 alone.
Pakistan, through which an estimated 35 per cent of Afghanistan's opiates are smuggled, faces growing problems, with seizures in 2006, the last year for which figures were available, rising 46 per cent.
An estimated 21 per cent of Afghanistan's heroin and morphine transit via central Asia, the report says, leading to large increases in seizures in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
"The in-creased availability of opiates in central Asia, with its population totalling 60m, resulted in an alarming rise in drug-related crime, the abuse of narcotics drugs and the spread of HIV/Aids," says the UN. The UN is also worried that drug trafficking and abuse in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, which have long borders with Turkey and Russia, will deteriorate further.
The problems are also being felt farther afield. The report says drug abuse in Iraq appears to have risen dramatically and while opiate use in western and central Europe has remained stable or declined, it has increased in Russia and eastern Europe.
The report also notes what it calls another worrying development in Afghanistan: the rise of cannabis cultivation in Afghanistan, including in some areas that have been declared poppy-free. The area under cannabis cultivation increased to 70,000ha last year, from 50,000ha in 2006 and 30,000ha in 2005.