More action needed on Afghan opium: UN representative
by Bronwen Roberts
Sun Feb 3, 11:22 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan has done little to stop the corruption propping up its drugs trade and its war-shattered institutions are too weak to handle the problem, the UN representative on drugs here said.
It will take decades to end the industry in the country, which produces more than 90 percent of the world’s illegal opium, UN Office on Drugs and Crime representative Christina Oguz told AFP in an interview.
Drugs production, which last year reached new highs and feeds into deteriorating security, will be a main focus of ministers, donors and aid agencies meeting in Tokyo this week to assess progress in Afghanistan.
A paper prepared for the talks Tuesday and Wednesday said the “expansion of the narcotics industry represents the single greatest threat to Afghanistan’s stability, and is increasingly linked to insecurity and terrorist activities.”
“The drugs trade funds terrorism, fuels corruption and undermines the very rule of law that should bring security to our people,” said the document on the website of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), a committee working to implement the country’s five-year reconstruction plan.
Traffickers provide weapons, funding and personnel to anti-government rebels, while corrupt officials offer protection of drug trade routes, poppy fields and people, it said.
Oguz said her message at the Tokyo talks will be: “We need to see action now. Talking is not enough.”
But the fact that President Hamid Karzai has not appointed a counternarcotics minister to replace the one who resigned in July speaks for itself, she said.
“It says something about the priority given to this issue, even though the president has said it is one of the most important issues for this country to tackle.”
Also, “very little has been done in reality on fighting corruption,” she said.
Corruption feeds the industry: farmers often have to pay a 10 percent “tax” to local officials or even Taliban insurgents, the official said. There are also various bribes to be paid along the way.
Farmers see less than a quarter of the four billion dollars that the annual trade earns, which is equal to more than half of the legal gross domestic product.
“You have people driving around in luxurious, very expensive cars, they live in very expensive houses, and they have very low salaries and nobody asks how they got this,” Oguz said.
Those who have been arrested are mainly the couriers.
“The real big fish are extremely difficult to find. And some of them, even though they are Afghans, are not even living in the country.”
Afghanistan’s opium, increasingly turned into heroin inside the country, feeds drugs users in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.
But Oguz said it was unfair to blame Afghanistan for the world’s heroin problem. Chemicals needed to turn opium into heroin come mainly from the developed world and are sent here illegally.
“So it’s a shared responsibility,” she said.
She added that the national strategy to deal with the drugs trade should be tailored to the different circumstances in the 34 provinces, 13 of which were declared opium-free last year — double that in 2006.
“In the south you must focus much more on interdiction because there is a common interest between the insurgents and the drug traffickers to keep that part of the country out of reach for the government in Kabul and also the international aid community,” she said.
In the north and centre, where there is more order and government structure, it would work better to offer incentives, like development, to persuade farmers and other players to turn their backs on opium, she said.
But, either way, with Afghanistan rebuilding from “below scratch”, there will have to be a long-term effort to deal with the drugs problem.
“It links into corruption, it links into the insurgency, so it’s not an easy task. I think it will take decades,” she said. “It took 20 years in Thailand… and they had some functioning institutions.”