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‘Huge’ Afghanistan drugs seizure

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By Jill McGivering
BBC News, Gereshk, Helmand province
Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Officials in southern Afghanistan say they have seized almost 18 tonnes of poppy seed – potentially enough to produce 30 tonnes of heroin.

The seizure in Gereshk in Helmand province has been described as the biggest of its kind to date.

The operation was part of an aggressive counter-narcotics strategy launched by Helmand’s new governor, Gulab Mangal.

If cultivated, the seeds would have produced enough opium for heroin with a street value in Europe of $1.5bn.

It was enough seed to plant 7,000 hectares of poppies – by comparison last year law enforcement teams here eradicated less than 3,000 hectares.

This is the first time counter-narcotics police have carried out a search outside the main provincial town, Lashkar Gah.

It is also the first time they have searched for seeds in an attempt to pre-empt the planting season which is just beginning.

Helmand governor Gulab Mangal took office earlier this year.

He is trying to increase public education, describing poppies as a product which is both damaging to local populations and which raises funds for the Taleban.

He has just launched a massive programme to distribute free wheat in Helmand to encourage farmers to switch from poppies.

But some farmers say they have to grow poppies to survive, because other options like wheat simply do not bring enough income.

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November 12, 2008 at 5:35 am

Posted in Drugs

Export woes may send Afghan farmers back to drugs

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By Jonathon Burch

KABUL, Nov 11 (Reuters) – A bumper fruit harvest in Afghanistan this year has led to a surplus for domestic markets and with difficulties in exporting the goods, growers could return to harvesting opium, experts and farmers say.

Afghanistan used to produce some of the region’s best fruits and nuts but insecurity led farmers to switch to opium, a crop that funds the Taliban insurgency, adding to insecurity and further boosting drug production.

While cultivation of opium, the raw ingredient for heroin, decreased this year, Afghanistan still produces some 90 percent of the world’s supply of the drug.

Encouraged by international aid groups, some farmers have switched from growing opium to fruit and other products in recent years, but with little financial benefit and export problems, many could revert to more lucrative illicit crops.

“Farmers will always go for products with the highest benefit, especially with all the post-harvest problems,” Mohammad Aqa, assistant representative for the U.N.’s food and agriculture organisation in Afghanistan (FAO), told Reuters.

But problems with processing, packaging and storing produce, along with poor access to international markets, means many farmers are not even able to cover their costs, said Aqa.

A fruit surplus is unlikely to meet the needs of millions of Afghans facing severe food shortages this winter as droughts in many areas of the country have hurt the staple wheat harvest.

“GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBLE”

Many farmers around the capital are feeling the strain and calling on the government to do more.

“If the government doesn’t find us an export market and we don’t benefit from our agricultural products and suffer financial harm like past years … then we will have to return to poppy farming,” said Safatullah Khan, a farmer on the outskirts of Kabul.

Due to the problems with exporting goods and the unregulated import of products already grown in Afghanistan, such as apples and grapes from China and Pakistan, farmers are forced to sell at very low prices, said Aqa.

A 7 kg (15 lb) bag of apples costs just $3 in any of the capital’s fruit markets.

“I agree with the farmers, they need more support. The government needs to at least limit these kind of imports … in order to make them (farmers) competitive in the international market,” said Aqa. “It’s not a good time to introduce a free market in Afghanistan at the moment.”

The government’s export agency (EPAA) says it is aware of the problem and is working on finding a solution.

“We know that Afghan fruit production reached high levels this year, especially apples. These high levels of production have created problems and worries in society,” said Rohullah Ahmadzai, spokesman for EPAA.

“I know the sharp increase in production within the market is worrying the farmers, but we will solve this issue soon,” he said. He added that despite problems in exporting, $21 million worth of fruit was exported from Kandahar province alone. (Editing by Valerie Lee)

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November 12, 2008 at 5:34 am

Posted in Agriculture, Drugs, Economy

Afghans plan museums to replace moonscapes

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• Kabul steps up campaign to restore cultural heritage
• Thousands of treasures repatriated from abroad
    * Helena Smith in Athens
    * The Guardian,
    * Thursday October 30 2008
 
It has been described as one of the great acts of cultural desecration of modern times, a rampant pillage that threatens to denude a country of much of its fabulous heritage. But now Afghanistan is stepping up an ambitious campaign to stop the looting of the country’s archaeological sites, with a programme to build museums, train archaeologists and repatriate the billions of dollars worth of stolen antiquities that have been spirited through its porous borders during the past seven years.
 
“We’re in the process of building 10 provincial museums, training more archaeologists, repatriating stolen treasures and making a red-list of [looted] art works,” the deputy culture minister, Omar Sultan, said during an official visit to Greece.
 
“But we also desperately need to educate young Afghans about the importance of their culture,” he told the Guardian. “There is a whole generation out there who have only ever known weapons and war. If they are sensitised, if they can be made to feel there is a cultural heritage of which they can be proud, they can influence their parents who help the gangs.”
 
The authorities are starting to make progress with repatriating stolen artefacts retrieved from overseas: in the past year, thousands of treasures have been repatriated from Denmark and Switzerland. Four tonnes of valuable items, holed up at Heathrow airport since 2005, are also due to be returned in coming weeks.
 
But formidable challenges still face Sultan and his colleagues. Attempts to hire extra guards to protect sites have failed because the authorities were unable to pay them more than $10 (£6) a month, or even equip them with telephones and cars. The security vacuum has allowed illegal smugglers to prosper. Working at night, gangs of Afghans in the pay of warlords and plunderers have turned swaths of the country into the moonscapes that now stand as testimony to the cultural desecration.
 
“People are hungry and they’re desperate, and smugglers play on that,” said Sultan, a Greek-trained archaeologist. “There are heroes in Afghanistan who have worked without any credit to save our treasures. But I worry that if this continues, looters will take everything – such is the scale of the organised crime.”
 
He is appealing for international funding to provide stronger protection for important sites and better equipment to guards. He also wants more countries to follow Greece’s lead in offering scholarships to trainee archaeologists. Afghanistan has only six trained archaeologists.
 
Even before the 2001 US-led invasion, nearly three decades of war and the fundamentalist Islamist rule of the Taliban had resulted in terrible loss to Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, most notably with the looting of the national museum in Kabul.
 
The destruction by the Taliban of the giant Buddhas carved into the mountainside at Bamiyan, with dynamite, picks and axes in 2001 – monuments the Afghans, in collaboration with international conservationists, are trying to restore – highlighted the country’s plight.
 
Sultan said it would be a big moment for Afghanistan when the relics currently impounded at Heathrow are returned. The objects date mostly from the great Bronze Age of the Bactrian civilisation in the second millennium BC, as well as the later pre-Islamic period.
 
“It will be a great moment for us when they return from Britain,” Sultan said. “I always say that our cultural heritage doesn’t just belong to us – it belongs to the world, and that’s why I hope the world will come and help us. About 90% of what we have underground has still not been discovered, and it needs to be protected.”
Backstory
 
Afghanistan has some of the finest treasures and Hellenistic sites in the world, thanks in part to Alexander the Great, who invaded in 337BC. The looted Bactrian treasures include gold discs, elaborate jewels and gold-carved weapons. The national museum saw 70% of its treasures lost to looters in 1993. Antiquities are frequently smuggled through Pakistan and Iran. Treasures seized at Heathrow in 2005 included hundreds of jewels, axe-heads, stone statues, gold ornaments, ivory games pieces, ceramics, bronze seals and other ancient objects.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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October 31, 2008 at 3:37 am

Posted in Culture and Arts, Drugs

Afghan opium fight needs aid, better message

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Tue Oct 28, 2008
 
KABUL (AFP) – The fall in opium production in Afghanistan this year should be followed by the delivery of promised aid, the UN drugs office said, calling for more better targeted anti-drugs messages.
 
The drop of one fifth in the area under cultivation between 2007 and 2008 was due to farmers deciding not to plant the crop rather than government attempts to eradicate opium, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) representative said.
 
“There is always the danger of a backlash,” Christina Oguz warned.
 
“For example, in Nangarhar (province), poppy cultivation is going up and down — down when promises are made, up when the aid is not delivered.”
 
Oguz stressed that the anti-drugs campaign should be adapted to the different local contexts in Afghanistan, which produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.
 
The “religion message” — that opium is not allowed in Islam — carries for example different weight in different areas.
 
In Herat in the west and Nangarhar in the east it is powerful, Oguz said.
 
In the far northern province of Badakhsan, it is less so, with people more convinced by the links between opium and unrest.
 
In a country where television coverage is confined largely to towns and many people cannot read because of high illiteracy rates, “the most powerful media communication is word of mouth,” the official said.
 
“We believe influential public figures and mullahs should be encouraged much more to spread these messages,” she added.
 
Farmers generally do not see the link between opium and terrorism, Oguz said.
 
But according to the UN and Washington, a good part of the profits from the drugs go towards the Taliban who also earn money from protecting fields and trafficking routes.
 
“Poppy cultivation is no longer an Afghan problem,” Oguz added.
 
“It’s a problem in the south and the southwest,” she said, pointing out that 98 percent of production is concentrated in seven out of 34 provinces which are also among those most affected by the insurgency.
 
Poverty is the main motivation for opium production, the UNODC representative said.
 
“Many people use opium as the main source of cash income, they rely more on opium sales than on wheat production to satisfy their needs.”
 
UNODC figures say that despite the 19 percent drop in the area used to grow opium this year, output only dipped six percent because of better yields per hectare with an estimated annual harvest of 7,700 tonnes.
 
Washington issued more optimistic figures last week, saying it estimated output had dropped to 5,500 tonnes this year compared with 8,000 in 2007.
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.

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October 29, 2008 at 3:37 am

Posted in Drugs

Afghan anti-drug judge shot, killed

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Alim Hanif

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 5 (UPI) — A 65-year-old judge in Afghanistan, who headed an appeals court dealing with drug cases, was killed in Kabul, authorities said.

Central Narcotics Tribunal Appeals Court Judge Alim Hanif was shot as he was leaving for work and later died at a Kabul hospital, the BBC reported.

No details were immediately available on the shooting but the report said his killing may have meant to be a warning to those who want to eradicate the country’s drug trade.

Court officials described Hanif as being committed to dealing with drug problems in the country, taking a tough stance on drug trafficking and imposing stiff sentences on offenders, the report said.

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September 5, 2008 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Drugs, Governance

Afghan airport to help switch from drugs to fruit

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By Jonathon Burch

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, Aug 4 (Reuters) – The Afghan and U.S. governments have broken ground on an agricultural centre and airport in the volatile southern province of Helmand, aimed at helping farmers grow food crops instead of opium poppies.

Helmand is one of the most fertile provinces in Afghanistan, but much of its agriculture is devoted to poppy farming and the province produced about half the world’s opium last year.

Fighting between Taliban insurgents and mainly British and U.S. troops in Helmand makes it hard to transport perishable produce to market, while traffickers collect opium directly from the farms or farmers can safely store the drug for some 20 years.

The new Lashkar Gah airport will be the first purely civilian-controlled airport in troubled southern Afghanistan and will also boast a centre for processing and storing food products before they are flown to domestic and international markets.

“This is a deeply important project for Helmand,” said Gulab Mangal, governor of Helmand, at a ceremony on Sunday afternoon attended by the deputy U.S. Ambassador and Afghan ministers.

“Reliable air transportation for both cargo and civilians is a critical component of developing Helmand province’s economy,” he said.

FRUIT AND NUTS, NOT DRUGS

The ground-breaking ceremony was held at the provincial capital’s existing airfield, a dirt air strip with a small, dilapidated terminal building built in the 1960s.

The entire project will cost $45 million and will be mostly funded by the U.S. development agency, USAID. The Afghan government is expected to contribute around $5 million.

Some $18 million will be allocated to paving the 2,200-metre (yard) runway, expanding and rehabilitating the terminal and constructing the agricultural centre.

The remainder will be spent on agricultural development in the province, ensuring markets for the farmers and providing technical assistance.

Helmand used to produce some of the region’s best dried fruits, pomegranates and nuts. But insecurity has led farmers to switch to opium, a crop that also funds the Taliban insurgency, adding to insecurity and further boosting drug production.

The airport aims to open up markets for farmers to transport “high value” products such as pomegranates and raisins to international markets, a USAID official told Reuters.

The airport and agricultural development in the province is part of a larger counter-narcotics strategy to get farmers to switch from growing opium.

The Afghan government will be in charge of managing the new airport as well as providing security. A new police station and Helmand’s first fire station will be built adjacent to the airport by the British Provincial Reconstruction Team, which will be able to serve not only the airport but the city itself.

Domestic passenger flights are expected to begin once the runway is completed this winter, providing a secure alternative to travelling by road.

Road travellers are often attacked by Taliban and bandits, especially in the southern provinces. (Editing by Jerry Norton)

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August 24, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Agriculture, Drugs

Afghanistan: $50 mln to coax farmers away from opium growing in south

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AKI – Adnkronos International

Lashkar Gah, 4 August (AKI) – The US overseas aid agency and the Afghan agriculture minister on Monday unveiled a 50 million dollar investment project to halt opium production in southern Helmand province.

The project is at aimed encouraging farmers in the province switch from opium to other crops. Part of the cash will be spent on a modern agricultural research centre and a new airport at Lashkar Gah – the first purely civilian-controlled airport in Helmand.

Over half of the world’s opium was grown in Helmand in 2007. The joint US-Afghan project will give opium growers incentives to cultivate new crops such as pomegranates, pistachio nuts and almonds instead of poppies.

A purpose-built processing centre at the new Lashkar Gah airport will enable the new crops to be properly stored and packaged.

Fighting between Taliban insurgents and NATO forces in Helmand makes it hard to transport perishable produce to markets.

Much of Helmand’s opium production was under Taliban control until they were forced to withdraw partially from the province earlier this year.

Ninety percent of the anti-opium project’s funding will come from the US government’s overseas aid agency (USAID) and 10 percent from the Afghan government.

Some 18 million dollars will be allocated to paving the 2,200-metre (yard) runway, building the new airport terminal and constructing the agricultural centre.

The remainder will be spent on agricultural development in the province, ensuring markets for the farmers and providing technical assistance.

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August 24, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Agriculture, Aid, Drugs