Drug producers, smugglers under pressure?

A senior official in the Interior Ministry has told IRIN that “unprecedented progress” has been made in the fight against drugs, with at least 500 drug traffickers arrested in the past eight months.



Mohammad Daud Daud, a deputy interior minister with responsibility for counter-narcotics, told IRIN counter-narcotics activities had been “boosted considerably” since 2007.



In the past eight months, over 300 tonnes of cannabis, over 25 tonnes of opium and over 10 tonnes of heroin, as well as several tonnes of heroin-producing chemicals, were impounded. Twenty-five heroin-producing laboratories were also destroyed, according to the Interior Ministry. (The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) survey in 2007 said a total of 90 laboratories were in operation in March 2007).



As well as taking a direct toll on the health of Afghans who abuse drugs, the drugs trade helps finance Taliban and criminal activities and fuels insecurity, in turn hampering humanitarian aid operations. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of people are involved in poppy cultivation, and opium income makes up to 40 percent of gross domestic product, experts say.



Lives lost



The government says it has paid a high price for its counter-narcotics operations: At least 45 police officers have been killed and 65 injured in armed clashes with smugglers and insurgents involved in the drugs trade, the Interior Ministry said.



In its latest, August 2008, survey UNODC said incidents related to eradication activities in Helmand, Kandahar, Herat, Nimruz, Kapisa, Kabul and Nangarhar provinces had led to the deaths of at least 78 people, most of them policemen, in 2008. This represented an increase of about 75 percent on the 2007 figure (19 deaths). The main incidents were in Nangarhar and Nimruz provinces, UNODC said.



Under strong international pressure the government has beefed up the judiciary, with judges encouraged to convict arrested smugglers swiftly, according to media reports, but progress is by no means even: According to an Interior Ministry press release issued on 4 September, unidentified gunmen killed the head of the counter-narcotics court and several judges have received death threats. 



Drought helps stem opium production



According to UNODC, there had been a 19 percent decrease in the area under opium cultivation to 157,000 hectares, down from 193,000 hectares in 2007. However, because of a higher yield of 48.8kg per hectare (up from 42.5 kg in 2007), overall opium production dropped just 6 percent from 8,200 to 7,700 tonnes, UNODC said in a statement on 26 August.



The number of opium-free provinces has increased from 13 to 18 (out of 34), according to UNODC. "Last year the world got hit by a heroin tsunami, almost 700 tonnes. This year the opium flood waters have started to recede", said the executive director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa.



UNODC said eradication efforts had played little part in the decrease: In 2008, 5,480 hectares were eradicated - nearly four times less than the 19,047 hectares destroyed in 2007.



Instead, UNODC attributed the decrease to good local leadership, assisted by drought. Some governors discouraged farmers from planting opium through campaigns, peer pressure, and the promotion of alternative development. The most impressive results were in Nangarhar, which also experienced severe drought.



The US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on 24 October said potential opium production in Afghanistan had declined steeply - by 31 percent - to 5,500 tonnes, down from 8,000 tonnes in 2007.



Today's opium poppy crop is concentrated in the south and southwest: 93 percent is confined to just five southern provinces, with Helmand accounting for over 60 percent of poppy cultivation, ONDCP said.



Corruption



Allegations that clampdowns on drug production and exports are hampered by corruption, in which government and security officials share proceeds in return for protection, are widespread. Daud acknowledged that drugs money may have corrupted some officials.



Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected a recent article in the New York Times which said his younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, was involved in the heroin trade.



Meanwhile, the head of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, has called for a crackdown on corruption, which is "greasing the wheels" of the drugs trade. "Corrupt officials, landowners, warlords and criminals must feel the full force of the law, otherwise the opium economy will continue to operate with impunity, and the Taliban will continue to profit from it", he said in a statement.



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