R E G I O N: Drugs more threat to Afghans than terrorism, says Karzai
* Says poppy cultivation a ‘humiliation’ for Afghanistan
KABUL: Illegal opium production is more of a risk to Afghanistan than terrorism, President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday, adding the world would turn its back on Afghans if they failed to curb the trade.
He said opium poppy cultivation was a “humiliation” for the country, the world’s top producer of the drug and its derivative heroin. “Poppy is more dangerous for us than terrorism,” he said, speaking at a security conference attended by top provincial officials and foreign diplomats. He said terrorism had “disappeared, it cannot come back” but poppy cultivation could destabilise and prevent the rebuilding of the country.
The “world will turn its back” on Afghanistan if it fails to stop poppy cultivation, Karzai said.
The narcotics trade dominates the economy, accounting for 60 percent of gross domestic product and 87 percent of world supply, according to estimates by the United Nations, which has said Afghanistan risks becoming a “narco-state”.
The government has admitted that some senior officials are thought to be involved in the drugs trade. Officials say the area under poppy cultivation has fallen since last year as a result of a foreign-backed crackdown, but then US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad expressed doubts last month that production would fall, given good growing weather.
Encouraged by Western countries, Karzai has vowed a “holy war” on production of opium, which soured to record levels after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001. Washington has earmarked $700 million for the campaign while Britain is putting up $100 million and seeking $300 million more from other countries.
But with an estimated 10 percent of Afghans dependent on opium production, the government fears that rapid eradication could worsen security in southern and eastern areas where poppy is mostly grown and where militants are most active. The US military has also suffered heavier casualties, highlighted by the downing of the Chinook helicopter in northeast Afghanistan last month that killed 16 US forces. The Taliban claimed to have shot the helicopter down.
The US military said there was no proof that the soldier had been executed and search operations were continuing in rugged Kunar province.
A US-led offensive drove the fundamentalist Taliban from power in late 2001 for harbouring bin Laden after the September 11 terror attacks in the United States. Some 18,000 coalition troops are still in Afghanistan, and the US military and UN officials are frequently targeted by landmine attacks and roadside bombs. agencies