Afghanistan stops paying farmers to give up opium growing
By Matthew Pennington
KABUL: Afghanistan has abandoned its failed policy of paying farmers to stop growing opium but remains committed to eradicating the illicit crop, a presidential spokesman said Monday after talks with the UN’s anti-drug chief.
President Hamid Karzai late Sunday met Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, who is on a one-week visit to Afghanistan. The nation is the source of about three quarters of the world’s opium, which is the raw material of heroin.
Presidential spokesman Jawid Luddin said they discussed lessons learned by Karzai’s administration in its anti-drugs policy.
“Before farmers were paid not to grow opium, and this had some negative results as it encouraged farmers elsewhere (who were not paid) to grow it,” Luddin told The Associated Press.
“Those lessons need to be learned and the president of Afghanistan restated the position that the government will be rigorous as ever in aiming to eradicate (opium).” Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime successfully banned the production of opium during their hardline Islamic rule. Since their ouster by US-led forces in late 2001, the poppy crop has skyrocketed. Farmers ripped up their wheat crops after the Taliban’s defeat and planted poppies, which are far more lucrative.
Warlords associated with the government are suspected of being the biggest benefactors of the drug trade. Karzai’s cash-strapped government has pledged to eliminate opium production by 2013, but has had little success so far, amid concern that growing insecurity in much of the country is fuelling the trade.
In a statement, the UN anti-drug agency said Karzai had reiterated his government’s commitment to enforce the drug control measures, including the eradication of opium poppy fields and the destruction of illicit drug laboratories.
The president and Costa agreed the international community should help Afghan farmers _ not only to grow legitimate commercial crops, but also to develop infrastructure in poor rural areas, it said.
“Now we need to increase the international assistance to help the country strengthen its capacity to enforce the law and help Afghan farmers to develop a sustainable alternative livelihood,” Costa was quoted as saying.
Afghanistan’s ruined road system makes it nearly impossible for farmers to move wheat crops to market. Opium, by comparison, does not have to be trucked to a market. Instead buyers come to the farmer to buy the opium and transport it themselves. On Sunday, Costa signed an agreement with Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali to establish a new drug interdiction department within his ministry. In June, Costa warned the UN Security Council that Afghanistan’s opium production was unlikely to fall significantly this year from 3,400 tons last year, despite a government ban on the crop.
He told the council that “drugs originating in Afghanistan provide resources to crime and terrorism” and “the drug dealers _ among them the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda _ have a vested interest in ensuring that the state remains weak.” —AP