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Afghanistan: New Report Says Heroin Production On The Rise

By Robert McMahon

A new report heightens concerns about the massive opium trade from Afghanistan and the new government's ability to cope with the problem. The International Narcotics Control Board, in its annual survey, says there appears to be an increasing amount of heroin being processed internally in Afghanistan. A board expert praised the government's new strategy for opium eradication. But he warned it will not work until Kabul is able to exercise authority over more of the country.

United Nations, 2 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The independent agency monitoring the United Nations' drug conventions has raised alarm about the increasingly sophisticated trade of opiates from Afghanistan.

In its latest report, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says there is growing concern over illicit trafficking in Central Asia of acetic anhydride, a chemical used in the manufacture of heroin.

It has determined that drug lords in Afghanistan are importing large amounts of the precursor to produce heroin and morphine. These can be smuggled out of the country in smaller quantities than opium, limiting the risks for traffickers.

The board also urges expanded economic-development programs to divert farmers from producing opium poppies.

But INCB member Melvin Levitsky dismissed the notion that a lack of donor support for alternative-crop programs is contributing to the problem.

Levitsky told a news conference yesterday that Kabul, with international help, needs to assert authority over drug lords. If that is not done, he warned, alternative livelihood programs will languish in poppy-growing areas.

"If you don't have both law enforcement and control in the area, alternative-development programs are not going to work because the other side will both through force and [pressure] be able to both outgun you and outspend you," Levitsky said. "So that's the problem we're all coping with. It's not really a lack of funds."

The report notes an increase in regional coordination to try to combat the trafficking of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan and of opiates from the country. A four-year-old regional effort known as "Operation Topaz" now ties together law-enforcement authorities from all of Afghanistan's neighbors to try to prevent diversions of acetic anhydride.

But the narcotics board's report expresses concern over what it calls a lack of control for prohibited goods entering Pakistan via the port of Karachi en route to Afghanistan. Large amounts of acetic anhydride are believed to be trafficked in this way.

The only seizure of the precursor chemical in the region last year was a 375-liter shipment in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai's government recently unveiled a drug-control strategy that calls for eliminating the cultivation, production, and trafficking of narcotic drugs within a 10-year period.

Levitsky, a former veteran U.S. diplomat, praised the strategy. But he indicated that Afghanistan will need international help in both the security and development dimensions to carry it out.

"We have urged on the board countries to devote much more attention than they have to this problem and to try to help the government of President Karzai and the surrounding governments, who constitute some of the transit routes for this, to get a handle on this problem as part of the general area to stabilize and bring peace to the area," Levitsky said.

The INCB report also said that counternarcotics measures should be brought into the mainstream of overall development assistance.

Mohammad Yunus Bazel, a minister in Afghanistan's UN mission in New York, said this approach, more than expanded security, will have an impact.

"[The] international community, they are helping us how to strengthen the Afghan government, how to fight against the terrorism, Al Qaeda, [and] others," Bazel said. "Without the help of the international community, Afghanistan would not be able to do that. We are thankful [for] that. But at the same time, [we] have to pay more attention to the revitalization and the rehabilitation of the infrastructure of the country and mainly to creating jobs, establishing factories, rebuilding all these roads and revitalizing the commerce, trade, and these things."

Afghanistan's new minister in charge of drug control, Habibullah Qaderi, said earlier this year that his government for the time being will limit its efforts to conducting police crackdowns on smugglers and laboratories producing heroin from opium.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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