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Homeland Security

21 November 2005

"Political Will" Seen as Key Factor in Combating Drug Trade

Working group on Central, South Asia trafficking holds first meeting

Washington -- In combating the extremely profitable illicit drug trade, no nation’s resources are enough -- only a collective long-term commitment can hope to succeed, a State Department official said at a November 15-17 conference on narcotics trafficking in Central and South Asia held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Ambassador Nancy Powell, acting assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, also pointed out that drugs and terrorism both flourish in regions where government authority is weak. 

“Drug producers and traffickers rely on weak institutions and powerless populaces to ply their trade,” said Powell.   They “seek to subvert government authority, to exploit weak criminal justice systems,” she said, adding that corruption is “an indispensable tool of criminals.” 

Political will is an important resource against narcotics trafficking, Powell said. “Foreign assistance can only make a difference if all countries prioritize fighting drugs and other crime,” she said.

Powell was keynote speaker at the conference on narcotics trafficking hosted by the Defense Department’s U.S. European Command and U.S. Central Command at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

The meeting was the inaugural gathering of the Central and South Asia Counter-Narcotics Working Group. Those attending included representatives from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NATO, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and others.

A senior British adviser with U.S. Central Command said counterdrug efforts may take decades.

“We are taking our first step toward what I believe will be a very long road,” said Air Vice Marshall Michael Heath of the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. “I talk to people [involved in counternarcotics] and they tell me counternarcotics is a 50-year solution.”

“But it’s nonetheless something we need to undertake and to move on. We need to … eradicate the narcotics trafficking in Central and Southern Asia,” Heath said.

The cost of combating large criminal networks – which also may traffic in humans as well as arms and weapons of mass destruction -- requires collective action and cooperation, Powell said.

“The extent of these interconnected problems is beyond the ability of any one country to solve,” she said.

“Government commitment at all levels to a long-term sustained effort is essential. The enemy is well-funded and often entrenched in the political system and society at large. It cannot be defeated by half-measures, or overnight,” Powell added.

She noted that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai “has declared a jihad against the drug trade, which he says ?has dishonored our national image among the international community.’ The U.S., under the international lead of the United Kingdom, is committed to fully supporting the Afghan government in its efforts.”

Afghanistan long has been the world’s leading exporter of heroin, with most of its poppy crop ending up in Europe and Eurasia.

“In considering U.S. assistance to a country, the first thing we look for is political will to confront the challenges. We know that anything we offer will go for nothing if the government is not committed to achieving the goals of the program,” Powell said.

A press release on the conference and additional information is available on the Marshall Center’s Web site.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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