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NATO Does Not Object Afghan Opium

28.04.2007 14:56

Ivan Marin

The increasing production of opium in Afghanistan causes grave concerns of both UN experts and neighbor countries. To date, Afghanistan produces 92 per cent of the total world opium, 15 per cent of the Afghan population (about 2 million people) work on opium poppy plantations. Last year opium production in this country increased by 49 per cent up to 6.7 tons that is enough to produce 670 tons of heroin.

Local drug lords annually get 3.1 billion Dollars from opium export. It is not a secret that Taliban combatants and organized crime leaders encourage peasants to cultivate the opium poppy that is a high-profitable and easily surviving cropper in the permanent drought conditions.

Currently the drug production is on the upswing especially in the southern provinces of the country where NATO and national government troops try to establish their control over the areas of high Taliban activity that has significantly strengthened lately. International experts indicate that the increased drug production and deteriorated security in Afghanistan are interconnected. Huge amount of money received from Afghan drug trafficking is used to fund acts of terror, and to support antigovernment armed formations.

Meanwhile, the stand of the NATO command controlling the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is rather strange with respect to the increase of drug production and practically unopposed drug trafficking worldwide. On the one hand, the Americans and NATO claim that it is necessary to take active steps to restrain opium production in the country, on the other hand, they do nothing particular in this connection but for purely symbolic gestures.

Certain observes already wrote about such original strategy, quoting to a NATO spokesmen stating that the steps against opium poppy farming meet hostile reaction of local “farmers”, dekhans, for whom the opium is a main source of subsistence. In this context a recent scandal caused by a radio address of the NATO command in Afghanistan on admissibility of opium poppy cultivation by local peasants is rather indicative.

The address was prepared by NATO psychological warfare experts in the ISAF HQ and broadcasted in southern province Helmand by a local commercial radio station funded by the ISAF. Helmand is a leader of the opium producing territories worldwide and an arena of fierce fight between the Taliban formations and NATO-led ISAF.

The radio address said that the international force in Afghanistan understands that “the majority of the Afghan people have no other source of subsistence but poppy cropping”. It also stated that the US, NATO and other national troops are stationed in Afghanistan not to eliminate poppy plantations but “to provide for security and exterminate foreign combatants”. Journalists were advised by the ISAF HQ that the NATO command expected that such address “will strengthen confidence and fellow feelings of the local people to the foreign troops”.

The radio address immediately evoked strong feelings, complaints and objections of the Afghan authorities and UN officials who claimed that the NATO address actually encourages illegal opium cultivation. Zalmai Afzali, Spokesman of the Afghan Ministry for Fighting Drug Trafficking, said that the radio address is “a mistake of the ISAF”. According to him, the Afghan Government requested the ISAF to avoid such mistakes in future because it may create a lot of problems for the Afghanistan Drug Fighting Strategy.

In turn, Christina Ogouz, Spokesman of the Kabul UN Office on Drugs and Crime, claimed that the NATO radio address “sends contradictory messages to Afghan farmers”. According to her, the NATO radio address was “a doubtful statement” in the context of already confirmed connection between drug traffickers and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

After these objections the NATO command issued an instruction to immediately remove the address from the air, and an Alliance spokesman recognized that the address was “ambiguously formulated”. Angela Billings, Spokesman of the ISAF HQ in Kabul, also said that it was “an address with poorly selected words”.

Commenting on the NATO radio address scandal, independent observers express an opinion that the goof made by the NATO “psychological warfare” experts simultaneously once again revealed the actual NATO strategy and approaches to the drug problem in Afghanistan regardless of the NATO command will. Alliance officials already several times claimed that NATO has “no intentions” to eliminate opium poppy plantations in Afghanistan. In the opinion of the NATO strategists, it is an exclusive mission of the Afghan authorities. In so doing, they express a concern as a main argument in favor of this stand that any interference of NATO in this problem may put the Afghan peasants against the Western troops, and thus “play into the hands of Taliban”.

Against this background the UN experts’ forecast that the opium poppy crop this year in Afghanistan will be at least not less (most probably, radically more) than the record crop of 2006, look like almost a verdict for this country.