Monday July 9 2007
Afghanistan's anti-drug minister resigns
Move comes at a time of heavy opium crops and herbicide debates
Scroll down to also read "Record opium crop in southern Afghanistan"
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN Afghanistan's counternarcotics minister has resigned only weeks after Afghan laborers finished cultivating an opium poppy crop that could exceed last year's record haul.
Habibullah Qaderi's resignation, confirmed by a deputy minister Sunday, came as U.S. and Afghan officials debate privately whether to use herbicides to reduce the drug problem.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected that approach for the 2007 growing season, partly because some Afghans fear the chemicals could affect livestock, legitimate crops and drinking water, fears the U.S. says are unfounded.
Much of the profit from the country's $3.1 billion drug trade is believed to fund Taliban fighters waging a violent campaign against the government. Officials said Sunday recent clashes between police and insurgents left 11 suspected militants dead in the south, while Taliban fighters ambushed police in Kandahar province, wounding 15 officers.
No replacement yet
Qaderi submitted his resignation to the president about five days ago, said Gen. Khodaidad, the deputy minister. The resignation was voluntary and driven in part by health problems, he said, though Qaderi has taken a new position in Canada as Afghanistan's consulate general. Karzai has not named a replacement.
Qaderi headed the ministry since December 2004 and survived several Cabinet shuffles, but Afghanistan's poppy crop has ballooned under his watch and the country's production last year accounted for more than 90 percent of the world's heroin supply. Western and U.N. officials have said this year's harvest could equal or exceed last year's record crop.
Khodaidad, who like many Afghans goes by one name, said Qaderi did a "wonderful job" in the north, where cultivation is expected to drop, but said "we have some problems" in the south, where violence has spiked this year.
The U.S. has proposed spraying the crops with herbicide as it does with coca plants in Colombia, where the current U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, William Wood, previously served.
London ~~ Wednesday June 27, 2007
Record opium crop in southern Afghanistan
· Region set to become world's biggest supplier
· Cocaine consumption up in Europe, says UN report Richard Norton-Taylor
Afghan opium poppies in full bloom: Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, where some 7,000 British troops are based, is on the verge of becoming the world's biggest drugs supplier, cultivating more opium than entire countries such as Burma, Morocco, or even Colombia, the UN warned yesterday.
The region was largely responsible for a huge increase last year in Afghanistan's opium poppy harvest, the origin of most of the heroin on the streets of Britain and mainland Europe. And Helmand's poppy harvest is expected to increase again this year, according to the latest annual report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
"Curing Helmand of its drug and insurgency cancer will rid the world of the most dangerous source of its most dangerous narcotic and go a long way to bring security to the region," said Antonio Maria Costa, the UN agency's executive director.
The report will not be welcome reading for the British government. Five years ago, Tony Blair said Britain would take responsibility for overseeing Afghanistan's anti-narcotics programme. Last year, Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, said an increase in the opium harvest planted before British troops arrived in Helmand was one thing, a further rise this year - now predicted by UN and British officials - would be quite another.
"Drugs and the insurgency are intrinsically linked," a British official admitted yesterday. British military commanders, meanwhile, warn that attempts to eradicate the poppy crop without providing alternative incomes will simply increase hostility to foreign troops and increase support for the Taliban.
A US proposal to spray the poppy crop was vetoed by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
British officials say their priority is to attack the drug traffickers and their laboratories before embarking on a long-term programme to provide Afghans with alternative crops to farm. However, the UN report says that even removing the top Afghan drug lords may not have any effect on cross-border trade with dealers in Pakistan, Iran, and to the north of the country.
A dramatic 49% increase last year to a record opium poppy harvest in the country led to a new record in the world production of opium, the UN says. Afghanistan accounts for 92% of global illict opium production. The total export value of the country's opium harvest is estimated by the UN to amount to more than $3bn (£1.5bn), almost half the size of the country's entire gross domestic product. More than 12% of Afghanistan's population of 23 million is involved in opium poppy cultivation.
There are about 11 million heroin addicts in the world, of which 3.3 million are in Europe, according to the UN report. It says the rise in Afghanistan's opium cultivation in 2006 offset the sixth successive year of decline in opium cultivation in south-east Asia.
The report says that coca cultivation is falling in South America and cocaine consumption is declining in the US. However, consumption is rising in Europe, particularly in Britain, Italy and Spain, the main entry point for cocaine in Europe.
The report also suggests that overall drug abuse is being contained, with total production, trafficking, and consumption, of illicit drugs largely stabilised. Drug seizures have continued to increase, though it adds that traffickers are establishing new routes, exploiting Africa in particular.
"This threat needs to be addressed quickly to stamp out organised crime, money laundering and corruption and to prevent the spread of drug use that could cause havoc across a continent already plagued by many other tragedies," Mr Costa said.
Cannabis, grown in 172 countries, often in small plots by users themselves, continues to account for the vast majority of illegal drug use and is consumed by about 160 million people, the report says.
Amphetamine-type stimulants - including ecstasy - remain the second-most widely consumed group of substances, it says. Over the 2005-2006 period, some 25 million people are estimated to have used amphetamines at least once in the previous 12 months, about the same as a year earlier.
At a glance
· A 49% increase in opium production in Afghanistan has seen a new record in the world production
· Afghanistan accounts for 92% of global illict opium production.
· Of the 11m heroin addicts in the world, 3.3m of them in Europe
· Cannabis is consumed by 160m people worldwide
· Over the 2005-2006 period, 25m people are estimated to have used amphetamines at least once in the previous 12 months
· More than 12% of Afghanistan's population is involved in poppy cultivation.