Pubdate: Wed, 26 Jun 2002
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Associated Press
Author: Kathy Gannon


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A giant white banner strung across a
war-ruined building urged the Islamic faithful Wednesday to shun drug
use and production - a message hammered home during a ceremony to mark
international day against drug abuse and trafficking.

"Will you fight against drugs?" newly elected President Hamid Karzai
asked a group of young girls, their heads covered in bright red scarves.

"Yes," they shouted.

Shouts of support also came from rows of young boys, all wearing white
shirts with the slogan, "Sports against drugs," gathered for the
ceremony at Kabul University to mark International Day against Drug
Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

"You are our future," Karzai said, speaking from a podium decorated
with a map of Afghanistan emblazoned with the words: "Wheat instead
of drugs."

For Afghanistan, the problem of drug production is a big one. In the
final years of the hard-line Taliban regime, leader Mullah Mohammed
Omar banned the growing of the crimson poppies from which farmers
extract opium, the raw material for heroin production.

To the surprise of much of the world, it worked. Afghanistan went from
being the world's largest producer of opium to virtually opium-free in
a single season.

Then the Taliban collapsed under the U.S.-led assault to punish them
for harboring Osama bin Laden, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

With the collapse of the Taliban, farmers in Afghanistan ripped up
their wheat crops, stunted by a severe drought, and planted poppies.

International drug officials said that because of the timing of the
Taliban's fall, poppy planting began late into the season and harvests
are smaller than they might have been. In eastern Afghanistan, the
Taliban fell in late November, almost a month into the planting
season. In southern Afghanistan the Taliban collapse was a month later.

Despite the late planting, a drought in its fourth year and Karzai's
ban on planting, Afghanistan is expected to produce up to 2,700 tons
of opium, according to the United Nations. This is the same level as
the mid-1990s, but below the 1999 peak of 4,000 tons.

There are no reliable statistics on drug abuse in Afghanistan because
the country was too poor and too deeply in turmoil to afford a
research and control program.

However, use of opium and hashish is widespread in some areas and
drugs are sold openly despite efforts by the new government to curb
the practice.

Bernard Frahi, the U.N. Drug Control Program's representative for
Pakistan and Afghanistan, said Karzai's government has banned poppy
growing and is trying to find farmers alternative crops.

A U.N. drug report released Wednesday said Afghanistan became the
world's leading opium producer during the 1990s, including the years
ruled by the same warlords who are again in power.

The two largest opium producing areas of eastern and southern
Afghanistan are under the control of the same men, Haji Abdul Qadir
and Gul Aga, who were sharply criticized for encouraging opium
production when they were in power prior to the Taliban. Qadir is also
one of four deputy presidents appointed by Karzai.

But Frahi said the United Nations will encourage all governors to
tackle the problem and is supporting the interim administration's
order banning opium production and investing $2 million to establish
an anti-drug department in the Kabul police force.

In his speech at Kabul University, Karzai called for alternative crop

"The drug traffickers are making money and giving our country a bad
name," Karzai said.

The economy has been crippled by decades of war that has destroyed
infrastructure, further hurting farmers planting low-profit crops.

Roads are strewn with rocks and boulders and gouged by rockets and
mortars. Canal systems are in shambles since the 1980s invasion of the
former Soviet Union. They were neglected after Islamic factions took
power in 1992 and started fighting among themselves until the Taliban
took power in 1996. The Taliban's hard-line rule and refusal to hand
over bin Laden and shut down suspected terrorist training camps
enraged the international community, which imposed sanctions.

Kabul University, once littered with land mines of feuding factions,
stands at the end of a wide boulevard flanked on either side by
rocket-ruined buildings. At the beginning of the Des Masang
neighborhood that leads to the university, giant white banners warned
that drugs would ruin Afghans, their country and their security.

Beneath the banners were the ruins of a bitter civil war that
flattened entire neighborhoods, killed 50,000 people and devastated
the economy.

"Had there been a profitable crop besides poppy, we would have not
cultivated poppy," said Jabbar Khan, 40, who harvested poppies this
year from a farm near the southern city of Kandahar. "Due to drought,
no other crop meets (family) expenses."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake