Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jan 2002
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Associated Press
Author: Ellen Knickmeyer, AP Writer


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Afghan officials haven't dropped by Haji
Khudi Noor's dim nook in Kandahar's bustling opium market to order a
halt to his business. Foreign aid workers haven't come to tell him how
to feed his 35-member family if he did.

Until one - or both - happens, Khudi Noor says, opening his brown
shawl to reveal a lap piled high with patties of raw opium,
Afghanistan's new opium ban will have little force against its new
opium boom.

``Everywhere it's growing, everywhere,'' he said Friday to emphatic
nods. ``All the country is in this business.''

``I must support my family, but how?'' the merchant asks. ``Stop this
business, and not do anything?''

It's a question the country's new leaders have yet to answer but must
do so soon if the ban is to be at all effective.

The United Nations gave early warning this month of a resurgence in
the opium business in Afghanistan, which produced three-fourths of the
world's supply before Mullah Mohammad Omar cracked down on
poppy-growing with a typical Taliban vengeance.

With foreign powers and aid donors watching, the interim government
led by Prime Minister Hamid Karzai renewed - and redoubled - the
ousted Taliban regime's ban on Jan. 16. Karzai's decree forbade not
just poppy growing, as the Taliban did, but production and trafficking
in all narcotics.

The U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention plans to conduct
a ground survey in coming months of the ban's effectiveness. As yet,
though, there is little sign of the fledgling Afghan government
enforcing the renewed ban. And if word of it has reached farmers, they
are desperate enough to take their chances, just as they did under the

Afghan farmers recall the Taliban enforcing Mullah Omar's ban by
sending helicopters to swoop down on poppy fields, and by hanging
their cultivators from time to time. By 2001, the Taliban had managed
to cut the country's opium production by 95 percent.

But Afghan opium magnates can have power that transcends transient

Here in the southern province of Kandahar, for example, one alleged
opium lord with a reputation of having supported the Taliban recently
threw a lunch for no fewer than 1,000 leaders and minions of the new
post-Taliban regime, officials say.

Would such opium powers have to heed the new opium

``He will have no choice,'' vowed Yusuf Pashtun, a respected aide of
Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha.

There are no figures on the increase in the year's just-planted opium
crop. But those in the business say the tiny green seedlings are
sprouting again in fields across Afghanistan.

In two months or so, they say, Afghan farmers will be harvesting
bright flowers oozing with sticky opium resin, ready for processing
into heroin.

``If we got any aid today, we will gladly destroy all these crops
tomorrow,'' said farmer Naqeeb Ullah, nurturing a thumb-high patch of
opium poppy seedlings in a field outside Kandahar.

``We would be happy to stop, because it's hard work, and the pay is
not good. But we have no choice to do any other thing,'' the farmer

The U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention plans to conduct
a ground survey in coming months of the ban's effectiveness before the
harvest season.

Afghanistan supplies about 90 percent of the heroin used in Europe,
according to United Nations narcotics officials. Most of the heroin in
the United States originates in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Drought appears to be the only check on opium production, but it has
also withered food crops Afghans need to survive. Four years of failed
rains, followed by the breakdown in law and order that accompanied the
U.S.-led routing of the Taliban, have left farmers open to any means
to survive, the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention cautions.

Touring the villages where opium poppies are grown, it's easy to see
how farmers would be reluctant to renounce one of their country's few
resources. Hamlets are so remote and so poor that donkeys buck in the
streets at the unfamiliar sound of car engines, and children drag rags
tied to strings for toys.

Many Afghans claim their own people eschew opium.

``We know it's not good. It's against humanity. It destroys the
people, makes them crazy, makes them jobless. It destroys families,''
said white-bearded Amenullah, another opium trader in Kandahar's market.

``If the United States, if the United Nations, would bring money to
Afghanistan, give opportunity to work, we would not work any more in
opium,'' he said.

``But there is no money, there is no work. Everywhere, there is
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