Pubdate: Tue, 14 Dec 2004
Source: Journal Gazette, The (IN)
Copyright: 2004 The Journal Gazette
Author: Sylvia A. Smith, Washington editor
Bookmark: (Heroin)

WASHINGTON   Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking a reasonable approach 
on ridding his country of poppy production, which jumped dramatically since 
the Taliban was overthrown three years ago, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said 

Pence met briefly with Karzai on Saturday as part of an overseas trip to 
Afghanistan and Pakistan with several other members of Congress. Pence 
delivered holiday cards to soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.

The United Nations has said Afghanistan is turning into a "narco-state;" 
poppy production accounts for a third of the country's total economy. Opium 
and heroin are produced from poppies. Afghanistan supplies 87 percent of 
the world's heroin, the United Nations estimates.

This year, the U.S. government estimated, Afghanistan will produce its 
highest levels of poppy ever, with 206,700 hectares planted with poppies, 
up from 61,000 last year and 30,750 in 2002. Most of the heroin produced 
from Afghan poppies goes to Europe.

"General political and economic circumstances in Afghanistan have improved, 
but the narcotics situation remains serious, despite positive actions by 
both the government and international donors. Given the profound 
destruction brought about by more than 20 years of conflict, the lack of 
many viable alternative crops to opium, and the limited enforcement 
capacity of the central government, poppy cultivation this year approached 
the highest levels ever registered," the Office of National Drug Control 
Policy said in a statement.

The office said the Afghan poppy crop increased 239 percent this year; 
poppies are grown commercially in 28 of 32 provinces. Karzai's government 
"has simply not been able to enforce its decree banning opium production," 
the drug czar's office said. "Only marginal crop destruction in a few 
locations has been undertaken."

Karzai was sworn in last week as Afghanistan's first popularly elected 
president. Two days later, he called on Afghans to declare a holy war 
against the opium trade.

In an interview with CNN Sunday, Karzai said Afghans are embarrassed to be 
the world's largest supplier of opium and heroin. He said he plans to 
destroy the country's poppy fields.

"It hurts our economy, it destroys our government, it brings us a bad 
name," Karzai said, adding that his government would eradicate poppy fields 
over the next two years while helping farmers begin to grow substitute crops.

Pence said Karzai's plan was "a very thoughtful, reasoned, compassionate 
approach to his people."

He said Karzai wants to eradicate poppy production but at the same time 
take into account that many of the farmers, "both through necessity and 
coercion, have found themselves in the poppy trade. So he said we need to 
develop a plan that makes it economically possible to support their 
families while they get out of this trade."

Pence said Karzai's answers were "very satisfactory. He used the phrase 'I 
am in a hurry to do this,' but then he qualified it by saying we have to 
recognize the economic realities of the families that are caught up in this 
trade and deal with it in a candid way."

The Bush administration announced last month it would allocate $780million 
to combat poppy farming and opium production in Afghanistan. But, the New 
York Times reported Sunday that a military report predicted poppy 
cultivation and opium production will continue to increase in Afghanistan 
and that the influence of drug lords will expand.
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