Pubdate: Sun, 05 Aug 2007
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2007 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Matthew Lee, Associated Press Writer
Bookmark: (poppy)


WASHINGTON (AP) - Afghanistan will produce another record poppy 
harvest this year that cements its status as the world's near-sole 
supplier of the heroin source, yet a furious debate over how to 
reverse the trend is stalling proposals to cut the crop, U.S. officials say.

As President Bush prepares for weekend talks with Afghan President 
Hamid Karzai, divisions within the U.S. administration and among NATO 
allies have delayed release of a $475 million counternarcotics 
program for Afghanistan, where intelligence officials see growing 
links between drugs and the Taliban, the officials said.

U.N. figures to be released in September are expected to show that 
Afghanistan's poppy production has risen up to 15 percent since 2006 
and that the country now accounts for 95 percent of the world's crop, 
3 percentage points more than last year, officials familiar with 
preliminary statistics told The Associated Press.

But counterdrug proposals by some U.S. officials have met fierce 
resistance, including boosting the amount of forcible poppy field 
destruction in provinces that grow the most, officials said. The 
approach also would link millions of dollars in development aid to 
benchmarks on eradication; arrests and prosecutions of narcotraders, 
corrupt officials; and on alternative crop production.

Those ideas represent what proponents call an "enhanced 
carrot-and-stick approach" to supplement existing anti-drug efforts. 
They are the focus of the new $475 million program outlined in a 
995-page report, the release of which has been postponed twice and 
may be again delayed due to disagreements, officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because parts of the 
report remain classified.

Counternarcotics agents at the State Department had wanted to release 
a 123-page summary of the strategy last month and then again last 
week, but were forced to hold off because of concerns it may not be 
feasible, the officials said.

Now, even as Bush sees Karzai on Sunday and Monday at the 
presidential retreat in Camp David, Md., a tentative release date of 
Aug. 9, timed to follow the meetings, appears in jeopardy. Some in 
the administration, along with NATO allies Britain and Canada, seek 
revisions that could delay it until at least Aug. 13, the officials said.

The program represents a 13 percent increase over the $420 million in 
U.S. counternarcotics aid to Afghanistan last year. It would adopt a 
bold new approach to "coercive eradication" and set out criteria for 
local officials to receive development assistance based on their 
cooperation, the officials said.

Although the existing aid, supplemented mainly by Britain and Canada 
and supported by the NATO force in Afghanistan, has achieved some 
results-notably an expected rise in the number of "poppy-free" 
provinces from six to at least 12 and possibly 16, mainly in the 
north-production elsewhere has soared, they said.

"Afghanistan is providing close to 95 percent of the world's heroin," 
the State Department's top counternarcotics official, Tom Schweich, 
said at a recent conference. "That makes it almost a sole-source 
supplier" and presents a situation "unique in world history."

Almost all the heroin from Afghanistan makes its way to Europe; most 
of the heroin in the U.S. comes from Latin America.

Afghanistan last year accounted for 92 percent of global opium 
production, compared with 70 percent in 2000 and 52 percent a decade 
earlier. The higher yields in Afghanistan brought world production to 
a record high of 7,286 tons in 2006, 43 percent more than in 2005.

A State Department inspector general's report released Friday noted 
that the counternarcotics assistance is dwarfed by the estimated $38 
billion "street value" of Afghanistan's poppy crop, if all is 
converted to heroin, and said eradication goals were "not realistic."

Schweich, an advocate of the now-stalled plan, has argued for more 
vigorous eradication efforts, particularly in southern Helmand 
province, responsible for some 80 percent of Afghanistan's poppy 
production. It is where, he says, growers must be punished for 
ignoring good-faith appeals to switch to alternative, but less 
lucrative, crops.

"They need to be dealt with in a more severe way," he said at the 
conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International 
Studies. "There needs to be a coercive element, that's something 
we're not going to back away from or shy away from."

But, in fact, many question whether this is the right approach with 
Afghanistan mired in poverty and in the throes of an insurgency run 
by the Taliban and residual al-Qaida forces.

Along with Britain, whose troops patrol Helmand, elements in the 
State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, the 
Defense Department and White House Office of National Drug Control 
Policy have expressed concern, saying that more raids will drive 
farmers with no other income to join extremists.

There is also skepticism about the incentives in the new strategy 
from those who believe development assistance should not be denied to 
local communities because of poppy growth, officials said.

Opponents argue that the benefits of such aid, new roads and other 
infrastructure, schools and hospitals, will themselves be powerful 
tools to combat the narcotrade once constructed.

One U.S. official said the plan was a good one but might take another 
year or two before it can be effectively introduced.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom