Pubdate: Sun, 02 Sep 2007
Source: Sunday Telegraph (UK)
Copyright: Telegraph Group Limited 2007
Author: Ahmad Zia Massoud, First Vice-President of Afghanistan
Referenced: The UN report
Bookmark: (Opinion)


I have no doubt that the efforts of Britain and the international
community in fighting the opium trade in Afghanistan are
well-intentioned and we are grateful for their support. But it is now
clear that your policy in the south of our country has completely
failed. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent over the last
five years, the UK contributing UKP262 million, the US about $1.6
billion (UKP800m) . Yet UN figures show that opium production
increased by 34 per cent last year and more than doubled in the last
two years. In Helmand, where the British are based, poppies have
spread like a cancer. The province now produces half of Afghanistan's

Why, when so much has been spent, has the policy failed so badly? The
primary reason is insecurity. Opium cultivation has continued due to
the pressure exerted by the Taliban, who "tax" every aspect of the
poppy crop. In more secure provinces, in the north and centre, we have
succeeded in reducing opium cultivation. Second, and almost as
important, the counter-narcotics policy has been much too soft. We are
giving too much "carrot" and not enough "stick". Of course, it is
important to bring development and alternative employment to the
people. Millions of pounds have been committed in provinces including
Helmand for irrigation projects and road-building to help farmers get
their produce to market. But for now this has simply made it easier
for them to grow and transport opium.

What is missing is the "stick". Eradication was so low last year, at
only about 10 per cent of the crop, that it hardly made an impact on
the production and will not be enough to deter farmers from planting
in the future. advertisement

Thirdly, counter-narcotics operations are not in Afghan hands. Poppy
cultivation is an Afghan problem and it needs an Afghan solution. As
President Karzai rightly said last week: "Our friends should listen to

A further point we Afghans must acknowledge is the deep-rooted
corruption that exists in our state institutions involved in combating
narcotics and terrorism. We must wipe out this plague. I believe we
have now reached a critical point in our struggle against the curse of
opium, fundamental to the security and future of Afghanistan. The
opium directly supports those who are killing Afghan and international
troops. Every-one involved in the drugs trade, the farmers, the
factories and the traffickers, is forced to contribute to the Taliban.
This is a vicious circle: getting rid of the poppy in the south has
been difficult because of insecurity, but the insecurity is fuelled by
the poppy. Failure to achieve a substantial reduction in the opium
crop will be equivalent to supporting the Taliban.

The time has come for us to adopt a more forceful approach. We must
switch from ground-based eradication to aerial spraying. This has
several advantages. It is safe - the main ingredient, glyphosate, has
been in use for 30 years - it requires fewer people, and they will be
able to operate in greater safety. It also has the benefit of being
indiscriminate: farmers will no longer be able to bribe officials to
protect their crop.

This should not create anger against the government, since it is
acting with religious and legal justification, nor should it increase
rural poverty. Some of the poorest provinces are succeeding in getting
rid of the poppy, though it is essential that long-term projects are
implemented to develop the economy and provide alternative

If we fail this will become a war of attrition, and more of the
soldiers of Afghanistan, Britain, and other countries will be
needlessly killed. As an old Afghan proverb says: "In fighting wars
you don't hand out sweets." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake