Pubdate: Mon, 24 Sep 2007
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Steven Edwards


UNITED NATIONS - Canada and other countries agreed yesterday to back 
stepped-up operations to counter drug production in Afghanistan -- a 
move that some say will lead to Canadian troops being drawn into 
controversial drug-eradication and interdiction activities.

At a high-level meeting on Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Maxime 
Bernier put Canada's name to a communique that expresses "great 
concern" at the expansion of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.

The production of heroin-producing opiates reached a "frighteningly 
new level" last year, according to a recent UN survey, and Canada is 
among countries that say profits from the illicit drug trade are 
funding the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

But eradicating drugs is controversial because poor farmers also 
cultivate poppies, saying it's the only way they can make a living.

"Breaking this linkage (between drugs production and insurgent 
financing) is vital to creating a stable, prosperous and democratic 
Afghanistan," the statement released after the closed gathering says.

While Canada's 2,500 troops in Afghanistan are not involved in drug 
eradication, the statement says the "participants agreed to 
collectively support increased Afghan government efforts to fight the 
menace of poppy cultivation."

The endorsement comes as drug-eradication efforts in Afghanistan will 
be challenged today, as two respected think-tanks issue in-depth reports.

Dutch-based Transnational Institute will say the UN and western 
countries are "overreacting" to the increase in drug production in 
Afghanistan. The report warns that stepping up counter-narcotics 
operations may lead to violence.

"The increased production is set to fall anyway because it 
represented an over-supply that world demand (for drugs) does not 
justify," Martin Jelsma, head of the institute's drugs and democracy 
program, said.

"Stepping up eradication could further deteriorate the already highly 
delicate security situation," Mr. Jelsma said.

An increase in anti-narcotics operations could require at least 
logistical support from international forces, Mr. Jelsma said. And he 
said a crackdown would increase corruption in the country, as tribal 
leaders with contacts in the Afghan government offer bribes to be spared.

"International troops are bound to get mixed up in all those power 
plays, and they would be seen as less neutral," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart