Pubdate: Thu, 13 Nov 2014
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2014 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Ron Nordland, New York Times


KABUL - Afghan opium cultivation and production again reached 
historic highs in 2014, UN officials reported Wednesday. And in a 
sign of how deeply entwined drug trafficking and the Afghan political 
system have become, the officials said protracted elections this year 
were at least part of the cause.

"With the presidential election ongoing there was a huge demand of 
funding," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, a senior official with the UN 
Office on Drugs and Crime. "And that funding is not available in the 
licit economy, and that money has to come from somewhere, so they 
turned to the illicit economy."

Still, officials noted at least one encouraging sign, saying that the 
new government of President Ashraf Ghani had moved to arrest three 
judges accused of aiding the escape of a US-wanted drug kingpin this year.

In 2011, Haji Lal Jan Ishaqzai was designated a drug kingpin by 
President Obama, a procedure that imposes financial sanctions on 
major drug lords. The Afghans arrested him in 2012 and convicted him 
in a special drug court in Kabul in 2013.

The arrests of the judges were welcomed by UN officials as a signal 
that Ghani's government was willing to treat drug trafficking more 
seriously than past officials have.

But the United Nations and the Afghan Ministry of Counter-Narcotics 
said Wednesday that Afghan opium cultivation had increased by 7 
percent over 2013, while production had increased as much as 17 
percent. The rise came even though worldwide demand for Afghan opium 
has stagnated.

The eight-month presidential and provincial elections, which included 
two rounds of voting and a protracted dispute over the results, 
affected opium production not only in the increased demand by 
politicians for campaign cash but also in diverting police and 
military resources to the elections and away from opium eradication.

Andrey Avetisyan, a former Russian ambassador to Afghanistan and now 
the head of the UN drug agency here, said that UN officials had met 
with Ghani recently and were encouraged by his concern about the problem.

"He understood well that drug trafficking suffocates the normal 
economic development," Avetisyan said. "We are quite optimistic."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom