HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html UN Official - Opium Cuts May Hit Afghan
Pubdate: Wed, 19 Sep 2001
Source: Reuters (Wire)
Copyright: 2001 Reuters Limited
Author: Sitaraman Shankar, Reuters


BOMBAY, India (Reuters) - Afghanistan military capability could be limited 
by the ruling Taliban's decision to stop cultivating opium, a senior 
official of the United Nations International Drug Control Program told 
Reuters Wednesday.

"We expect Afghan opium production to be down to less than 200 tons this 
year from 3,276 tons in 2000," Sandeep Chawla, the UNDCP's chief of 
research told Reuters in an interview from his headquarters in Vienna. 
"Until last year, Afghanistan was the world's largest producer of heroin, 
which is made from opium. rebel-controlled north, but it's traditionally 
been less than a tenth of total Afghan output," said Chawla.

Smuggling the drug to western markets was seen as a major source of funding 
for the Taliban, currently under pressure to hand over Saudi-born dissident 
Osama bin Laden, suspected in last week's attacks on New York and Washington.

Chawla said Afghanistan began cutting back opium production in the summer 
of 2000, following a Taliban view that it was unIslamic. But it also cut 
off a crucial source of funding that has undermined its military capabilities.

Islam bans the use of liquor and all intoxicants.

"Opium cultivation played a pivotal role in the Afghan economy in the 
nineties, and funded resistance to Soviet occupation," Chawla said. "Now 
Afghanistan's capability (to resist attack) is limited, unless other 
sources of financing like smuggling arms and other contraband, or the 
legitimate economy were to pick up," he said.

The UNDCP, which monitors the illicit drug trade across the world and 
carries out surveys in Afghanistan, believes opium production has also been 
hit by a severe drought. In 2001, land used for growing opium in 
Afghanistan fell by 90 percent to around 19,768 acres, Chawla said.

The country's main opium cultivating areas are Helmand in the south and 
Nangarhar in the east, he said.

The bulk of the heroin produced from opium is smuggled along the Balkan 
route -- through Iran, Turkey and southern Europe to markets in the West. 
The central Asian route is growing rapidly, while smuggling across the 
border into Pakistan and India has been reduced, he said.


Afghanistan's decline leaves Myanmar as the largest producer. The UNDCP 
estimates that last year Myanmar made 1,087 tons of illicit opium, roughly 
a third of Afghanistan's production, but valued at prices of $232 a 
kilogram against $28 a kilogram for Afghan opium.

Chawla said Afghan farmers were paid $91 million for their production in 
2000 and less than $60 million in 2001, helped only by a ten-fold increase 
in prices. But these numbers may not tell the whole story, he cautioned.

"It's difficult to estimate exactly how much Afghanistan made from opium 
and its derivatives. For example, heroin sells for as much as $500 a kg in 
some markets," he said.

"There are certainly possibilities that Afghanistan can start growing opium 
again if the situation demands it, but that's not a decision that yields 
results immediately," Chawla said. "Planting takes place in autumn and 
harvesting in spring, so there's a long wait," he said.

"Now the questions center on how much of a stockpile of opium the Afghans 
are sitting on," he said.
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