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Afghan Report: February 12, 2004

12 February 2004, Volume 3, Number 6
By Amin Tarzi

Since the demise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in December 2001, many goals of the international community and the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) have been achieved -- from relative emancipation of Afghan women to the promulgation of the country's new constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January and 5 February 2004). Most importantly, Afghanistan no longer serves as the nest for international terrorist organizations.

Ongoing efforts continue in all of these and other aspects of helping Afghanistan to take steps towards becoming a viable nation-state. However, there is one crucial area that most of the countries involved in Afghanistan's rehabilitation are choosing to neglect: the ever-increasing and widespread cultivation of opium (for more on this issue, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003). In fact, in this area Afghanistan has steadily regressed since 2001.

According to the estimates of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghan farmers produced 3,400 tons of opium in 2002 compared to 185 tons the preceding year -- an alarming increase. The numbers have continued to worsen. In 2003, a year in which three-quarters of the global opium supply originated in Afghanistan, production increased by another 6 percent to 3,600 tons. It is projected that cultivation will increase yet again in 2004. UNODC has estimated that the output of opium production in Afghanistan could be around $2.3 billion. It is estimated that 7 percent of the Afghan population -- 1.7 million people -- are directly involved in opium production, and UNODC assesses that 500,000 individuals globally are in some way involved in the Afghan opium business.

Also worrisome is the fact that opium cultivation has been introduced to regions of Afghanistan that traditionally have not grown the crop (see news section below).

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned recently that the international community faces critical decisions, adding that if counternarcotics commitments to Afghanistan are not translated into lower levels of opium production, there is a "risk of [the] opium economy undermining all that has been achieved in creating a democratic modern Afghanistan" (see news section below).

Opium Business Helps Terrorism

Costa also warned the International Conference on Counter-Narcotics, held in Kabul from 8-10 February that "Fighting drug trafficking equals fighting terrorism."

There are two links between the narcotics trade and terrorism in Afghanistan.

The first connection concerns the funds directly channeled from the sale of opium to Al-Qaeda, neo-Taliban, or other organizations fighting against the ATA and its foreign supporters. The director-general of Afghanistan's Counter-Narcotics Department, Mirwais Yasini, told the same counternarcotics conference that militants earn an estimated $100 million-$200 million a year from drug production in the country. Investigators sent to Afghanistan by the U.S. Congress have discovered that drug money is filling the gap left by funds that were flowing to the Al-Qaeda network from countries such as Saudi Arabia before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. In one particular case, the investigators, whose findings are expected to be disclosed at a hearing sometime after 16 February, found that Osama bin Laden was earning close to a quarter of a million dollars annually from the Afghan drug barons.

Second, there is an indirect link between opium cultivation and terrorism. Namely, while those who control the cultivation of poppies may not be directly linked with terrorists or terrorist organizations, they are controlling huge swathes of Afghan territory and not allowing the central government to expand its full sovereignty. This, in turn, allows the creation of black holes throughout Afghanistan, where terrorist and/or their sympathizers can be active with little or no government control or opposition. Moreover, fighting between rival drug barons, some of whom are Afghan government officials (see news section below), is sometimes confused by international forces stationed in Afghanistan as terrorist activity. Responding to the increasing drug turf wars consumes much time and effort of the antiterror coalition and needlessly distracts them from their primary focus of fighting the war on terror.

Beyond terrorism, something that has remained unnoticed is the increasing number of Afghans who are addicted to heroin -- a fact that translates into an increase in cases of AIDS in the country though sharing of intravenous needles.

What Is Being Done?

ATA Chairman Hamid Karzai told the counternarcotics conference that Afghanistan has tried to destroy poppy farms and laboratories, and that the government has attempted to prevent narcotics smuggling. However, Afghanistan has not been successful in these efforts, Karzai conceded.

Yasini echoed these sentiments, saying that his department has "used different approaches to prevent poppy cultivation, but none of them helped." The current strategy for his department is to use military and police force (see news section below). According to Yasini, force was effectively used during a top-secret mission in January in northeastern Afghanistan, where U.S. warplanes destroyed a narcotics laboratory after British-trained Afghan forces confiscated 20 tons of opium.

Costa, citing the January operation, said that it sent shock waves through the Afghan drug world. He then asked for the resources to increase the number of similar operations and that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force also be involved in combating drugs in Afghanistan. However, NATO has so far been reluctant to commit itself to tackling this issue. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently stated that counternarcotics operations were not the main responsibility of the NATO-led international force (see news section below and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 October 2003 and 23 January 2004).

Some members of NATO are keenly aware of the scourge of the drug trade, that it is only delaying and even possibly destroying Afghanistan's chances of moving toward becoming a viable state. They are also aware that this problem has a direct effect on the security of the country and the security of the international troops as well. Bill Rammell, the United Kingdom's minister responsible for his country's role in the campaign against the drug trade, recently said, "Ninety-five percent of the heroin on British streets is from Afghanistan so it really is one area where foreign policy coincides with domestic policy." The United Kingdom happens to be the lead nation in trying to curb Afghanistan's narcotics problem, but unfortunately views in London are not shared by other key NATO member states. Some European diplomats have even claimed that Afghanistan is not the origin of heroin on their streets, arguing rather that Europe gets its heroin from Columbia.

Nearly a year ago in this report, we wrote, "The campaign by the international antiterrorism coalition may have sought to eradicate the seeds of terrorism in Afghanistan, but it has done little to address the basic needs of the peasants, who have been driven to cultivate opium poppies, thereby fomenting the global narcotics industry" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003). Sadly, the situation has worsened since last February.

Let us hope, for the sake of Afghanistan and teenagers and others in Europe and elsewhere, that in February 2005 we can write about a decrease in Afghan opium production and an increase in domestic and international security as a direct benefit. Until the drug barons lose ground -- figuratively and literally -- in Afghanistan, terrorists and other rogue elements in the country will continue to thrive, ultimately thwarting success in Afghanistan and the global war on terrorism.

Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA) Chairman Hamid Karzai inaugurated the International Conference on Counter-Narcotics in Kabul on 9 February, Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai said opium-poppy cultivation and heroin production pose serious problems for Afghanistan and the world. The increase in drug production in Afghanistan is also greatly damaging Afghanistan's international image, Karzai said. He outlined measures taken so far by his administration to combat what he called an "evil phenomenon," but he stressed that Afghanistan needs more funds to make further progress. Karzai also said Afghan farmers are not benefiting from poppy cultivation, adding that such money goes to international narcotics and terrorism networks. He acknowledged, however, "that Afghan farmers, due to the last 30 years of conflict and poverty, have had to grow poppies," AFP reported on 9 February. Afghan farmers need an alternative means of livelihood, including substitute crops, Karzai said. (Amin Tarzi)

The director-general of Afghanistan's Counter-Narcotics Department, Mirwais Yasini, told the International Conference on Counter-Narcotics on 9 February that his department has "used different approaches to prevent poppy cultivation, but none of them helped," Hindukosh news agency reported. Yasini added that his department's current strategy is to prevent poppy cultivation "only by force." (Amin Tarzi)

Yasini announced that the war on drugs has begun in Afghanistan, AFP reported on 8 February. Speaking before the working groups of the International Conference on Counter-Narcotics in Kabul, Yasini said his department's British-trained elite unit carried out a top-secret operation in January that led to the seizure of around 2 tons of drugs in the city of Shurabak in Badakhshan Province. The U.S. military destroyed the laboratory by bombing it once the ground operation was completed, he added. The operation in Shurabak "was only the beginning of our fight against drugs," Yasini told the conference, adding that his department "will continue these kind of operations." The executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, issued a public statement saying the international community risks an "opium economy undermining all that has been achieved in creating a democratic new Afghanistan" if it does not commit itself to reducing Afghan drug production, AFP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

Yasini warned that the international community needs to recognize that Afghanistan cannot tackle the increase in opium production alone, AFP reported on 6 February. Yasini estimated that Afghanistan -- the world's largest producer of opium poppies -- requires around $300 million to stem poppy growth. Currently the United Kingdom, as the international community's lead country in combating narcotics in Afghanistan, has pledged to contribute $128 million over the next three years for the effort, AFP noted. "This is not an issue one country can do on its own," Yasini said. "We would like the whole international community to help us." Yasini warned that militants, such as neo-Taliban, earn an estimated $100 million-$200 million a year from the drug production (see feature above). Moreover, "heroin addiction is increasing day by day in Afghanistan," Yasini said. It is estimated that Afghanistan is responsible for two-thirds of the world's illegal opium production. (Amin Tarzi)

Sayyed Ahmad Haqbin, governor of Kapisa Province north of Kabul, says poppy cultivation is increasing in his province, the Kabul-based daily "Erada" reported on 8 February. Haqbin attributed the rise to the appalling economic conditions of local farmers and the encouragement of drug smugglers. Haqbin singled out remote districts of Tagab and Nejrab as areas where large amounts of poppy are grown. Kapisa is not traditionally among Afghanistan's poppy-growing regions. (Amin Tarzi)

Twenty combatants were killed in recent armed clashes in the Argo district of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, Afghanistan Television reported on 8 February. According to the report, "clashes between armed men" began on 5 February and ended three days later after intervention by the Defense Ministry. The report did not elaborate on the causes of the fighting. (Amin Tarzi)

Deputy Interior Minister Hilalludin Hilal said the fighting in Badakhshan Province represents an attempt by two rival commanders to control revenues from the opium trade, "The New York Times," reported on 9 February. The fighting pitted militia troops loyal to the district chief against forces loyal to the Argo district police chief, according to Hilal. The two men, who went unnamed, have reportedly been at odds since November. Badakhshan Province is among the leading locations of opium production in the country and serves as a major route for transporting narcotics to Tajikistan on the way to Russia and Europe, the New York daily added. (Amin Tarzi)

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told the International Conference on Counter-Narcotics in Kabul on 10 February that foreign troops in Afghanistan must combat drug traffickers, the BBC reported. Costa warned that while he cannot call Afghanistan "a narco-state now,... [the country] is obviously at a critical juncture." He added that the more the international community tolerates the situation, "the more dangerous the situation becomes." Costa said the rare U.S. bombing of a drug laboratory in northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan in January sent shock waves through Afghanistan's drug world. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who was in Kabul for the transfer of command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said on 9 February that counternarcotics operations are not the main responsibility of the NATO-led international force. (Amin Tarzi)

At a ceremony held in Kabul on 9 February, Canada assumed command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Germany and the Netherlands, Hindukosh news agency reported. Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said safeguarding security in the Afghan capital during the Constitutional Loya Jirga in December was the ISAF's greatest achievement in 2003. ISAF's new commander, Canadian Lieutenant General Rick Hiller, said that while command of the force has changed, its commitment to Afghanistan has not. (Amin Tarzi)

The outgoing deputy commander of ISAF, Canadian Major General Andrew Leslie, said on 6 February that his country will probably reduce its troop numbers in Afghanistan, AFP reported. Leslie said Canada might leave 500 of its current 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan once the Canadian command of ISAF comes to an end. "As a professional soldier, I can tell you that the Canadian Army does not have the critical mass of soldiers to maintain 2,000 soldiers in Afghanistan past August," Leslie said. The Canadian general warned, however, that Afghanistan would rapidly plunge into "large-scale violence" without the ISAF presence. Leslie said he is confident that ISAF will expand its presence in northern Afghanistan, but he pointed out that ISAF requires 8,000-12,000 additional troops in order to do so (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). ISAF currently comprises about 5,000 troops. (Amin Tarzi)

Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer said in Kabul on 8 January that the NATO-led ISAF is planning further expansion in the form of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), IRIN reported the next day. In January, NATO assumed responsibility for a PRT in the northern Afghan province of Konduz under German command. NATO sees the PRT in Konduz as a pilot project for possible further expansion of the force (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 23 January 2004). While de Hoop Scheffer said he is "confident that more PRTs are going to be set up [by NATO]," he added, according to IRIN, "When exactly that is going to happen, I do not know." Afghan officials, on the other hand, have suggested that NATO expedite the establishment of new PRTs. "Unfortunately we have not been able to establish a capable and trained police force across the country, and the PRTs will prove a key element in accelerating police training, voter registration for presidential elections, and administrative reform in the local and provincial levels," Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Hilalludin Hilal said. (Amin Tarzi)

ATA Chairman Hamid Karzai dismissed the head of the country's intelligence service, known as the National Security Directorate, on 4 February, "The New York Times" reported the next day. No replacement has been announced. The dismissal of Mohammad Aref Sarwari, who directed intelligence for the United Front (Northern Alliance) prior to the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001, is viewed as a sign of Karzai's confidence, the New York daily commented. UN and human rights officials have been calling for Sarwari's removal for allegedly spying on citizens and safeguarding the interests of his own faction rather than serving the interests of the state in general, as well as purported human rights abuses, the report added. Karzai has appointed Sarwari as a ministerial-level adviser to the head of state, Radio Afghanistan reported on 4 February. (Amin Tarzi)

Karzai appointed Amrullah Saleh on 5 February to head the National Security Directorate, Afghanistan Television reported. Saleh's appointment came one day after Karzai dismissed Mohammad Aref Sarwari from that post. (Amin Tarzi)

A spokesman for the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan has said those forces expect militants who oppose the Afghan Transitional Administration to realize their mistakes and begin cooperating with the central government, Hindukosh news agency reported on 4 February. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty added that the demand to cooperate with the state does not extend to opposition leaders such as Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar or Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The statement roughly coincides with the announcement by coalition forces that they are planning new military operations aimed at capturing Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders by the end of 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 February 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Pakistan has handed over a rogue military commander from the eastern Paktiya Province, Pacha Khan Zadran, to Afghan authorities, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 4 February. Zadran had been in detention in Pakistan since early December. According to Zadran's two sons, their father is now in Kabul. Abdul Wali, one of Zadran's sons, told AIP that he is "not saying anything more" about the case, but added that he would "like to say that reconciliation is something good. As to what will happen in the future, it is something that we will all witness." Unnamed officials in Kabul have said that Zadran was arrested in Pakistan with their involvement, AP reported on 4 February. Zadran was a signatory of the 2001 Bonn agreement and an ally of both Hamid Karzai and the United States before he went into armed opposition to the government in Kabul the following year. Zadran recently pledged full cooperation with the Transitional Administration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2004). (Amin Tarzi)

Deputy Interior Minister Hilalludin Hilal questioned the validity of a claim made by Karzai that 10 or so civilians were killed in a U.S. air strike on 18 January in the central Afghan province of Oruzgan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January and 5 February 2004), AP reported on 6 February. Hilal said members of his ministry who traveled to the area where the air strike occurred saw six graves, not 11, as has been claimed. The villagers told the investigating team that five other victims "fell into the river and were swept away," Hilal told AP. Hilal claimed that Karzai was told "all of this." "The Taliban want to make propaganda against the Americans," Hilal said, adding that militants have been active in the area and "are coming and going in this region, and the people are afraid of them." The commander of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno, on 3 February rejected the Afghan report cited by Karzai, maintaining the initial U.S. claim that five militants were the only people killed. (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari said he rejects anything prohibited by "divine law" and supports measures taken in Afghanistan that are in accord with Sharia (Islamic law), Hindukosh news agency reported on 8 February. Shinwari reportedly added that steps taken by the governor of the western Afghan province of Herat, Mohammad Ismail Khan, to uphold Islamic law are praiseworthy, while he warned Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin not to continue broadcasts of female singers on state-owned Afghanistan Television. Shinwari warned of unspecified consequences if the broadcasts continue. The controversy began when Afghanistan Television surprised its prime-time viewers on 12 January by showing an old film clip of a popular female Afghan singer (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January and 5 February 2004). The issue marks an early hurdle in the implementation of the new Afghan Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for men and women. (Amin Tarzi)

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has selected Jean Arnault of France as his special representative for Afghanistan, UN News Center reported on 10 February. Annan has informed the UN Security Council of his intention. Arnault, who has been serving as acting special representative in Afghanistan since Lakhdar Brahimi stepped down in early January, has served as a deputy to Brahimi for political affairs since March (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004). Arnault served as a UN political officer in Kabul in 1990. (Amin Tarzi)

Mohammad Zaher, the former Afghan king, left Kabul on 3 February for medical treatment in New Delhi, the official Afghan Bakhtar News Agency reported the next day. Mohammad Zaher, who is described as the "Father of the Nation" in the new Afghan Constitution, is 88 years old. The report did not specify the nature of Mohammad Zaher's illness, saying only that he "has not been feeling well recently." Afghan National Security Council adviser Zalmay Rasul is accompanying the former king on the trip. An Afghan government spokesman, Hamid Helmi, said Mohammad Zaher's illness is "not very serious," AP reported on 4 February. (Amin Tarzi)

Former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher is in satisfactory condition in New Delhi, Afghanistan Television reported on 10 February. He is reportedly suffering from an intestinal blockage. (Amin Tarzi)

Deputy Agriculture Minister Mohammad Sharif met with Israeli Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Mikhael Ratzon on the sidelines of an economic conference in New Delhi on 4 February and asked for Israel's help in boosting Afghan know-how in the agricultural sector, the Tel Aviv daily "Ma'ariv" reported the next day. Sharif reportedly told Ratzon that Afghans have heard about Israel's technological innovations in the sector and would like to invite a team of Israeli experts to visit Afghanistan and send an Afghan delegation to Israel to learn new techniques. If the plans materialize, it will mark the first time "that Israeli official elements openly visit Afghanistan," "Ma'ariv" commented. The report added that the two countries have no diplomatic relations, adding that Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom received a letter from his Afghan counterpart Abdullah Abdullah in 2003 requesting support for his country's bid for membership in UNESCO and signaling Afghanistan's desire to tighten relations and cooperation with Israel. However, no noticeable progress in bilateral relations has followed, "Ma'ariv" added. (Amin Tarzi)

14 February 1978 -- U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs killed in Kabul.

11 February 1988 -- Sayyed Bahauddin Majruh, head of the Afghan Information Office in Peshawar, Pakistan, assassinated.

11 February 1993 -- Burhanuddin Rabbani's government inflicts heavy losses on Hezb-e Wahdat, expelling it from western Kabul.

Sources: "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan," by Ludwig W. Adamec, (Metuchen: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1991). "Sueddeutsche Zeitung."