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Afghan Report: February 20, 2003

20 February 2003, Volume 2, Number 7
By T. Goudsouzian and Amin Tarzi

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.

On the outskirts of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan, at the foot of the Spinghar Mountains, a lone peasant makes the rounds of his crops. Armed with a pocketknife, he makes his way through the stalks. He inspects the bulbous capsules. They are not yet ready to be milked. But he is eager to reap the fruits of his labor. Nowadays, the going price for a kilogram of his yield is around $400.

"Here, have some," he says, splitting open a green bulb and emptying the tiny white seeds in his palm. "They're good for you!"

Opium poppies have been cultivated in Afghanistan for centuries, but the scale of this cultivation increased considerably during the decade of Soviet occupation beginning in 1979. Cultivation increased even further following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and the consequent cessation in U.S. military aid to the mujahedin.

According to a 3 February report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) titled "The Opium Economy in Afghanistan: An International Problem," Afghanistan's opium production increased more than fifteenfold from 1979 to 2002 (for the full text of the report, see By the middle of the 1990s, all the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, as well as Iran and Pakistan, were affected by either the production or trafficking of narcotics on their territories, or both, as in the case of Pakistan, for example (for a review of U.S.-Iran cooperation in combating illicit drug trafficking from Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Iran Report" 20 January 2003).

Being at the helm of the narcotics industry, the sale of opium helped finance the Taliban regime beginning in 1996, and it also likely helped fund the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. According to the UNODC, the production of opium in Afghanistan peaked in 1999 at an estimated 4,600 tons. By 2000, the country was responsible for 70 percent of the global production of illegal opium.

Only a fraction of the opium grown in Afghanistan, however, is processed inside the country. The majority of the output is made into morphine and heroin in Turkey and to a lesser extent in Pakistan and some of the Central Asian republics.

Having been hounded by the international community, Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar in July 2000 issued a decree banning opium cultivation in the country but not its trade (likely a gesture to gain international recognition for the Taliban regime). According to the United Nations Drug Control Program, opium production in Afghanistan was reduced greatly following the ban from 3,300 tons in 2000 to just 185 tons the following year, a decrease of 94 percent.

Following the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the creation of the Afghan interim administration, President Hamid Karzai in January 2002 banned both the cultivation and trade of opium poppies in the country. Local authorities, however, have warned that the law alone will not put an end to these practices. Instead, some officials have called for a systematic plan that will take into account the dire economic conditions of the country's peasants, i.e., those involved in opium-poppy cultivation.

The UNODC report estimates that in 2002 opium production continued in six Afghan provinces -- Helmand, Nangarhar, Badakhshan, Oruzgan, Kandahar, and Ghor -- in defiance of Karzai's ban. In 2002, Afghanistan produced 3,400 tons of opium, even more than the 2000 crop.

According to Hazrat Ali, military commander of Army Corps No. 1, which is in charge of Nangarhar, Nuristan, Laghman, and Konar provinces, his jurisdiction has about 40,000 opium-poppy farmers. Ali claimed that when the central government issued an order to destroy their poppy fields, more than 24,000 hectares were burned. Still, the farmers are indignant, he said.

A drive through the rural areas of the eastern provinces clearly shows that many farmers have no intention of ending their cultivation of opium poppies. One farmer said: "I heard that we had to stop farming, but I won't stop till someone comes and tells me to my face. We have been doing this for many years, and it is our source of income."

Many farmers have been forced to defy Karzai's ban for purely economic reasons. Because of an ongoing drought, their legitimate crops, including wheat, fruits, and vegetables, have been damaged. In addition, these crops generally require more water than opium poppies. In many areas, farmers have also complained of a lack of seed and fertilizer, further hampering the transition to the production of legally approved crops.

Helmand Province Deputy Governor Haji Hayatollah recently complained about the failure of Kabul to help farmers who have destroyed their opium-poppy crops. Hayatollah described crop destruction in seven provincial districts, noting that the central government had promised to compensate or otherwise help the farmers, but this has not happened, he said. "High-ranking officials have made many promises," Hayatollah said, "but they have not carried any of them out." To stop poppy cultivation, Hayatollah said, the farmers should receive food assistance, financial compensation, and seeds, and irrigation systems should be repaired.

Nasrollah Baryalay Arsalai, who runs the Jalalabad-based Abdul Haq Foundation, said: "A systematic plan is needed to help these farmers find alternative means to earn their livelihood. Burning the fields does not benefit anyone. For some time now, the crops have suffered from drought. Poppies require less water because they flower in the wintertime. If the UN were to help set up water channels, perhaps they could also strike a fair deal with the farmers and urge them to grow wheat instead of poppies."

The late Haji Abdul Qadir, who served as minister of public works and governor of Nangarhar, stressed that if a systematic plan is not put into effect, whatever progress has been made thus far will come full circle and the farmers will again resort to poppy farming to eke out a living. "I think that the international community, or the countries who are saying that they want to stop poppy cultivation, they are not entirely honest. Even after the collapse of President Mohammad Najibollah's regime [in 1992], we tried to stop the cultivation of poppy here. But these countries that promised to help and support the farmers, they did not keep their word," Qadir once said.

Qadir was assassinated in July 2002 in Kabul, though the assassins have not been apprehended. Many speculate that their motive may have been the former mujahid's crackdown on the drug trade. "Qadir had amassed his personal fortune in the 1990s from opium taxes and from getting a percentage from smugglers for goods going between Dubai and Pakistan, using Jalalabad as the transit point," said a well-placed Afghan who asked not to be named.

Pakistan is a key conduit for narcotics originating in Afghanistan, while Iran and the adjoining Central Asian states are also utilized. Azerbaijan shares a 700-kilometer frontier with Iran. As Azerbaijani border guards are insufficiently trained and equipped to patrol it effectively, Iranian and other traffickers have exploited the situation.

For its part, the Azerbaijani government has pointed the finger at areas controlled by Armenian forces, where, it claims, narcotics are transported across Azerbaijan's border with Iran.

If the international community is committed to putting an end to the Central Asian opium matrix, it is imperative that the problem be nipped in the bud. The very basic needs of the peasants must be addressed and the farmers rehabilitated, so that they can begin producing legally approved crops for harvest the following year. In essence, a practical humanitarian approach must be followed as opposed to theoretical policies. Also, the connection between illicit drug production and warlords who support poppy cultivation and profit from the trade ought to be studied.

T. Goudsouzian is a journalist who covers Afghanistan.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on 19 February designating Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the head of the radical Hizb-e Islami, as a terrorist ( State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. government possesses information that Hekmatyar "has participated in and supported terrorist acts committed by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban." As such, the United States is designating Hekmatyar a "specially designated global terrorist" and will request that the United Nations include him on its list of "entities and individuals associated with" Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 1267, 1390, and 1455. Boucher said such a UN ruling "will obligate all member states [of the UN] to impose sanctions" including freezing Hekmatyar's assets. Hekmatyar on 26 December 2002 declared a jihad against U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002), but he has denied links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

A 17 February message allegedly signed by Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar said that 1,600 "prominent scholars" from Afghanistan have "unanimously" stated that it is the duty of every Muslim to wage jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and warned that if anyone "helps the aggressive infidels and joins their ranks under any name or task, that person deserves execution," the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The message requests that all Afghans who "cannot wage jihad" separate themselves from U.S. forces in Afghanistan and from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration or face punishment, AIP reported. (Amin Tarzi)

A hitherto unknown group in Chaman, Pakistan, calling itself Tanzim al-Fatah Afghanistan (Afghanistan Victory Organization) on 10 February called for holy war against U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported the next day. The group also published what it claimed was a fatwa (Islamic legal opinion) issued by Islamic scholars in Afghanistan saying that Muslims who help the United States and Britain "in killing thousands of Taliban and Arab mujahedin [Al-Qaeda] do not remain Muslims anymore, and their murder is allowed," the paper reported. The daily indicated that the call for holy war was issued on behalf of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has already called for jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The name of the new group suggests that it is of Arab origin. (Amin Tarzi)

Two ranking members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) and Democratic Senator Joseph Biden (Delaware), said during a 12 February hearing on the reconstruction of Afghanistan that elements within Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency are helping Taliban fighters in their campaign to destabilize the government of Afghanistan, "The New York Times" reported on 13 February. Islamabad has consistently denied that Pakistan is sheltering or helping the Taliban, as it did when the Taliban were in power and their main backer was Pakistan. (Amin Tarzi)

During the 12 February hearing, Afghan Ambassador to the United States Ishaq Shahryar said (a copy of his speech was obtained by RFE/RL) his country is at the center of what he called a "circle of instability" that includes Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and even Indonesia. Shahryar added that Afghanistan will not be able to attract foreign investment until the security situation has improved. He urged the committee to support the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which he said will "help finish the job of extinguishing all vestiges of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan," giving the emergence of democracy in the country a chance. Shahryar added that the expansion of ISAF would be "good for the Afghan people and the global community." German Defense Minister Peter Struck, whose country leads ISAF jointly with the Netherlands, on 10 February categorically rejected the idea of expanding the force beyond Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Nangarhar Province Governor Haji Din Mohammad said in an interview with the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" on 17 February that security organs in his province have taken special measures to stop the infiltration of Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Din Mohammad added that in addition to these security measures, the citizens of Nangarhar and "leaders of the tribal areas" bordering Pakistan have pledged to strengthen peace and security and not allow any "subversive acts" to take place. In recent months, members of terrorist groups and Taliban supporters have reportedly crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan, particularly via the tribal belt stretching from Konar and Nangarhar southward to Paktiya Province. (Amin Tarzi)

In a 16 February commentary on the anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan (15 February 1989), "Arman-e Melli" warned Afghanistan's neighbors not to disrupt the "new existing order" and not to entertain ideas of supporting "chaos" in Afghanistan. The commentary added that if Afghanistan's neighbors enflame the situation in the country for their temporary political gains, the fire "will reach their own doorsteps" and, like the Soviet Union, they "will face certain defeat." Some of Afghanistan's neighbors, in particular Pakistan and Iran, are continuing to interfere in the internal affairs of the country, especially by supporting various warlords and regional leaders at the expense of President Karzai's administration. (Amin Tarzi)

Colonel Roger King, a spokesman for U.S. armed forces stationed in Afghanistan, said a number of U.S. troops were ambushed on 18 February by unidentified attackers in Konar Province near the Afghan-Pakistani border, Radio Afghanistan reported on 18 February. King said U.S. forces did not sustain any casualties. (Amin Tarzi)

The United States "has practically ceased" its efforts to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and has withdrawn to Iraq "all Special Forces units," "Der Spiegel" claimed on 17 February, adding that the approximately 100 German special-forces troops who will be deployed in Afghanistan will be "rather alone." "Der Spiegel" added that along with the U.S. Special Forces, British and Australian special-forces troops have also left the antiterrorism coalition and have left behind "infantry that is less effective in combat." (Amin Tarzi)

Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) intelligence service has reported that new Chinese-made missiles are being smuggled into the country, "Welt am Sonntag" reported on 16 February. The Chinese missiles are reportedly more accurate than the outdated Russian-made missiles currently available in Afghanistan. As an example of the use of the new missiles, the report pointed to the 10 February missile attack on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) camp (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003) while German Defense Minister Struck was inside. German authorities in Kabul are taking the dangers posed by the new missiles "very seriously," according to the newspaper. (Amin Tarzi)

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Loebbering, a spokesman for ISAF, told RFE/RL on 13 February that there is no link between Germany's refusal to contribute forces to a possible military campaign against Iraq and Berlin's enhanced commitments in Afghanistan. "Germany's commitment to ISAF has been very strong from the very beginning onward. It has nothing to do with Iraq," he said. However, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 13 February told the Bundestag that German special forces "are serving side by side with the Americans in Afghanistan" because Germany places importance on fighting international terrorism, RFE/RL reported. "German soldiers -- together with the Netherlands -- assumed command of the UN ISAF international security force in Kabul," as part of this commitment, he said. There has been speculation that Germany assumed greater responsibility in ISAF as part of an effort to mend relations with the United States, which have been strained by Germany's refusal to back U.S. policy vis-a-vis Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). (Amin Tarzi)

Helmand Province government spokesman Haji Mohammad Wali said on 12 February that at least 17 Afghan civilians have been killed as a result of bombing conducted by coalition forces in the area of Baghran since 10 February, Reuters reported. U.S. military sources have said that as part of Operation Eagle Fury, B-52 and B-1 bombers pounded a mountain ridge on 12 February after 25 armed Taliban fighters were spotted there, Reuters reported. Mohammad Wali said he has informed Kabul of the mostly female and juvenile civilian casualties. U.S. military spokesman Colonel King said he is unaware of civilian causalities, according to Reuters. Tayab Jawad, a spokesman for Afghan President Karzai said he has received no information regarding civilian causalities but added that "[in] general, the government prefers [that] they [coalition forces] shouldn't bomb," out of respect for Eid (Muslim holidays), "unless it is very necessary," Reuters reported. (Amin Tarzi)

The U.S. Central Command on 13 February refuted reports that at least 17 Afghan civilians have been killed as a result of a bombing campaign that began in Helmand Province on 10 February, American Forces Press Service (AFPS) reported. "Battle damage assessment conducted in support of Operation Eagle Fury has not indicated any noncombatant casualties" as of 13 February, AFPS quoted a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan as saying. (Amin Tarzi)

Captain Wazir Ahmad, a reporter for the Defense Ministry's "Difa" magazine, recently wrote a commentary in the Kabul weekly "Panjara" criticizing the Finance Ministry and Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in particular for acting contrary to cabinet and presidential decisions regarding the payment of three months' back wages to military personnel, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 10 February. Ahmad urged the Defense Ministry and President Karzai to look into the needs of Afghan military personnel, the report added. (Amin Tarzi)

Finance Minister Ahmadzai recently told a news conference that Afghanistan's current national income is sufficient only to pay the salaries of Defense Ministry personnel, and he urged the World Bank to speed up financial assistance to the country, "Farda" reported on 9 February. Ahmadzai added that he has to take loans from international institutions in order to pay the salaries of police and civilian employees of the government, the report added. "Farda" added that Defense Ministry personnel have received only three months' salary since January 2002 and are still waiting to be paid for 10 months' back wages. (Amin Tarzi)

At a meeting of the Afghan cabinet on 17 February in which draft municipal-election laws were discussed, a new commission was formed to further evaluate the proposed laws and present its findings to the cabinet, Radio Afghanistan reported. The commission will include Justice Minister Abdul Rahim Karimi; Returnees Affairs Minister Enayatullah Nazari; the deputy higher-education minister; and three members of the Constitutional Drafting Commission, Abdul Salam Azimi, Musa Ashari, and Musa Marufi, the report added. According to the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, Afghanistan should hold general elections by June 2004. However, some observers have expressed doubt that elections can be held in a fair and democratic manner throughout Afghanistan by the target date, given the fact that large swaths of the country are controlled by warlords whose first loyalty is not to Kabul. Elections Canada, the nonpartisan agency responsible for the conduct of federal elections and referenda in Canada, has reportedly agreed to help Afghanistan with its election process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Province Governor Haji Din Mohammad said in an interview with the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" on 17 February said that he supports the policies of President Karzai's Transitional Administration and favors the restoration of democracy and the establishment of a parliamentary system of government. Din Mohammad emphasized that while he wants people to participate in the creation of the new Afghan political system, he would like to see a strong central government in Afghanistan. He added that 27 consultative councils have been established in Nangarhar Province to pave the way for the establishment of a democratic system of government and to "remove the distance between the people and the government." Din Mohammad's assertion that he favors a strong central government differs drastically from views expressed by Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan and northern Afghanistan strongman General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who favor a loose federal system that would allow them to control their areas with little interference from Kabul. (Amin Tarzi)

Discussing the new Afghan constitution due to be adopted in October (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003), an unidentified Western diplomat in Kabul said the "role of sharia [Islamic jurisprudence] already appears to be the main issue at stake in the new constitution; however, this doesn't please certain Western countries," AFP reported on 17 February. Another diplomat said that: "Afghanistan is one of the most Muslim countries in the world -- Islam and sharia are unavoidable. The question is to understand to what extent they will be included in the constitution," AFP reported. A senior diplomat said that if Afghanistan adopts a constitution based solely on the sharia, similar to that used in Saudi Arabia, Western countries "will not want to finance such a regime," AFP reported. The issue of the new Afghan constitution is bound to cause major rifts within Afghanistan, but if the Western powers interfere in the process the results could be even more divisive (for analysis of the current constitutional process, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January 2003). (Amin Tarzi)

Afghan Minister Counselor in Islamabad Rahmatullah Musa Ghazi at a ceremony held at a Pakistani Air Force base in Chaklala on 16 February received a large cache of arms donated by Pakistan and intended for the new Afghan National Army (ANA), "Dawn" reported the next day. The donation includes 5,000 submachine guns, 180 mortars, 75 rocket-propelled grenades, and thousands of rounds of ammunition for all three types of weapons, the Karachi daily added. An official Pakistani source said his country will train ANA personnel, "Dawn," added. Reporting on the Pakistani arms donation on 17 February, Radio Afghanistan commented that this is the first time that Pakistan has expressed its interest in the reconstitution of the ANA. Some Afghans believe that Pakistan's policies supporting various mujahedin groups and subsequently the Taliban led to the destruction of what survived of the Afghan Army after the Soviet occupation. (Amin Tarzi)

At least six Afghan children under the age of 5 have died in Chahab District of Takhar Province, northeastern Afghanistan, from an unidentified disease suspected to be meningitis, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 13 February. According to doctors, preliminary analyses have indicated that the disease is meningitis, but no conclusive diagnosis has been made. The report added that the outbreak of the disease is under control in the area. Since mid-November, at least 300 children have died in northeastern Afghanistan as a result of different diseases, especially whooping cough, the Iranian radio station added. (Amin Tarzi)

Unidentified animals in the Kalakan, Qarabagh, and Mirbachakot districts of Kabul Province have mauled several people, "Arman-e Melli" reported on 17 February. Locals are terrified, the report added. Some regional elders have said the animals resemble leopards, although not a species native to the area. (Amin Tarzi)

14 February 1980 -- With a vote of 27 to eight with six abstentions, the UN Human Rights Commission condemns the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan as "an aggression against human rights."

14 February 1989 -- The last Soviet soldier leaves Kabul airport, bringing an end to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that began on 27 December 1979. More than 1 million Afghans perished in that decade.

20 February 1995 -- General Abdul Rashid Dostum threatens the proclamation of an independent "South Turkistan" in case of a Taliban attack on the northern provinces under his rule.

Sources: The Associated Press; "Sueddeutsche Zeitung"; "Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan" by Ludwig W. Adamec (Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997)