With this year's Afghan opium harvest expected to equal or exceed last year's, Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (http://www.unodc.org), called late last week for the US-led occupation forces in Afghanistan to join the fight against the booming drug trade, which he said was fueling terrorism. Given the Bush administration's extreme reluctance to commit troops for "nation building" in Afghanistan and the fact that the US military is stretched thin because of the US invasion of Iraq, it appears that Costa's plea will fall on deaf ears.
By 1999, Afghanistan was the world's leading producer of opium poppies, harvesting more than 4,500 metric tons or about 75% of the global supply. In 2000, the then ruling Taliban banned opium production, reducing the harvest that year to 185 tons. But with the fall of the Taliban and the country's descent into even greater anarchy under the US occupation, opium production skyrocketed last year to about 3,500 tons, generating an estimated $1.2 billion in revenues, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
In recent weeks, a revitalized Taliban guerrilla army, along with Al Qaeda elements and fighters loyal to renegade warlord Gulbatyin Hekmatyar, has emerged to attack US forces and Afghan forces loyal to President Hamid Karzai. Two US soldiers died in fighting in southeast Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan last week.
"You have a dramatic problem here: an illicit activity which is feeding a monster with many heads," Costa told the Associated Press as he called on occupation forces to take on a greater role in combating the traffic. "Hopefully we can build a convincing argument that the resources generated by the opium economy are being channeled toward terrorism. I believe that's a good reason to motivate those fighting terrorism to fight narcotics too," he added.
Not only was the traffic fueling the resurgent insurgents, said Costa, it was also funding Afghan military commanders allied with the Karzai government and its US overseers. "There's no doubt that in a number of provinces the commanders are involved. It's a known fact," Costa said.
Earlier in the same week, Costa and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced the formation of a new drug interdiction office within the Afghan Interior Ministry. But it has a budget of only $3 million. Hmmm, $1.2 billion in opium revenues versus $3 million in inderdiction spending. Anyone taking bets on how this will turn out?