Southwest Asia: Afghanistan to Encourage Opium Lords to Invest at Home, Official Says 3/17/06

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The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai will attempt to integrate profits from the opium trade into the legitimate national economy, the governor of the country's leading opium growing province told the Associated Press Tuesday. Drug lords would be encouraged to invest their ill-gotten gains in-country as part of an effort to rebuild a poverty-stricken nation shattered by decades of invasions and internecine conflict.

incised papaver specimens (opium poppies)

With opium accounting for at least one-third of Afghanistan's income, drug traffickers are major economic players, and by all accounts, their interests are well-represented within the Afghan government. To allow them to "legitimize" their drug trade profits by investing in Afghanistan would be a frank admission that the traffic cannot be defeated and should instead be acknowledged.

"We as a government will provide them the opportunity to use their money for the national benefit," Helmand Gov. Mohammed Daud told the AP in front of visiting US Ambassador Ronald Neumann. "They must invest in industries. They must invest in construction companies," he said.

The traffickers have the capital to invest. According to the United Nations, Afghan traffickers banked about $2 billion last year. Another $600 million went to the hundreds of thousands of poppy farmers and their families. This year, the UN and Afghan officials predict an even larger crop, with plans to eradicate only a fraction of it.

It is difficult to confront the traffickers head on, an unnamed US diplomat told the AP. The Karzai government could grant them an "informal amnesty" if they agreed to get out of the business, pay taxes, and invest their fortunes in rebuilding the country. The diplomat added that one or two traffickers had talked to the government about coming in from the cold.

On the record in an AP interview Monday afternoon, Ambassador Neumann did not reject the idea outright. Neumann said he was not aware of a formal program encouraging traffickers to invest. "There is a lot of effort to get Afghans as a whole to invest... but I don'
t know of any easy way that we are going to distinguish where the money comes from," he said.

He compared bringing in the drug traffickers to the broader project of reconciliation with Taliban militants and war lords. "It's part of a larger problem, you have militia commanders, you have drug lords, you have all kinds of people that at the end of the day, some of them need to be arrested and put in prison, but basically Afghanistan has to come back together," he said.

The reason for such apparent complacency toward drug traffickers from US government officials may well lie in the recognition that the Afghan state is so weak and so implicated in the trade already -- it has never prosecuted a major drug trafficker -- that the trade cannot be defeated by traditional means. Still, the effort continues. The Afghan government, with NATO troops hovering in the background, has already begun this year's eradication efforts in southern Helmand and Kandar provinces. So far, violence has been minimal, but in a part of the country where the Taliban roam and have vowed to protect the poppy crop, it's likely to be a long, hot growing season.

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Issue #427 -- 3/17/06

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Feature: The Misuse of SWAT -- Paramilitary Policing in the Drug War | Feature: Cincinnati Marching Boldly Backward With New Marijuana Ordinance | Feature: Portland Initiative Would Make Marijuana "Lowest Law Enforcement Priority" | Hitting the Ground Running in 2006 -- With Your Help | Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | Medical Marijuana: DEA, Local Cops Raid Another California Collective -- Angel Raich Arrested at Protest | Marijuana: East Bay DEA Raids Take Out Marijuana Candy Supplier | Free Speech: High School Student's "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Banner Protected by First Amendment, 9th Circuit Says | Medical Marijuana: Steve Kubby Back in Jail for 60 Days -- Or Less | Latin America: Argentine Appeals Court Throws Out Medical Marijuana Conviction | Southwest Asia: Afghanistan to Encourage Opium Lords to Invest at Home, Official Says | Middle East: Israel's Green Leaf (Marijuana) Party Could Win Knesset Seats | Web Scan: BBC, Newsday Rockefeller Editorial, A Drug War Prisoner on the Net | Weekly: This Week in History | Weekly: The Reformer's Calendar

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