Afghanistan works to eradicate poppy trade

December 26, 2008 10:33:06 AM PST
The Afghanistan ambassador to the United States is passionate about the positive changes in his country over the past few years, following the defeat of the Taliban. But Ambassador Said Jawad is angry about a new wave of terrorism being fueled by opium sales of nearly $100 million a year.

"Our enemy are Taliban, they're not a mystery; we know exactly what Taliban wants if they come back in power into Afghanistan," Jawad said.

The Taliban is using that drug money to buy weapons to fight NATO troops and push Afghanistan back under oppressive rule.

"Isolate the country, deprive Afghan women, most of the Afghan citizens from their basic rights, shut down the doors of the schools and clinics and healthcare to a majority of the Afghans, so how can afghans go back to these kind of days," Jawad said.

Afghanistan welcomes an international troop surge, Jawad said. He also believes the narcotics problem should also be fought through development.

"If you are able to find a market for the legitimate crop, they will switch, nobody in the world want to be a criminal, but if they have to feed their family, they will do whatever it takes," Jawad said.

More and more Afghan farmers are switching from poppy crops to alternative crops. A September 2008 report from the U.S. Department of State said poppy cultivation is down by 19 percent from 2007. It is a stunning change, which the State Department said, "reversed the trend of record poppy growth over the past two years and expanded the number of poppy-free provinces from 13 to 18 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

"Basically Northern Afghanistan and Eastern Afghanistan is poppy-free and we would like to continue this momentum," Jawad said.

The battle to eradicate poppy crops was left up to Afghan troops until now, but in a major development, NATO announced in October its troops will target Afghanistan's opium trade directly, for the first time ever.

"In the areas where the terrorists are mostly active in the south, particularly in Helmand Province, we have more challenges with narcotics," Jawad said.

Afghanistan is a narco state in the south of the country; and it's lawless, there's corruption, there's Taliban involvement," former Bush administration official Thomas Schweich said. "I'm very, very pleased now to see the military authorities are recognizing that the only way they can defeat the Taliban is by helping to defeat the drug trade."

Schweich wrote an article for the New York Times in July 2008, raising the question: "Is Afghanistan a Narco state?" he served as U.S. coordinator for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan.

"My problem is that the area where you're seeing so much poppy production and where the drugs really do dominate the economy is the area where President Karzai has his power base," Schweich said. "I don't think he personally is profiting from the drug trade, but I do think he doesn't want to make any waves and he has prevented effective counter-narcotics action in that part of the country."

Jawad disagrees.

"He's wrong to blame this on a particular individual or a particular institution, it is a comprehensive problem that needs a comprehensive approach; it could not be solved by blaming a person or trying to carry out a personal crusade," Jawad said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has always denied that he and his family are linked to the drug trade. His Web site lists an ambitious plan for Afghanistan's recovery and future development, which includes "the elimination of the trade in illegal narcotics."

President Karzai recently spoke at a united nations general assembly in New York, at a conference called "Culture of Peace."

"There is nothing more important than the elimination of the scourge of extremism, xenophobia and hatred, which can only be possible through dialogue and cooperation," Karzai said.

"The fact is, it is a complicated fight and there is no silver bullet solution," Jawad said.

According to a September 2008 State Department statement, "the government of Afghanistan is committed to carrying out a more robust counter-narcotics campaign for the coming year, including taking vigorous anti-corruption measures and arresting and prosecuting high-value drug kingpin targets."

There are those who wonder why the world should help Afghanistan become a peaceful, successful democratic country.

"The obvious reason is the 9/11 attackers based all their operations out of Afghanistan, many of the other terrorist attacks that occurred since then in Europe and elsewhere were perpetrated by people who were trained in Afghanistan," Schweich said. "As long as that remains a lawless area of the country where extremism in any form can thrive, it's a threat to all western nations."

But the country is changing dramatically from the days when the Taliban ruled and women were completely absent from the streets and political life. "Today there are 17 privately owned television stations, there are women who have stations broadcasting for women only, 27 percent of Afghan parliament members of the Afghan parliament are women," Jawad said. "Six million children are going back to school, an important investment for the future of Afghanistan and the regions of the world."

Jawad and his wife, Shamim, came to San Francisco from Washington recently to see the extraordinary exhibit of artifacts from Afghanistan at the Asian Art Museum. It was an upbeat moment for a couple living in two worlds, as they continue to raise awareness to help their troubled homeland.

"Even if some of our friends in the international community feel underwater and will try to give up on Afghanistan, the Afghan people will certainly not give up on their country; they have come a long way, they will continue their struggle and we will win for sure," Jawad said.

Related Links:
President Hamid Karzai's Web site
Afghan Embassy
U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Joint Statement
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
Roots of Peace


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