15 November 2005

Afghan President Meets with UNODC Executive Director to Assess Progress against Drugs

Discussion on Sustaining Decline in Poppy Cultivation and Providing Alternative Development Assistance to Farmers

VIENNA, 15 November (UN Information Service) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), met today at UN Headquarters in Vienna to discuss counter-drug efforts designed to decrease poppy cultivation in 2006.

"In 2005, there was a 21 per cent decline in poppy cultivation, and we want to see at least that same percentage disappear in 2006," said President Karzai.

He continued, "We want to eliminate poppy cultivation as soon as possible, and not necessarily as a result of some five or ten-year plan. This fight belongs to the Afghan people. Drugs are criminalizing our economy, destroying our culture, while they fatten bank accounts in other places belonging to other people." 

Discussion Topics

The Afghan President and the UNODC Executive Director spoke on various issues, including counter-cultivation strategies underway during the current planting season; efforts to sustain the 2005 decline in cultivation, especially in the province of Nangarhar, which recorded a decrease of 96 per cent; and the immediate need to provide poppy farmers with alternative development assistance. Reports suggest farming communities in which cultivation has declined are currently experiencing significant economic hardship.

Immediate Need for Alternative Development

Mr. Costa stressed the role of UNODC in supporting alternative development in Afghanistan, and the importance of obtaining resources for this purpose as quickly as possible.

"The 21 per cent decrease in poppy cultivation in 2005 cannot last unless the international community steps in quickly to help the Government of Afghanistan transform that progress into a permanent, structural trend," said Mr. Costa.  He added, "Afghan warlords, hunger, or other economic forces will compel farmers to resume poppy cultivation, the voluntary compliance we witnessed last year will disappear … Afghan farmers urgently need alternative development assistance."

President Karzai told an audience of development partners assembled at the UN that fighting drugs via law enforcement was a critical, ongoing process, and that while it might be difficult to synchronize that effort in precise ways with alternative development, the Government remained committed to making progress on both fronts.

"We need immediate support for law enforcement and the destruction of processing labs," said the Afghan President. "But over the long term, we must depend on alternative development for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. We especially need help from the international community in identifying profitable markets for alternative crops," he added.

  Final Release of Data, UNODC Afghan Opium Survey 2005

The UNODC Afghan Opium Survey 2005 has just been released in its comprehensive form, and some of the final data suggests the situation in Afghanistan is more complicated than earlier believed.

While cultivation has declined significantly in Nangarhar (-96 per cent), Badakshan (-53 per cent), and Uruzgan (-58 per cent), increases in northern and western Afghanistan, in Kandahar (+162 per cent), Nimroz (+1370 per cent), Balkh (+334 per cent), and Farah (+348 per cent), suggest that warlords and traffickers are moving operations to areas that are both closer to trafficking routes and less likely to be affected by security forces, which were prevalent across eastern Afghanistan in 2005.    

The UNODC Afghan Opium Survey 2005 also indicates that the most significant factor in the decision of farmers to abstain from poppy cultivation in 2005 was the threat of eradication, followed by the threat of imprisonment for non-compliance with the Government's opium ban. Compliance with the religious fatwa against poppy cultivation figured third as a reason to forego drug crops.

Afghan Election Results

President Karzai and Mr. Costa also reviewed Afghan election results, which suggest that President Karzai has significant support from 50 per cent of the members of the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga.

Despite bombings in several cities, provincial councils recently began choosing representatives for two-thirds of the upper house of parliament, or Meshrano Jirga.  President Karzai will select the remaining one-third of that body's members. 

"The success of the democratic elections in Afghanistan tells us that there is great hope for the nation. Now it is up to the newly-elected Members of Parliament to demonstrate their allegiance to the rule of law," said Mr. Costa.  

UNODC Commends Afghan Government on Extradition of Drug Lord

Mr. Costa also commended the Government of Afghanistan on the recent extradition of Baz Mohammad, an Afghan drug lord accused of conspiring to import more than US$25 million of heroin into the United States since 1990. Mr. Costa has been a stalwart supporter of extradition in cases where States lack judicial systems strong enough to prosecute traffickers and criminals themselves.

"As long as drug lords believe they can operate in Afghanistan with impunity, heroin will be that nation's cash crop," said Mr. Costa. "Change will happen when traffickers know that the law can reach into any corner of Afghanistan, and pull them out."   

President Karzai offered support for extradition as a counter-drug strategy as well, saying, "Afghanistan has an obligation to abide by the terms of the international legal instruments to which it is a party. Extradition falls into that category, and if the same situation materializes in the future, the Government would support that measure again."   

UNODC Technical Assistance to Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries

UNODC provides technical assistance to Afghanistan and other countries interested in enacting and implementing extradition laws, and creating the proper legal foundation for extradition.

Afghanistan has also taken an interest in becoming a party to a Memorandum of Understanding, underwritten by UNODC, with five Central Asian States, Azerbaijan and Russia to improve drug control in the region. UNODC is working toward the creation of a Regional Intelligence Centre that would allow law enforcement to improve information sharing and operational coordination as a means of countering drug trafficking from Afghanistan. 


For further information, contact:

Kathleen Millar
Deputy Spokesperson, UNODC
Tel: (43+1) 26060 5629
Mobile: +43 699 1459 5629
Email: kathleen.millar@unodc.org