Afghan opium cultivation to decrease this year

February 2nd, 2009 - 9:44 am ICT by IANS  

Kabul, Feb 2 (DPA) Following nearly 20 percent reduction in poppy cultivation in 2008, a joint Afghan and UN survey predicted a further decrease in cultivation this year, but said the illegal crop was still mostly grown in the volatile southern region.”I am pleased to announce that during 2009 a further decrease in poppy cultivation is expected,” General Khoaidad, Afghan minister of counter narcotics, told reporters in a press conference after the release of the report in Kabul Sunday.

He said the reduction was “due to high wheat prices, low opium prices and lack of water in the face of severe drought”.

Speaking at the same news conference, top UN envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide said: “The report released today (Sunday) shows that we may be facing an important turning point in our efforts to reduce poppy cultivation.”

But Eide warned: “It will depend on our ability to make full use of the next two years to consolidate these positive developments.”

Afghanistan saw a reduction of 19 percent in poppy cultivation last year, but the country supplying more than 93 percent global opiate remained the biggest producer of opium in the world.

Of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, 18 were already declared opium-free regions, and the Afghan-UN Opium Rapid Assessment Survey said that seven other provinces were likely to reduce cultivation in 2009.

Almost all of country’s opium is grown in volatile southern region, where Taliban-led insurgents are most active.

More than half of the production comes from southern Helmand province, where more than 8,000 British soldiers are stationed as part of 50,000 NATO-led troops.

Taliban militants, who have waged a bloody insurgency against the Afghan government and its international military backers since their ouster in late 2001, are said to widely benefit from the drug money.

The militant organisation received $470 million in 2008 from taxes it levied on farmers and traffickers, according to UN.

“For the first time in the past five years we expect decrease in the south,” Khodaidad said, vowing to launch an aggressive eradication campaign this year to salvage several provinces in central and western region from the menace of opium.

Afghan officials hope that the annual winter report could counter the assessment made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who described Afghanistan last month as a “narcotics state” and its government highly “corrupt”.

Clinton was not the only Western official to fire at Afghan government for its inability for curb drug cultivation in its territory.

Western officials believe that besides the Taliban being the beneficiaries of the Afghan drug business, a number of Afghan government high officials are also involved in the illegal business.

While NATO member states have agreed to target drug barons who are helping the insurgency, some military officials are calling for a tougher approach.

According to leaked classified document obtained by the Der Spiegel magazine, the NATO’s top commander US General John Craddock has issued guidance to his generals in Afghanistan, saying to attack all the drug traffickers whether or not connected to the Taliban insurgents.

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