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Afghan ambassador: Economic growth, security key to stopping drug trade
Leo Shane III
Stars and Stripes
05/14/2006

WASHINGTON — Stopping Afghanistan’s drug trade will require years of law enforcement work and a complete economic turnaround for the country, according to that country’s ambassador to the United States.

“There is no quick fix,” said Said T. Jawad, who has served in the ambassador role since December 2003. “Opium producing in Afghanistan is the result of 30 years of war and distraction.

“In an environment of total insecurity — social, political and economic — people have leveled their pomegranate orchards, their vineyards, and turned them into poppy fields, because it takes only three months to harvest poppy.”

Jawad, speaking with reporters Friday about the future of the country, noted that despite progress in rebuilding since 2001, Afghanistan remains the sixth poorest economy in the world. Only 6 percent of the homes in the country have access to electricity, and only about 23 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water.

So for many the illegal crops have become the only choice, Jawad said.

“If your choice is between life and death, you’ll choose life, even if that means that your actions are illegal,” he said. “But give the Afghan farmers an alternative, and they’ll take it.”

Last year, Afghan law enforcement officials seized more than 158 tons of opium and 39 tons of heroin, and cleared about 23,000 acres of farmland being used to raise illegal crops.

Despite that, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the country produced about 87 percent of the world’s illegal opium trade last year.

Programs to help farmers grow other, legal crops have had little success thus far because of poor funding. Jawad said international leaders must realize that without an economic solution those drug farmers have no incentive to turn away from their only source of income.

“Forceful poppy eradication without adequate alternative livelihood assistance can alienate the poor farmer and strengthen narco-traffickers,” he said. “Such quick fix solutions will push many rural communities into further poverty and dependency on terrorists.”

To that end, political leaders are working to reform those programs, and have set a target of providing electricity to 25 percent of the homes in the country by 2010, and linking at least 40 percent of the villages by easily accessible roadways by then.

Jawad said those are not lofty goals, and would still leave many citizens living in poverty and despair.

“But we are realistic about the challenges we are facing.”

 

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