|RUSSIA, EUROPE AND AFGHAN DRUGS
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov)
It will take more than two or three years to fight drug trafficking from
Afghanistan, according to a joint report of the World Bank and the UN
Office on Drugs and Crime published recently.
"History teaches us that it will take a generation to render
Afghanistan opium-free," the report reads. To eradicate this evil,
"support to farmers, the arrest of corrupt officials and eradication
measures must be concentrated in half a dozen provinces… so as to free
them from the scourge of opium."
Not a very optimistic forecast. Especially for Russia, which is the main
target of the Afghan drug trafficking, standing on its way to Europe. By
November this year, the Russian Federal Service for Control of Drugs and
Psychotropic Substances Circulation alone confiscated over 80 tons of
drugs from Afghanistan, including 2 tons of heroin.
Moscow, however, was not too upbeat about the outlook for fighting Afghan
drugs even before the release of the report. The Service's director,
Viktor Cherkesov, says that measures taken in Afghanistan by the
international community and the Afghan government, are insufficient and
their efficiency is extremely low. International programs for financing
alternative crops (such as cotton instead of opium poppy) have failed.
Moreover, criminal structures that control heroin production in the
country are often close to the Afghan regional authorities. This means
that those who are responsible for fighting drugs are most interested in
the business's prosperity. So it would be ridiculous to make any
Hopes vested in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan
are also ungrounded. The coalition can do little when the Afghan
authorities have almost no control over the situation outside Kabul, so it
is difficult to launch programs that would cover the whole country.
Moscow is still quite critical about the stand of the ISAF and NATO (which
now commands the ISAF) on fighting drugs. Anatoly Safonov, the Russian
president's envoy on counterterrorism, said he disagreed with the NATO
commanders that destruction of opium poppy crops by the ISAF would only
aggravate relations with the local population. "We believe that this
is a deadlock," he said when commenting on these statements.
A voice in the wilderness. What does NATO have to do with it if the UN
Security Council does not give the ISAF the go-ahead to destroy opium
crops? The United States, whose troops are the backbone of the
anti-terrorist coalition, is not going to do it either, justifying its
refusal with impressive statements. Former Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld said once that as Afghan drugs were planted on Russian and
European money, it was Russia and Europe that should address the problem.
What he meant was that the U.S. did not care.
There are serious objections as well. The above-mentioned UNODC report
says that destruction of opium poppy crops, planted by the poorest Afghan
farmers, should be done with extreme caution in order not to aggravate the
What is Russia to do then? Is there a way out of this vicious cycle?
Major General Alexander Yanevsky, head of the Drugs Control Service's
department for inter-department preventive interaction, says that Russia
has 342,000 people officially diagnosed as drug addicts. Overall, the
country has up to 6 million drug addicts. The situation in Europe is no
better, although addicts there prefer cocaine and marijuana to Afghan
Perhaps, it is worth considering a proposal made by the Senlis Council, an
international drug policy think tank based in Europe. It believes that
Western countries should officially buy opium poppy from Afghanistan and
then license it to produce pain killers. The Afghan state would benefit
and establish at least partial control over the poppy fields. More
importantly, this would be a severe blow to illegal drug trafficking.
This year, opium poppy crops in Afghanistan have surged 60% against last
year, according to the UN, and production of opium – used to produce
heroin – will be up at least 50% by the yearend. This means that
Afghanistan can export over 600 tons of premium quality heroin to Europe
this year. Russia has already confiscated about 2 tons. There's some tough
work still left in store. –0–