A United Nations official who recently called for NATO forces in Afghanistan to help combat the sharply expanding opium trade says the country is becoming increasingly unstable. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on remarks to U.S. lawmakers by Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime.
The comments to the House International Relations Committee come less than one week before Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai meets with President Bush at the White House.
Noting Karzai's warning last year that either Afghanistan destroys opium or opium will destroy Afghanistan, Costa says the country is dangerously close to the second option.
"Foreign pressures are making Afghanistan the turf for proxy wars," said Antonio Maria Costa. "The country is being destabilized by an inflow of insurgents, and weapons and money and intelligence. There is collusion from neighboring countries and this is a problem in itself."
Calling counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics two fronts in the same war, Costa repeats his call for NATO to be actively engaged in the fight against the opium trade.
"NATO troops should be given the mandate and the means to help the Afghan army to fight both the war against the Taleban and the opium trade, to destroy the labs, disband the opium bazaars, open as they are, attack the opium convoy[s] and bring to justice the big traders," he said.
Some of the strongest statements during Wednesday's hearing regarding insurgency, narcotics and other issues were heard from Republicans, such as committee chairman Henry Hyde, and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
HYDE: "Afghanistan is on the brink of becoming a failed state, and the re-trained Taleban are showing their strength in new attacks that appear to be influenced by a spiraling Iraqi insurgency."
ROHRABACHER: "There have been many of us warning we would reach this point unless something was done, but the Bush administration has continued to fail in its responsibilities to act aggressively to thwart this problem."
Democrat Tom Lantos supports the use of NATO troops in counter-narcotics operations and describes his recommendation to President Bush.
"I have urged the president to direct our armed forces in Afghanistan and to encourage NATO forces to begin operations against drug traffickers and narco-warlords immediately throughout Afghanistan, but especially in the southern region," said Tom Lantos.
Barnett Rubin of New York University asserts that any hope of reversing a growing insurgency depends on the U.S. placing strong pressure on Pakistan.
"While there are many failings, innumerable ones of the Afghan administration, corruption and so on, they cannot be corrected as long as the Taleban have a safe haven in Pakistan," said Barnett Rubin.
Rubin quoted what he described as a letter he received from a U.S. diplomat in the region, whom he did not identify, saying little progress can be made against the insurgency in Afghanistan unless President Bush places overwhelming diplomatic pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to arrest top Taleban leaders in his country.
President Musharraf told reporters in New York Wednesday he opposes U.S. forces entering Pakistan in pursuit of al-Qaida leader Osama bin-Laden.
He was responding to remarks by President Bush, who said in an interview with CNN that he would not hesitate ordering U.S. troops into Pakistan to kill or capture bin-Laden.