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Afghanistan Continues to Be Hub of Poppy Cultivation

Afghanistan Continues to Be Hub of Poppy Cultivation
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Afghanistan Continues to Be Hub of Poppy Cultivation

A recent U.S. government report notes that more Afghan land is under poppy cultivation today than it was under the Taliban in 2002. Demand for drugs, especially on the streets of rich countries, and the poor economic and security situation in Afghanistan are often cited by experts as the reasons for the failure of the fight to combat poppy cultivation.

Afghanistan produced close to 90 percent of the world’s opium in 2013. The drug not only affects the local population but also finds its way to more affluent markets in Western countries.

Speaking on a VOA Afghan Service program, Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister for Counter-Narcotics Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar said his country needed international support to combat the drug problem.

"Drugs in Afghanistan are not only a problem for our country. They are a problem for the whole world. Increased demand for drugs in foreign countries is a big challenge for us, and Afghanistan cannot continue its fight against drugs all by itself," he said.

The United States has spent $10 billion since 2002 to combat poppy production and encourage Afghan farmers to plant alternative crops. But a recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction indicates that these efforts have not succeeded in curbing poppy cultivation. Still -- steps such as taking down drug labs, arresting traffickers and capturing money through money laundering efforts were positive signs that should not be ignored, said William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

"Cultivation is one of many elements. I would suggest to you that the bigger picture is a much more positive picture in terms of counternarcotic efforts in Afghanistan," he said.

Later this year, the United States will withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan. Some experts said there were signs that U.S. interest in Afghanistan would diminish. That would be bad for counter-narcotics efforts in the country, said Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation.

"Just a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Congress slashed its development funding for Afghanistan in half. That shows that aid programs writ large are going to be cut back, and counter narcotics will fall in that category. So, I think we are going to see less of a focus on counter-narcotics," said Curtis.

But Brownfield said the United States continued to be committed to Afghanistan.

"I know that we will continue to support the programs that are designed to provide alternative development, that are designed to support governor-led eradication, that are designed to improve investigation, or to improve interdiction with specialized units, programs that are designed to do more prosecution and successful prosecution, or programs for education, treatment or rehabilitation," he said.

Experts believe that, to effectively combat the opium cultivation problem, the world will have to come down hard on the demand side -- because as long as there is demand, there will be supply from somewhere.