Mon, Sep 03, 2007 - Page 5 News List

British drug eradication effort a failure: Massoud

`A CANCER' Afghanistan's vice president said the only solution is aerial spraying to destroy poppy crops, since opium production has doubled in the last two years

AFP , LONDON

Britain's battle against the drugs trade in southern Afghanistan has been a total failure, the country's vice president said yesterday.

The drugs eradication policy is simply too soft and it is time to get tough, Afghan Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud wrote in the British weekly newspaper the Sunday Telegraph.

Poppies have spread like ``cancer'' in Helmand Province, where British forces are based, he wrote.

Poppy cultivation was a problem best left for Kabul to sort out, the younger brother of iconic slain warrior Ahmad Shah Massoud said.

He wrote: "I have no doubt that the efforts of Britain and the international community in fighting the opium trade in Afghanistan are well-intentioned and we are grateful for their support."

"But it is now clear that your policy in the south of our country has completely failed ... Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent over the last five years, the UK contributing 262 million pounds [US$528 million], the United States about 1.6 billion dollars," he wrote

"Yet United Nations figures show that opium production increased by 34 percent last year and more than doubled in the last two years," he wrote.

"Helmand, where the British are based ... now produces half of Afghanistan's opium," he wrote.

Britain has around 7,000 troops in Afghanistan. British military commanders are reluctant to get involved in anti-drugs operations, fearing it would drive farmers into the arms of Taliban rebels, the Sunday Telegraph said.

Massoud said redevelopment work, such as improving roads, had helped farmers get their produce to markets -- but also made it easier for them to transport opium.

"The counter-narcotics policy has been much too soft. We are giving too much `carrot' and not enough `stick,'" he wrote.

"Eradication was so low last year, at only about 10 percent of the crop, that it hardly made an impact on the production and will not be enough to deter farmers from planting in the future," he wrote. "Counter-narcotics operations are not in Afghan hands. Poppy cultivation is an Afghan problem and it needs an Afghan solution."

He said Kabul needed to wipe out the "plague" of corruption in state institutions involved in combating narcotics and terrorism.

"I believe we have now reached a critical point in our struggle against the curse of opium, fundamental to the security and future of Afghanistan," he said.

"The opium directly supports those who are killing Afghan and international troops," he said. "This is a vicious circle: Getting rid of the poppy in the south has been difficult because of insecurity, but the insecurity is fuelled by the poppy.

"Failure to achieve a substantial reduction in the opium crop will be equivalent to supporting the Taliban," he wrote.

"The time has come for us to adopt a more forceful approach. We must switch from ground-based eradication to aerial spraying," he wrote.

"This should not create anger against the government, since it is acting with religious and legal justification, nor should it increase rural poverty," he said.

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