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1997 * International Narcotics Control Strategy Report



International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, 1997

Released by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State - Washington, DC, March 1998


I. Summary

Afghanistan continued as the world's second largest producer of opium poppy, according to USG estimates. Opium gum production was approximately 1,265 metric tons (MT) in 1997, slightly above the 1,230 MT produced in 1996. Continued warfare, destruction of the economic infrastructure and absence of a recognized central government with administrative control over the entire country remain obstacles to effective drug control.

Other major impediments to meaningful counternarcotics progress include inaction and lack of political will of the Taliban faction, which controls 96 per cent of Afghanistan's opium­growing areas, as well as substantial drug trade involvement on the part of some local Taliban authorities. An estimated 95 percent of Afghanistan's opium poppy cultivation and most of Southwest Asia's morphine base and heroin processing laboratories are located in territory controlled by the Taliban.

The Taliban, formed by religious students, began its military campaign in Afghanistan in 1994 and assumed effective control over two thirds of the country in fall 1996. The Taliban condemned illicit drug cultivation, production, trafficking and use in 1997, but took no action to decrease poppy cultivation or to eliminate opiate processing laboratories. The Taliban called for international alternative development assistance as a precondition to eradicating opium poppy cultivation.

Narcotics remain Afghanistan's largest source of income, and Taliban authorities reportedly benefit financially from the trade and provide protection to heroin laboratories. However, in November 1997, the Taliban responded to a UNDCP initiative by agreeing to eliminate poppy cultivation in districts where alternative development was provided, to control poppy cultivation in areas where poppy was not previously grown and to eliminate morphine and heroin laboratories when these sites were brought to their attention. To date, these commitments have not been tested. If this agreement is implemented, by November 1998, no poppy would be sown in districts that have benefited from alternative development/poppy reduction projects.

There was no indication that major narcotics traffickers were arrested and prosecuted or that any effort was made to interdict large shipments of illicit drugs or precursor chemicals anywhere in Afghanistan in 1997. Afghanistan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

II. Status of Country

Afghanistan is the world's second largest opium producer. Afghanistan's porous borders with Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian countries, combined with its rugged topography and an absence of narcotics law enforcement, make it one of the world's least controlled narcotics trafficking areas. Numerous morphine base and heroin laboratories operate in Afghanistan, primarily in Kandahar and Nangarhar Provinces along the Pakistani border. Large quantities of precursor chemicals reportedly enter Afghanistan from Central Asia, Europe and India. Afghanistan's war­torn economy cannot accommodate sophisticated money laundering schemes. Except for Badakshan Province in northern Afghanistan, there is no indication of major abuse of hard drugs.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. No national government exists in Afghanistan, so there were no countrywide initiatives in 1997. The Taliban authorities control two­thirds of Afghanistan, and the Northern Alliance of anti­Taliban factions controls the remaining third. Until November 1997, the Taliban reaffirmed the previous year's stated policy of opposition to drug cultivation, production, trafficking and use, although it did not directly and explicitly ban opium poppy cultivation. At the same time, it adhered to the position that it was unable to reduce opium poppy cultivation, close down processing laboratories or interdict drug traffickers without assistance from the international community. Taliban authorities took no steps on their own, even in instances when they were capable of doing so, to close down drug processing laboratories or arrest drug traffickers. There are numerous reports, moreover, of drug traffickers operating in Taliban territory with the consent or involvement of some Taliban officials.

Accomplishments. There is no indication that any significant drug control was accomplished in Afghanistan in 1997. The estimated three percent increase in opium poppy cultivation in 1997 demonstrated that Taliban statements last year condemning illicit narcotics growth had no effect. Despite the Taliban's announced cannabis cultivation ban in territories, which they control, cannabis production reportedly continued at high levels in 1997. The Taliban authorities claimed they would destroy drug-processing laboratories, but there is no evidence of Taliban efforts to eradicate these laboratories.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Although Afghanistan lacks a central government, the Taliban established de facto control over almost all opium­growing territories. Taliban authorities, however, have taken no significant law enforcement action against narcotics. The US Embassy in Pakistan reports that while there were well­publicized drug processing lab closures during a UNDCP visit to Taliban territory, these closures were a sham put on for visitors. The labs were reported to have begun functioning again shortly after the UNDCP visit. In 1997, the Taliban faction re­activated the State High Commission for Drug Control, with headquarters in Kabul and drug control and coordination units in Kandahar and Jalalabad, which were originally initiated and supported by UNDCP. Originally established in 1990, the State High Commission is to coordinate and monitor all narcotics control matters. It reports directly to the Taliban Supreme Council in Kandahar. The Commission is responsible for ensuring that drug control measures sanctioned by the Taliban Supreme Council are implemented.

During 1997, an unverified report indicated that Taliban police (acting on a tip) intercepted a vehicle transporting 904 kilograms of refined heroin enroute between Kabul and Kandahar. The USG has been unable to confirm this report, and is unaware of any other seizures. The heroin was supposedly burned outside Kandahar, and the individuals transporting the drug were alleged to have been arrested and jailed.

UNDCP shelved a project proposal to develop Afghanistan's narcotics law enforcement capability in 1997, in part because the country lacked sufficient infrastructure to make the project feasible. In addition, the project was not consonant with the guideline of the UN's Executive Commission for Humanitarian Activities, which stated that UN agencies will not be involved in "institution­building" efforts of the Afghan authorities as long as these authorities continue discriminatory practices. The UNDCP also aims to create drug control and coordination units in Herat and Mazar­i­Sharif (located in territory controlled by the Northern Alliance).

Corruption. During 1997, there were reports that all warring factions in Afghanistan derived revenue from illicit drug activity. There is evidence that the Taliban, which control much of Afghanistan, have made a policy decision to take advantage of narcotics trafficking and production in order to put pressure on the west and other consuming nations. As the Taliban expanded their control over Afghanistan's opium­growing territory, they appear to have expanded their drug involvement as well, including facilitating major traffickers to move large quantities of morphine base and heroin to the West. The Taliban admitted that, as a result of the Islamic tithing practice, called "usher," local mullahs receive 10 percent of the income earned by farmers, including opium farmers. Opium is the leading cash crop, and a large percentage of the Taliban's taxes is from the profits of poppy production. There were reliable reports, denied by the Taliban, that morphine base and heroin laboratory operators paid a tax to some local Taliban officials and that a road tax was levied against the value of goods being transported, including illicit drugs. There is no reliable information regarding drug­related corruption among Northern Alliance authorities.

Treaties and Agreements. Afghanistan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, but lacks a national government to implement the country's obligations.

Cultivation and Production. USG figures indicated an estimated 3 percent increase in opium poppy cultivation from 37,950 hectares in 1996 to 39,150 hectares in 1997. Opium production increased by an estimated 2 percent, from 1,230 metric tons in 1996 to 1,265 metric tons in 1997. According to USG data, poppy cultivation increased most dramatically in Oruzgan and Kandahar Provinces, while it decreased in Nangarhar Province. Helmand and Nangarhar Provinces continued to dominate poppy production in Afghanistan. Helmand produced 55 percent of the total poppy crop for Afghanistan in 1997, and Nangahar 19 percent.

Drug Flow/Transit. Heroin and morphine base flow out of Afghanistan into Iran, the Central Asian Republics, Pakistan and India. Some morphine base transits Iran enroute to Turkey where it is refined into heroin, while other Afghan opiates enter Pakistan in North West Frontier and Baluchistan Provinces for sea shipment to Turkey via the Makran Coast. During 1997, there were indications of increased flow into the Central Asian republics.

Demand Reduction. Drug abuse reportedly is rampant in Badakshan province, controlled by the Northern Alliance faction, although local authorities claim that addiction is decreasing. Only one of Badakshan's two drug treatment facilities remains operational. Some drug use occurs in Afghanistan's larger cities, especially Kabul. The Taliban prohibit the use of illicit drugs and maintain that use of any intoxicant is contrary to Islamic law. Although drug treatment programs do not now exist in Taliban­controlled areas, toward the year's end, Taliban authorities said that first­time offenders would be regarded as suffering from an illness and treated accordingly, but punished if they "relapsed." Up to this point the practice has been to administer corporal punishment to drug users publicly. UNDCP plans to begin implementing a demand reduction program in Afghanistan in 1998.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

In meetings with Afghan faction leaders, USG representatives continued to stress the need for Afghans to address narcotics control in keeping with international norms of behavior and their obligations under the 1988 UN Drug Convention. Building on an earlier crop substitution program, the USG provided an initial $269,202 of a $772,905 poppy reduction/alternative development project being implemented by an American non­governmental organization (NGO), Mercy Corps International (MCI) in Helmand Province. The two­year project's objective is to eliminate poppy cultivation in the areas benefiting from assistance.

Also in 1997, the USG transferred $1.6 million in FY­95 and FY­96 funds earmarked for UNDCP to help finance UNDCP's capacity building project and poppy reduction projects in Afghanistan. The capacity building project is to establish a UNDCP counterpart entity, Drug Control and Coordination Units (DCCU) in Afghanistan which UNDCP and donors could use as a liaison with Afghan authorities. The DCCUs are to be formed in Jalalbad, Kandahar, Kabul, Herat and Mazar­i­Sharif. The units are designed to plan, monitor and later implement drug control activities, such as conducting poppy surveys. Units have now been established in Kandahar and Jalalabad. UNDCP will sponsor workshops in December and February to design DCCU work plans. Project donors have had concerns about this project because of the question of "institution building."

The poppy reduction/alternative development projects are located in Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces. UNDCP is revising plans for the Kandahar project to include rehabilitation of a textile factory in Kandahar City that will employ up to 800 people. In recognition of the need to promote human rights (especially with regard to gender issues), UNDCP obtained an initial agreement by the Taliban Governor of Kandahar province to employ women in the factory, although press reports quote the Governor as saying that the agreement was "in principle" and that the decision depended on the condition of the factory. UNDCP also is trying to fill more of its own project implementation positions in Afghanistan with women. The MCI and UNDCP poppy reduction projects will test the Taliban's commitment to eliminate opium poppy cultivation.

In October 1997, UNDCP's Executive Director proposed a comprehensive alternative development/poppy reduction program, to be funded by UNDCP's major donor nations, which would target all poppy growing areas of Afghanistan. At an estimated cost of $25 million a year for ten years, the program's goal is to eliminate poppy cultivation entirely within that period of time. The project would begin with a small investment to test the authorities' political will to eradicate if alternative development is successful. USG counternarcotics objectives for Afghanistan include reduction and ultimate elimination of poppy and cannabis cultivation, denial of safe­haven to narcotics processing laboratories, and arrest and conviction of couriers and traffickers in drugs and precursor chemicals.

The Road Ahead. In 1998, the USG will focus on the Taliban authorities' commitment to control poppy cultivation and to destroy morphine base and heroin laboratories. The USG will continue to coordinate its counternarcotics efforts with UNDCP, other members of the international donor community and with NGOs. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will expand contacts with Afghanistan's meager drug enforcement elements and continue to offer cooperation. The US will also engage leaders of the "Northern Alliance" to elicit counternarcotics commitments.