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DRUGS: U.N. Pays Rare Tribute to Taliban Over Opium Ban

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 9 2001 (IPS) - Afghanistan’s Taliban, accustomed to being faulted for its human rights record and for harassing international relief workers, has received a rare compliment from the United Nations for its overwhelming success in fighting opium cultivation.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that a recent U.N. survey of the world’s drug problem has concluded that the “most impressive” results were in Afghanistan, where there has been “the almost total disappearance of the opium poppy in areas controlled by the Taliban”.

“The significant decline in opium production is the result of mounting pressure on the Taliban, which declared a ban on opium poppy cultivation in July 2000,” Annan says in a report to be presented to the General Assembly when it begins its next session in September.

Nearly three-fourths of Afghanistan is now controlled by the rigidly Islamist Taliban while the remaining Afghan territory is in the hands of the Northern Alliance, which represents the ousted government of former President Burhanudin Rabbani.

The Rabbani government holds Afghanistan’s seat in the 189-member General Assembly. At present, only three countries – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

In a report to the Security Council in April, Annan said that a preliminary assessment of the implementation of the decree banning all opium cultivation indicated that the edict was being implemented.

“Opium poppy cultivation is dramatically reduced in the major poppy growing areas of Helmand, Nangarhar, Oruzgan and Qandahar Provinces,” he noted.

While the implementation of the ban is welcome, he argued, it has nevertheless brought “serious economic and social consequences to the former growing areas, with farmers and their communities bearing the economic burden of the conversion to other types of cultivation.”

The additional hardship has contributed to the displacement of people inside Afghanistan and to the influx of new refugees in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

“For whatever motive, the Taliban has done what the international community has asked: it has drastically curtailed poppy cultivation,” Annan said. “It is therefore incumbent on the international community to respond positively to this progress, or to face an equally rapid increase in production at the end of the year if farmers return to poppy cultivation.”

Afghanistan was once the world’s largest supplier of opium. While the area under opium poppy cultivation doubled in the 1998/99 season as compared to the previous year, a survey in late November last year indicated a 10-percent decline: from 91,000 hectares in 1999 to about 82,000 hectares in 2000. Since then, poppy cultivation has been virtually eliminated.

Mullah Omar, designated Taliban’s supreme leader, said last year that Afghanistan’s drug problems could only be solved if the international community assisted in the implementation of the decree.

The ongoing war against the Northern Alliance and a United Nations embargo against the Taliban regime have aggravated the social and economic situation in the country.

Annan says the General Assembly has already urged international financial institutions and regional development banks to provide funding for alternative crops.

The governments of four unnamed developing countries, he says, have already negotiated such agreements. But U.N. sanctions bar such assistance to Afghanistan. The only U.N. funding is for humanitarian assistance.

In a letter to Annan in April, Ambassador Shamshad Ahmad of Pakistan complained that the Afghans needed assistance both inside and outside Afghanistan.

“It is on this score that international agencies and the donor community have disappointed them,” he said.

Despite Annan’s repeated appeals for the required 275 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, only about 46 million dollars have been received.

Last week, Japan contributed 410,000 dollars for a project sponsored by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) for poverty eradication in Afghanistan.

Also last week, the U.N. Coordinator’s Office in Afghanistan expressed serious concern over the recent arrest of 24 humanitarian aid workers, eight of whom are from the London-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), Shelter Now International.

The workers were accused of spreading Christianity. They have denied the charge.

Meanwhile, the U.N. report on the world drug problem also says that national strategies to eliminate illicit drug crops through alternative development are proving increasingly successful.

In Bolivia, coca bush cultivation in the Chapare has been almost eliminated. Compared with 1997, there has been an overall decrease of 90 percent in such cultivation, the report notes.

The same results have been achieved in Peru. The total output of coca in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru is 20 percent lower than it was 10 years ago, although Colombian output has increased.

The report also notes what it sees as encouraging progress with poppy eradication in Laos and Myanmar, also known as Burma.

“Heroin abuse has stabilised in Europe, even declining in some countries. However, in a large part of Asia, the abuse of heroin continues to increase, ” the report adds.

While cocaine abuse has stabilised in the United States, it is till growing in Europe and in parts of Latin America.

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