London, Asharq Al-Awsat – US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter-narcotics, Richard Douglas, has stated that the coalition forces present in Afghanistan are working to combat the cultivation and trafficking of drugs, in addition to boosting economic growth and providing appropriate alternatives and means of living for farmers.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in London, Douglas said, “UN reports indicate that drug trafficking activities throughout Afghanistan take place through the borders of several neighboring states – not only Iran. These neighboring countries should be aware that once they allow themselves to become drug gateways that they will soon become consumers of drugs and drug addiction rates will increase.”
Douglas stressed that an integral part of the solution in Afghanistan lies in economic development. He called upon international organizations, such as the World Bank, to play an effective role in Afghanistan as part of the strategy. He added that the first step to combat drugs in Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world is to reduce consumption.
According to Douglas, the solution in Afghanistan is dependent upon:
One: Economic development and providing alternatives to the reliance on the drug trade, which consumes a lot of resources during cultivation. There must be an infrastructure that offers Afghans the chance to achieve their aspirations of supplying crops to the market, he said.
Douglas pointed out that the ring road (currently under construction) that runs through the major cities in Afghanistan will facilitate means for farmers to market their products without having to rely on drug cultivation.
Two: We must consider the other part of the equation, which is law enforcement. This may be implemented by providing the government with the necessary capabilities and assisting the Afghan National Army in dealing with the problem, he said. This necessitates the presence of a system of incentives and penalties.
Notwithstanding, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counter-narcotics admitted that it is difficult to determine the extent of the Taliban’s embroilment in the drug trade. Many among the Afghan people have confirmed that the Taliban is involved in drug trafficking activities. Moreover, several operatives in the leadership share the same opinion and also believe that the Taliban uses drug money to buy equipment and prepare for attacks against the Afghan people and the government.
Douglas praised the effective joint efforts of the Afghan leadership and the international community in combating drugs. He attributed some of the credit to the cooperation of senior Afghan sheikhs and clerics who are actively spreading awareness about the hazards of drugs.
He also stated that in many regions of Afghanistan, people undertake the necessary legal procedures. There are many honest farmers as well as honest and competent policeman and politicians, he said. One of the most widely propagated myths in the West about Afghanistan is that is brimming with opium – that is not true. Not all Afghan farmers are implicated in opium cultivation; in fact, they need support in order to pursue their lives away from drugs, according to Douglas.
Douglas pointed out that the matter was not simply about the revenue of drug trafficking but about the cost as well. The drug trade imposes a huge cost on societies and public health, in addition to the lost opportunities that are a result of the drug trade. However, this price is not paid by Afghanistan alone, but rather has a destructive impact on cities worldwide to which Afghan heroin is imported.
In response to a question regarding the deterioration of standards of living among Afghan employees and policemen, Douglas said, “Part of our approach to resolve the issues is to provide adequate salaries to Afghan government employees, policeman and military personnel so that they may feed their children and sustain their homes. Insufficient salaries result in corruption; it is necessary to find officials that the Afghan people can trust.”
Regarding the drug trafficking problem, Douglas confirmed that it is still active on the Afghan-Iranian border, and in both directions. Moreover, this problem is not limited to one or two countries only, but rather extends to various other states that neighbor Afghanistan. The persistence of this situation confirms that there is corruption and collusion practiced among drug dealers.
Referring to the UN report that confirmed the presence of drug trafficking activities between various borders of states that neighbor Afghanistan, Douglas disclosed that some of these countries have a strong desire to put an end to such activities. Moreover, he agreed with the opinion that states that drug addiction rates in Afghanistan are high and that drug trafficking represents one of the chief burdens on the Afghan officials assigned the task of combating drugs.
Douglas confirmed that the US was backing the efforts of the Afghan government to counter the drug trafficking problem and that they were dealing with it as one that stems from the absence of law enforcement rather than being an issue related to national security. “We are assisting the Afghan government and backing the police and army in their efforts to combat drugs. The Afghan government has a deep desire to achieve that goal,” he added.
Douglas also mentioned the vitality of the economic situation and added that efforts are now being made to facilitate economic activities through various practical operations, such as building the infrastructure so that it may assist farmers in delivering their crops to the market. Among these developments is the aforementioned ring road that will circle Afghanistan and which will be completed in several years.
Douglas concluded by saying, “I call upon the international community and the various support organizations and the World Bank to help,” and added, “Burdens become lighter when they are shared.”