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Afghanistan Drug Trade Impacts Wide Region

(Washington, DC--December 21, 2004) As the world's leader in opiate production, Afghanistan has negatively impacted neighboring countries, according to three RFE/RL regional experts. They told a recent RFE/RL audience in Washington that Afghanistan's increase in drug production and processing facilities has rapidly spread supply throughout the surrounding countries, increasing the entire region's drug trade activity.

Amin Tarzi, RFE/RL's Afghanistan analyst said that "disenfranchising Afghan warlords" would be an effective political solution in combating Afghanistan's drug trade. Tarzi said Afghan warlords run the economy of the country, since it is estimated that over 52 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP) comes from narcotics. Although Afghanistan is the third poorest country in the world, he said, it produces 80 percent of the world's opium, which makes this a global problem. Noting that opiate tonnage has increased to over 131,000 tons this year from a low of 8,000 tons in 2001, Tarzi said the Afghan government should send military forces to confront the drug warlords. He also cautioned that Afghanistan's future would be jeopardized if the drug warlords were to be elected to the country's parliament in elections expected in April 2005.

RFE/RL Regional Analysis Coordinator, A. William Samii noted that, just as Afghanistan has the highest rates of narcotics production, Iran now has the "highest rates of opiate interdiction." The Iranian government concentrates on supply interdiction, involving police, conventional armed forces and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps to patrol its border with Afghanistan. Nonetheless, considerable amounts of drugs do successfully enter Iran and are shipped on to European markets -- although as much as 40 percent of the drug supply remains in Iran to fuel a growing domestic drug addiction problem. Samii said Iran has signed bi-lateral agreements to improve its ability to fight the drug trade, but these appear to be of limited value. The government has recently begun to acknowledge the drug addiction problem, Samii said, by opening a drug hotline, drug rehabilitation centers, methadone treatment centers, establishing Narcotics Anonymous chapters, and openly discussing the availability of synthetic drugs such as ecstasy, LSD and GHB within Iran's urban centers.

The drug trade in Central Asia is a "comprehensive phenomenon in society," according to RFE/RL Central Asia analyst Daniel Kimmage. He said the combination of root causes, contributing factors and resulting problems place too great of a strain on the region's limited resources to combat the drug trade. Kimmage said the huge supply of drugs from Afghanistan, demand for narcotics in Russia and Europe, and its location between both regions combine to create "perfect storm conditions" for a drug epidemic in Central Asia -- a region whose poverty, endemic corruption and mass labor migration enhance the drug trade. The resulting problems, according to Kimmage, include domestic drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, opportunities for financing terrorist groups, as well as ethnic and geopolitical tensions. Kimmage predicted that improvement in Central Asia can occur only with international aid and Afghanistan's success in battling its drug crisis.

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