Afghanistan will produce another record poppy harvest this year that cements its status as the near-sole global supplier of the heroin source, yet a furious debate over how to reverse the trend is stalling proposals to cut the crop, U.S. officials said.
As President George W. Bush prepared for weekend talks with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, divisions within the U.S. administration and among NATO allies delayed the release of a $475 million counternarcotics program for Afghanistan, where intelligence officials see growing links between drugs and the Taliban, the officials said.
United Nations figures to be released in September are expected to show that Afghanistan's poppy production has risen up to 15 percent since 2006 and that the country now accounts for 95 percent of the world's crop, three percentage points more than last year, officials familiar with preliminary statistics told The Associated Press.
But counterdrug proposals by some U.S. officials have met fierce resistance, including raising the amount of forcible poppy field destruction in provinces that grow the most, officials said. The approach also would link millions of dollars in development aid to benchmarks on eradication; arrests and prosecutions of narcotics traders and corrupt officials; and on alternative crop production.
Those ideas represent what proponents call an "enhanced carrot-and-stick approach" to supplement existing antidrug efforts. They are the focus of the new $475 million program outlined in a 995-page report, the release of which has been postponed twice and may be again delayed amid disagreements, officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because parts of the report remain classified.
State Department counternarcotics agents had wanted to release a 123-page summary of the strategy last month, and then again last week, but were forced to hold off because of concerns it may not be feasible, the officials said.
Even as Bush met with Karzai on Sunday and Monday at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, a tentative release date of Aug. 9, timed to follow the meetings, appeared in jeopardy. Some in the administration, along with NATO allies Britain and Canada, sought revisions that could delay it until at least Aug. 13, the officials said.
The program represents a 13 percent increase over the $420 million in U.S. counternarcotics aid to Afghanistan last year. It would adopt a bold new approach to "coercive eradication" and set out criteria for local officials to receive development assistance based on their cooperation, the officials said...
"Afghanistan is providing close to 95 percent of the world's heroin," the State Department's top counternarcotics official, Tom Schweich, said at a recent conference. "That makes it almost a sole-source supplier" and presents a situation "unique in world history."
In 2006, Afghanistan accounted for 92 percent of global opium production, compared with 70 percent in 2000.
This latest news that Afghanistan is on track to make yet another record harvest of heroin in 2007 illustrates to me the problems encountered by governments with dubious political legitimacy. Hamid Karzai has been accused of being a "Western stooge" with limited political control.
Instead of being Afghan President, he is actually just the "Mayor of Kabul." A case in point is the continued lawlessness in parts of Afghanistan where the heroin trade thrives. It begs the question, "What sort of legitimacy does Karzai's Western-sponsored regime have in the eyes of other Afghans?" Likely, very little. There have been some proposals to use poppies for medicinal purposes to generate legitimate economic activity, but there has been limited traction gained on the idea. As long as alternate sources of livelihood are not enabled by the US and the rest, I highly suspect the heroin trade will not be eradicated: