- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

The failure of international forces to curb Afghanistan’s soaring poppy production threatens to destabilize the entire Central Asian region and bankroll a new generation of terrorists, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister said yesterday.

Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev said his country is a natural transit route for heroin and other illegal drugs from Afghanistan to Russia and markets in Europe. If surging production in Afghanistan is not curtailed, he warned, his country could face exploding drug use and other social problems.

“Our concern is that there have been so many conferences, so many organizations formed to fight drugs and terrorism, but nothing concrete gets done,” Mr. Tokayev told editors and reporters of The Washington Times in an interview at the Kazakhstan Embassy.

“My feeling is that the real terrorists are watching those conferences and speeches, and they’re laughing at us,” he said.

Mr. Tokayev, who met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Wednesday, also said that Kazakhstan is committed to keeping its small military deployment in Iraq despite domestic opposition and that his oil-rich country soon will begin work on a new pipeline in a bid to supply the exploding Chinese market.

Kazakhstan, which is 65 percent Muslim, sent 27 military engineers to Iraq on a “humanitarian mission” after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the only Central Asian nation to contribute to the U.S.-led security mission.

Despite deep differences over the U.S.-led war, “we strongly believe the international community must come together to help the U.S. to cope with this difficult situation,” he said.

“It is very much in our interest that Iraq become a secular nation, a democratic nation. If not, Iraq will be a much more dangerous place than it even is nowadays,” he added.

He acknowledged that the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev was “paying a political price” at home for sending even a small deployment to Iraq.

But he said Kazakhstan’s presence was an important symbol of its commitment to stability in the region.

Mr. Tokayev’s bleak assessment of Afghanistan’s drug trade echoed a new General Accounting Office study this week, which found that the booming poppy trade was bolstering regional warlords, financing new operations by the ousted Taliban movement and undermining U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“The terrorists use the money from drugs to increase their power and fight off government efforts to eradicate new crops. It’s a vicious cycle and a very dangerous one for us.”

The NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan will miss a late June deadline to expand its forces beyond the capital of Kabul to a number of provinces. Alliance officials say they have had trouble assembling the transport planes, medical supplies and other support needed to expand the multinational mission.

The Kazakh foreign minister called for “concrete steps” to combat Afghan drug cultivation and trafficking, including broader information-sharing and arresting the politicians and generals who secretly aid the drug dealers.

On oil, he said Kazakhstan is following a policy of diversifying its markets and sees China as a particularly ripe target of opportunity.

Chinese and Kazakh officials recently announced that construction will begin in August on a $688 million, 750-mile pipeline linking some of Kazakhstan’s richest oil fields to a terminal on the Chinese border. The work will be completed by late 2005.

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