- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

From combined dispatches

KABUL, Afghanistan — Government officials and warlords are involved in the illicit drug trade threatening to engulf the war-torn state’s fledgling economy and turn it into a “narcostate,” Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said Thursday.

“I can’t tell you particularly who is doing what, but generally I can say, yes, we have proof that government officials, including security officials, are involved in drug trafficking,” Mr. Jalali told reporters.

Government officials are either directly involved in the lucrative business or protect dealers in return for money.

“In some parts, criminals are supported by those who have power,” he said, referring to regional warlords who hold sway over large parts of the country.

“In some cases, we have been able to identify and arrest them; in other cases, we have not been able to capture them.”

Afghanistan is the source of most heroin sold on the back streets of Europe.

On Tuesday, police broke up a 12-man heroin ring operating in the Afghan capital, the minister said. “A drug distribution gang was seized in Kabul.”

Police seized 31 pounds of heroin packed in small bags, he said.

Mr. Jalali attributed increased drug-related activities to corruption in President Hamid Karzai’s U.S.-backed government.

“Unfortunately in Afghanistan administrative corruption is one of our main problems,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russia is withdrawing its frontier troops from the Tajik-Afghan border in a move that will leave a porous border for drug traffickers, a Russian official said in an interview this week.

First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta the Russians are leaving at the request of Tajikistan, although Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said two weeks ago the handover was a Russian initiative.

Russia’s Defense Ministry declined to say how many troops it has in Tajikistan. Analysts put the total — including a motorized rifle division sent for peacekeeping — at somewhere over 20,000.

Russian-led troops have helped maintain stability in Tajikistan since a 1992-97 civil war. They monitor more than 90 percent of the remote 840-mile Tajik border with Afghanistan.

“We are pulling out of Tajikistan in general,” Mr. Trubnikov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “The result will be a porous border. Porous means drugs.

“The Americans are not happy with this,” Mr. Trubnikov said. “They know that things get past us at the moment, so the drugs traffic will spread further.”

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