- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 25, 2004

Afghanistan is a changing nation. Only three years ago, regional leaders who helped defeat the Taliban agreed in Bonn to a roadmap to democracy. In January they adopted an enlightened constitution, and on Oct. 9, more than 8 million Afghan men and women voted in their nation’s first-ever presidential election. Each voted for a single candidate, but all voted for democracy.

Progress toward a safe and democratic Afghanistan has been steady and significant. That progress, however, faces a threat that requires renewed attention by the Afghan government and a helping hand from the international community. The threat is illegal drugs and a booming drug trade that transforms innocent and otherwise honest farmers into laborers trapped in the service of a criminal enterprise. The trade is in illegal narcotics, and the challenge is to free Afghan farmers from their dependence on poppy cultivation.

Narcotics production has been a major problem for Afghanistan for decades. It is a problem that the Afghan people clearly recognize, and one wthat will only be solved with their determined leadership and perseverance, along with the assistance of the international community. It is by no means a problem that defies solution and the Afghans have already drawn up a national drug-control strategy. Colombia’s dramatic progress against a pervasive narcotics trade demonstrates the power of credible, coordinated and comprehensive policies to reduce the destabilizing threat of drugs. The United States is playing a valuable role in Colombia’s progress, and now we are prepared to assist Afghanistan fight its drug war.

Our assistance will rest on five pillars: First, we will assist the Afghan government with a public affairs campaign designed to discourage poppy cultivation and dissuade participation in any aspect of the drug trade. Toward this end, the Afghan government may choose to pursue an amnesty policy for narcotics involvement.

These efforts will be enhanced by the second pillar: increased law enforcement. We will help the Afghans build a special narcotics prosecution task force and aid construction of judicial and detention facilities expressly for counternarcotics cases. We will also lend technical assistance from our Department of Justice to examine ways to free poppy farmers from debts incurred to opium middlemen.

Clearly, progress against the drug trade is impossible absent the alternative livelihoods needed for poppy farmers to feed their families and prosper. Our third pillar will create new opportunities for growing legitimate and high-value crops. These fresh livelihood opportunities will initially be made available in key provinces targeted for poppy eradication. Micro-credit programs, improved irrigation, and access to improved seeds and better roads will make turning away from poppy cultivation a real choice.

Nothing the Afghan government does to quell the drug trade can be effective without aggressive and effective interdiction policies. Our fourth pillar will help the Afghans launch eradication programs to destroy poppy fields. Farmers in the past faced little threat from growing poppy and were able to reap three to four times more profits than those from food crops. Destroying poppy fields outright will be a powerful tool to discourage any future planting of illicit crops.

The fifth pillar is interdiction. Our goal is to help the government increase the size and mobility of its counternarcotics police, while accelerating their tempo. More forces will be trained, “high-impact targets” will be arrested, drug-related intelligence sharing will be improved, and the pressure points of the drug trade identified and suppressed. It goes without saying that no one pillar alone will do the job. In his recent acceptance speech, newly elected President Hamid Karzai made clear his determination that fighting drugs is his highest priority. We agree.

The stakes are high, not only for the future stability of Afghanistan but also for the United States, our allies and partners. A vibrant drug trade fosters corruption, undermines the rule of law, can finance terror and will destabilize the region. It threatens all that the courageous Afghan people have achieved. In a troubled region’s newest democracy, there simply is no place for that terrible trade.

John P. Walters is the director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy.

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