- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that a flourishing drug trade in Afghanistan may be helping fuel a Taliban resurgence, potentially undermining the young Afghan democracy.

“I do worry that the funds that come from the sale of those products could conceivably end up adversely affecting the democratic process in the country,” he told reporters accompanying him on an overnight flight from Washington.

“I also think any time there is that much money floating around and you have people like the Taliban that it gives them an opportunity to fund their efforts in various ways,” he added.

U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to oust the radical Taliban regime. Although the country now has a democratically elected government, the Taliban has been making a comeback.

At a press conference after Mr. Rumsfeld met with President Emomali Rakhmonov and other senior government officials, Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov told reporters that the Taliban is trying to “turn Afghanistan back to its past.” He expressed confidence that the fundamentalist movement would fail.

Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S. intelligence information indicates that the Taliban has taken a share of drug profits in exchange for providing protection. He did not offer specifics or elaborate.

The defense secretary also said the bulk of the demand for heroin and other drugs supplied by Afghanistan is largely in Europe and Russia, and he called on the Europeans to do more to help fight the problem.

“Western Europe ought to have an enormous interest in the success in Afghanistan, and it’s going to take a lot more effort on their part for the Karzai government to be successful,” he said, referring to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Tajikistan, which has supported U.S. counterterrorism efforts including the war in neighboring Afghanistan, lies on a major route used by drug traffickers to smuggle narcotics to Russia and Eastern Europe. The United States has worked with the Tajik government to attempt to improve its border security.

At the press conference, Mr. Nazarov said his country is given too much of the blame for being a drug conduit. He cited a list of drug-interdiction figures that he said showed his government last year had seized large quantities of heroin and other drugs manufactured in Afghanistan, and he said seizures were up 27 percent in the first quarter of 2006.

Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters that the Pentagon has no interest in setting up more permanent bases in Central Asia, but he noted that other basing arrangements are needed to support military activities in Afghanistan. Under an existing “gas-and-go” agreement, U.S. warplanes are permitted to stop in Tajikistan to be refueled, but there is no arrangement for full-scale U.S. basing here. U.S. planes supporting operations in Afghanistan also are permitted to overfly Tajik territory.

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