- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Afghan drug war

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan blames drug lords for inciting the latest clashes in retaliation for Afghan government crackdown on the heroin trade, as officials appealed for help from neighboring countries.

“Drug dealers are trying to make more violence,” Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann said this week, citing a campaign by narco-traffickers to stop President Hamid Karzai’s government from eradicating poppy fields and encouraging farmers to grow other crops.

Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of opium and heroin, both derived from the poppy plant. The United Nations has warned that Afghanistan risks becoming a “narco-state” unless poppy growth is combated.

“Two years ago, there was no eradication of poppy,” the ambassador told reporters in the Afghan capital, Kabul. “This year, President Karzai led a very strong policy to eradicate poppy and to tell people not to grow it.

“There were efforts by drug dealers and terrorists together to prevent that. Now they are trying to use the violence to guard their wealth.”

Habibullah Qaderi, Afghanistan’s minister for counternarcotics, urged delegates at a regional anti-drug summit to help his country by disrupting drug trade routes, which run through Iran and Central Asia and into Europe.

“If you want a secure region, we need to work together and eliminate the scourge of drugs from the region,” he said.

“It requires joint efforts of the affected nations, particularly the neighbors in the region to share resources and expertise.”

Life or death’

African trade ministers used their recent summit in Washington to appeal for congressional support for the extension of a key provision in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that is due to expire next year.

Mpho M. Malie of Lesotho and Alan Kyerematen of Ghana met with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to urge the Tennessee Republican to extend the third-country fabric provision until 2015, when the entire statute is due for reconsideration.

That provision allows African countries to buy low-cost fabric from countries not covered by the act and manufacture the material for export without duties or quotas to the United States.

“This is a matter of life or death for us. AGOA has allowed us to make a lot of progress, but hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost without this extension,” Mr. Malie told our correspondent Katie Stuhldreher.

Mr. Kyerematen added that many of 37 countries covered by the act lack the capacity to weave their own fabrics.

“We are making progress and building textile mills. We just need more time,” he said.

Both ministers pointed out that garment companies make decisions about placing orders months in advance, so if the extension is not granted soon, Africa could lose a whole year of sales.

Mr. Malie said after the meeting with Mr. Frist that he thought it went very well and that Mr. Frist understood the urgency of the matter. The Senate majority leader did not give the ministers any time frame for a decision.

Congress passed the African trade act in 2000 and in 2004 extended the benefits of the bill until 2015, with the exception of the fabric provision.

At last week’s trade summit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed the Bush administration’s strong support for development in Africa.

“Our policy toward Africa is rooted in partnership, not in paternalism, in doing things with the peoples of Africa — not for the peoples of Africa,” she said.

“A keystone of our approach is this African Growth and Opportunity Act.”

Since the passage of the original act, bilateral trade with Africa increased 37 percent to $60.6 billion last year.

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