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    UN drugs chief says Afghanistan, not NATO must fix heroin trade

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    Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), blames porous Central Asian borders for the influx of Afghan heroin and says Afghanistan’s government must stop opium cultivation, not foreign troops.


    Mr. Costa, first of all I would like to thank you for giving us an interview, and then just a few questions.

    First, how can you describe global harm caused by the drugs? And you have mentioned sometimes that thousands of people are dying every year, is it really so bad?

    Regarding the harm caused by the drugs, it is enormous, but of course is less than the harm caused by licit drugs. We are talking about illicit drugs that are banned and they are kept under control - heroin, cocaine, marijuana, synthetic drugs.

    Of course there are licit substances, like alcohol, like tobacco. Alcohol and tobacco you can buy in any store just about anywhere in the world kill millions of people. Drugs, because they are limited to a fraction of our society, just, depending of the definition, 1 or 2 percentage points of the population, kill 200,000 people worldwide every year. About half of that we believe is the result of consuming the most deadly drugs, that is heroin distilled from opium, and I think that the estimate, which is more a rule of thumb than a precise amount, that estimate is quite accurate.

    Why do you think most Afghan drugs, I mean first of all heroin, goes to Russia?

    Well obviously the border between Afghanistan and Russia, the many borders, are not well controlled. Afghan drugs get into Central Asia relatively easy. Еhe border between for example Afghanistan and Turkmenistan is really not protected. The border with Tajikistan is poorly protected, so drugs get into Central Asia quite easily. From Central Asia is definitely very easy to ship the drugs to Russia, because the borders between the former republics of Central Asia, part of the Soviet Union, and Russia itself are not controlled. So there is an easy supply and logistical problems there. While the borders with Iran are very controlled and of course it is becoming progressively more and more difficult to ship the drugs to Western Europe. Second I think that drug consumption is a reflection of society priorities, society choices. The U.S. for example has been hooked on cocaine, very little heroin, cocaine for a long time. Even a couple of hundred tons a year of cocaine. Europe has been addicted in the past to heroin, now heroin consumption in Europe is declining, there is much more consumption of cocaine. Those are trends within society and that’s what is happening in Russia, it is for culture and other reasons a drug of choice.

    And why do you think that Europe is not as concerned about heroin as Russia?

    Europe is concerned about heroin, because Europe loses a lot of their young people, addicts of heroin. Perhaps not as many as in Russia, but Europe has been concerned. And what I have detected in the past many years is that Europe has established very comprehensive prevention and especially treatment programs for heroin addicts, not for cocaine, but for heroin addicts. Europe has established a significant amount of programs with a lot of costs, especially in Nordic countries, the Netherlands, in Sweden and so forth. I think they are taking heroin, European countries are taking heroin very seriously. I would say they are not taking very seriously marijuana, for sure, and probably not even cocaine. But heroin is taken seriously.

    And what can you say about the stockpiled so called strategic reserve of Afghan opium?

    This is a supply question. Afghanistan, during the past many years, probably since 2006, has produced much more opium than used in the world. The tons of opium used in the world every year are about 4,000, 4,300. It is difficult to estimate but that is the order of magnitude. Afghanistan has produced, in 2007 for example almost 8,000 tons. It has produced more than twice the world consumption. So if you sum up the excess production, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and most likely this year as well, you will discover that Afghanistan has produced almost 10,000 tons altogether of opium in 5 years, more than the world consumed. Obviously that has lead to the conclusion that there must be stocks, and there are. Indeed the recent very significant NATO operations, especially in Helmand province, discovered huge caches, huge stocks, And some of them were confiscated. Where are these stocks, its hard to say whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan or some other countries, but certainly these large quantities exist of a substance that preserves its quality, its addiction power, and its own strength as an addictive substance, through time. 

    Do you see any link between the growth of drugs production is Afghanistan and growing military buildup in the region?

    Certainly there is a link between the cultivation and the military buildup by the insurgents, if that is what the question is about. Indeed we have been saying that now since 2005, the cultivation is promoted, sponsored, the processing in the illicit labs and exports are actually run by the insurgents. Whether Taliban or criminal groups associated or in any event working together with insurgents.  Certainly we can confirm that the illicit activity of cultivation, processing and export takes place in these provinces, the provinces which are in one way or another under control or the influence of the insurgents. Now we have also seen that a significant amount of revenue generated by the drugs is actually appropriated by the insurgents, they need the resources to pay the foot soldiers, to buy the equipment, to buy the weapons, to buy the transport, the pickups and so on and so forth. So, I would say that opium has fueled the military buildup of the insurgents and at the same time insurgency has allowed farmers and those around the cultivation and the processing doing it against the law, because in Afghanistan the cultivation is illegal.

    What can be made to make United Nations organization handle these Afghan drugs as part of war against terrorism and piracy? 

    Well, the United Nations has been working very hard, and not only our office, I am the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, there has been a tremendous amount of support to the Afghan people for the election, running schools, for feeding the hungry and so forth. Though generally promoting development and promoting government administration, promoting the development of Afghanistan is a deterrent to drugs. Ourselves at the UN ODC, the Office of Drugs and Crime, have been at the forefront of assisting the government to establish a counter-narcotic policy program, to establish counter-narcotic police, to assist farmers to diversify into licit cultivations, and so forth. More than anybody else, though, I would say our office has been the conscience of the world about what needs to been done in Afghanistan, what can be done and the importance of curbing the drug cultivation and processing as a way of denying funds that would otherwise enrich, and therefore empower the insurgents

    Do you see any effects of drugs on the crime rate?

    Worldwide, for sure. Our own estimate is that a few billion dollars worldwide, are accruing to organized crime because of drug trafficking, and that is a way of not only putting together resources but also acquire weapons and indeed corrupt leaders worldwide. Certainly in Afghanistan this is happening on the more limited scale of a single country. And I leave aside violence which is related to the behavior of drug addicts that break the law in order to acquire money in order to fund their habit. I would like to see the problem more from the supply side, and therefore in the behavior of organized crime groups. But obviously the whole drug economy worldwide is very much interlinked with the violence, and the crime and the mafia behavior. Then there is a further element which has been appreciated as of late by the Security Council of the UN for example: drug trafficking foster insurgency, violence and even terrorism in weaker countries. Countries with limited ability to control their borders, limited ability to establish a judicial system, limited ability to stop this, for example in West Africa, for example in Central America, for example in the Caribbean, Mexico and so forth etc.

    What does Rainbow strategy mean?

    It’s a nickname for a program that is very comprehensive; it goes into fighting trafficking of drugs, fighting trafficking of precursors, promoting alternative development, promoting good governance and so forth. Each area of the rainbow strategy is represented with a different color; altogether these colors give us a very nice rainbow.

    What does the blue color mean? 

    The blue color is the fighting the trafficking of precursors.

    What do you think about the position of Richard Holbrooke, who said destroying the Afghan poppy plantations is not only wasteful and ineffective way, but also nonproductive, because Afghan peasants may turn to the Taliban, with un-employment rising?

    The position manifested by Ambassador Holbrooke is known to us. We have been saying that any eradication should be done by the government of Afghanistan and its own police forces, counter-narcotic police. Not by NATO, not by foreign forces, not by ISAF, not by the United Nations. It happens in all countries, because the policies regarding drugs as much as anything else in any given country are the jurisdiction of that government. So I respect what Ambassador Holbrooke said, because it is very much a part of the logic of this office, that we do not establish and implement eradication policies done by the government.

    What do you mean about a plan proposed by the Russian side, during the visit of Mr. Ivanov in Brussels? The plan’s name is drug tsar.

    I am not all that familiar with the proposal by drug tsar Ivanov. The proposal was made in another institution, not the United Nations, at NATO. I would be very happy to discuss with drug tsar Ivanov about what he has in mind. To conclude on this, we know that Russia suffers a lot because of Afghan opium, so I’m not surprised if Russian authorities and not only the drug tsar others as well, keep calling the attention of the world on a tragedy which we all would like to stop. 

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.



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