The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Heady on opium, under US nose

New Delhi, Dec. 14: America may have tasted success in its war on terror, but it is Afghan drug lords who are counting the gains.

Opium production in Afghanistan has gone up by 15 per cent this year despite the presence of the US-led coalition against terrorism in the war-ravaged country. Officials in Pakistan's Anti Narcotics Force said the troops were so focused on weeding out al Qaida militants that they did not dare act against poppy cultivators and drug manufacturers who often tipped them off about the movement of 'terrorists'.

ANF chief major-general Nadeem Ahmed, who led a five-member Pakistani delegation to India for talks on ways to deal with the drug menace, said poppy cultivation in Afghanistan covered an 'unparalleled' 131,000 hectares this year. There have also been reports that many traditional wheat growers in rural Afghanistan were switching to fields of brilliant red, pink and white poppies because of better returns.

The reports are backed up by statistics. In 2003, 360 tonnes of heroin ' a derivative of opium ' were produced. This year, the figure has gone up to 420 tonnes, confirming the warnings of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

After the two-day meeting between the Pakistani delegation and the Indian Narcotics Control Bureau, a joint statement today spoke of positive engagement on issues like drug trafficking and exchange of the draft memorandum of understanding the two countries expect to sign next year.

Sources said Indian officials had asked at the deliberations how poppy cultivation could increase in Afghanistan despite the heavy presence of US troops. Ahmed is said to have told them that US troops had argued that if they interfered with opium cultivation, villagers and local drug lords would stop providing them information on Taliban and al Qaida activists.

The Pakistani official also spoke of the impact the growing supply from Afghanistan was having on his country. Pakistan has been a major route for Afghan drug traffickers after the 1979-89 Soviet occupation cut off more direct paths to Europe and Central and West Asia.

According to the ANF, 60 of the 360 tonnes of heroin produced in Afghanistan ' the world's largest opium producer ' was intercepted in neighbouring countries and another 40 tonnes consumed by drug abusers in Pakistan and its neighbourhood. The remaining unaccounted 260 tonnes are believed to have made their way to Europe and the US.

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