Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Stash to Beat All

US News and World Report

In Afghanistan, tons and tons of opium

For nearly two months, U.S. officials have kept mum about a massive new opium seizure in Afghanistan. In early June, counternarcotics agents raided the offices of the governor of Helmand province, Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, and found a whopping 9 metric tons of opium--nearly 20,000 pounds, drug control officials tell U.S. News. The seizure is by far the largest since the Drug Enforcement Administration returned to Afghanistan in 2002, says a senior U.S. official, and raises troubling questions about the ability of the Afghan government to crack down.

"DEA can confirm the seizure," said spokeswoman Rogene Waite, but she offered no details. Gen. Mohammed Daud, head of the Afghan Interior Ministry's Antinarcotics Department, denied that any such incident occurred, but another Interior official told of at least two raids on the governor's offices. Attempts to reach Governor Akhundzada were unsuccessful, but in the past he has denied any illegal activity.

"Narco-state." Press reports have repeatedly linked Akhundzada to narcotics. Says Svante Cornell of Johns Hopkins University's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, "The drug trade has infiltrated state authority at all levels." The seizure is likely to fuel debate in Washington over how to tackle the Afghan trade, which last year produced 87 percent of the world's opium, according to the United Nations. Officials warn that Afghanistan is rapidly evolving into a "narco-state."

Some officials fear that a crackdown on Afghan traffickers might destabilize the government of U.S. ally Hamid Karzai, who exercises only a tenuous hold over the country. Several governors and warlords are deeply implicated in the trade, and confronting them might provoke a civil war. -David E. Kaplan
With Aamir Latif


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