International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) Press Briefing: Drug Control in Afghanistan

    Members of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) briefed journalists, permanent missions and NGOs on the drug control situation in Afghanistan at a press briefing, organized by UNIS Vienna at the Vienna International Centre on 12 February 2004. The speakers were Dr. Philip O. Emafo, President of the Board, Professor Hamid Ghodse and Ambassador Nuzhet Kandemir, members of the Board. The event was moderated by Ms. Sasa Gorisek, Associate Information Officer of UNIS Vienna.

    Ms. Gorisek opened the floor by announcing the recent appointment of Mr. Jean Arnault as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). She also announced the upcoming launch of the INCB Report 2003, set for 2 March 2004.

    Dr. Emafo stressed that the Board has been in dialog with the Afghanistan authorities for several years, undertaking a number of missions on the ground. At its last Session, held in November 2003, the Board reviewed progress made by the Government of Afghanistan under article 14 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961. The Board invoked article 14 of the Convention with respect to Afghanistan in 2000. Such an invocation is made when the drug control situation in a country seriously endangers the aims of the Convention. The Board noticed with concern that while some progress has been made, the overall drug control situation in Afghanistan appeared to have deteriorated. In 2003, Afghanistan opium production reached 3,600 tons, representing the second highest annual output in 15 years. Dr. Emafo stressed that while the Board acknowledges the commitment of the Afghan Government to countering narcotics, it also underlines the responsibility of the Government to fulfil obligations emanating from international drug control treaties. Dr. Emafo urged the Government to take adequate measures to ensure the implementation of the ban of opium cultivation and production. He also urged the international community, the donor countries in particular, to support authorities' endeavours through enhanced technical and financial assistance.

    Dr. Emafo pointed out that besides the opium cultivation, Afghanistan is seriously faced with the problem of illicit manufacture of and trafficking in opiates, as a result of increased opium production. He noticed with concern that large amounts of opiates continued to be trafficked through Central Asian countries to Europe. To address the problem, he urged the international community, neighbouring countries in particular, to strengthen their cooperation with the Afghan authorities also in the field of law enforcement. Dr. Emafo also stressed the need to step up drug control regulations of licit substances, to counter the proliferation of private pharmacies in Kabul, where controlled substances are sold in an uncontrolled market. He also expressed concern over problems related to drug prevention and treatment of addicts, as there are indications that drug abuse is raising in Afghanistan. Dr. Emafo reiterated the Board invitation to the international community to support Afghanistan in its drug control efforts, stressing that article 14 of the 1961 Convention will remain in force until the Board is convinced that Afghanistan has complied with the provisions of the Treaty.

    The briefing was followed by a question-and-answer session. Asked about the reasons for the present drug control situation in Afghanistan, Dr. Emafo said that despite the commitment of the Afghan administration, lack of funds, institutional capacity and community participation were still hindering drug control efforts.

    In response to a question about what Afghanistan could do with its present limited resources, Dr. Emafo mentioned some recent commendable initiatives, such as the enactment of a comprehensive anti-drug legislation, the adoption of a national anti-drug strategy and an action plan, the empowerment of the judiciary and the involvement of provincial Governors in counter-narcotics efforts. He also added that local law enforcement officers were being trained by the US authorities, stressing the importance of external assistance. In response to the same question, Professor Ghodse added that in order to successfully attempt to rid Afghanistan of opium, two requisites are equally crucial. These are the domestic political will and commitment - which the Board acknowledges - and a considerable delivery of technical and financial assistance from the international community. This is even more true in the light of the fact that in 2003, 77 per cent of the global opium production, 75 per cent of heroin sold in Europe and 100 per cent of heroin abused in the Russian Federation originated from Afghanistan, and 10 million people worldwide were addicted to Afghanistan-produced heroin. On the same topic, Ambassador Kandemir reiterated the importance of cooperation with neighbouring countries, mainly Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Strengthening cross-border cooperation would help address the recognized link between drug trafficking and financing of terrorist groups.

    Asked about an estimate of the overall value of the Afghanistan drug industry, Professor Ghodse said that precise figures were unavailable. He, however, pointed out that a gram of heroin costs US$ 1 in Afghanistan and US$ 100 in Europe. This is indicative of a considerable mark-up indicating that major illicit profits are not made by opium poppy farmers.

    In response to a question about the profitability of opium cultivation compared with the cultivation of licit crops, Professor Ghodse said that the average annual opium-induced income per household is estimated at US$ 500, or three times more than the national average, and 1.3 million people in Afghanistan engage in opium poppy cultivation. However, Dr. Emafo stressed that measures are being taken to raise awareness among local communities on the illicit nature of such profits, hence inducing them to opt for alternative sources of livelihood.

    Asked about an estimate of opium harvest in Afghanistan for the year 2004, Professor Ghodse said that over the past few years an up-going trend was noticed. This would indicate that a further increase is to be expected. However, on the positive side, some traditional opium-growing areas in the Kandahar province had successfully undertaken eradication exercises.

    In response to a question about an estimate of the amount of money needed to successfully address the opium problem in Afghanistan, Professor Ghodse paraphrased Mr. Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, who had recently stated that challenging drugs in Afghanistan would cost US$ 1, while the same undertaking would cost US$ 100 in Europe. On the same question, Ambassador Kandemir added that experts believe that the same sum of money spent to stabilize the Balkan countries would be needed to eradicate opium in Afghanistan.

    Asked about the effectiveness of the opium ban issued in 2000 under the Taliban regime, Professor Ghodse said that the Board had already invoked article 14 of the 1961 Convention in May 2000. As a result, the Taliban regime enacted an unsatisfactory ban on opium cultivation only in July 2000, leaving uncovered such illicit activities as opium manufacturing and trafficking.

    In response to a question about the persuasive effect of religious argumentations on poppy farmers, Professor Ghodse said that religion played a role in July 2000, and to some extent, it still does. However, nowadays legal and technical assistance measures are mainly pursued to induce farmers to abandon opium poppy cultivation.

    The briefing was attended by about 30 representatives of media, NGOs and permanent missions. Individual interviews took place after the event.

    Members of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) briefed journalists, permanent missions and NGOs on the drug control situation in Afghanistan at a press briefing, organized by UNIS Vienna at the Vienna International Centre on 12 February 2004. The speakers were Dr. Philip O. Emafo, President of the Board, Professor Hamid Ghodse and Ambassador Nuzhet Kandemir, members of the Board. The event was moderated by Ms. Sasa Gorisek, Associate Information Officer of UNIS Vienna.

    Ms. Gorisek opened the floor by announcing the recent appointment of Mr. Jean Arnault as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). She also announced the upcoming launch of the INCB Report 2003, set for 2 March 2004.

    Dr. Emafo stressed that the Board has been in dialog with the Afghanistan authorities for several years, undertaking a number of missions on the ground. At its last Session, held in November 2003, the Board reviewed progress made by the Government of Afghanistan under article 14 of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961. The Board invoked article 14 of the Convention with respect to Afghanistan in 2000. Such an invocation is made when the drug control situation in a country seriously endangers the aims of the Convention. The Board noticed with concern that while some progress has been made, the overall drug control situation in Afghanistan appeared to have deteriorated. In 2003, Afghanistan opium production reached 3,600 tons, representing the second highest annual output in 15 years. Dr. Emafo stressed that while the Board acknowledges the commitment of the Afghan Government to countering narcotics, it also underlines the responsibility of the Government to fulfil obligations emanating from international drug control treaties. Dr. Emafo urged the Government to take adequate measures to ensure the implementation of the ban of opium cultivation and production. He also urged the international community, the donor countries in particular, to support authorities' endeavours through enhanced technical and financial assistance.

    Dr. Emafo pointed out that besides the opium cultivation, Afghanistan is seriously faced with the problem of illicit manufacture of and trafficking in opiates, as a result of increased opium production. He noticed with concern that large amounts of opiates continued to be trafficked through Central Asian countries to Europe. To address the problem, he urged the international community, neighbouring countries in particular, to strengthen their cooperation with the Afghan authorities also in the field of law enforcement. Dr. Emafo also stressed the need to step up drug control regulations of licit substances, to counter the proliferation of private pharmacies in Kabul, where controlled substances are sold in an uncontrolled market. He also expressed concern over problems related to drug prevention and treatment of addicts, as there are indications that drug abuse is raising in Afghanistan. Dr. Emafo reiterated the Board invitation to the international community to support Afghanistan in its drug control efforts, stressing that article 14 of the 1961 Convention will remain in force until the Board is convinced that Afghanistan has complied with the provisions of the Treaty.

    The briefing was followed by a question-and-answer session. Asked about the reasons for the present drug control situation in Afghanistan, Dr. Emafo said that despite the commitment of the Afghan administration, lack of funds, institutional capacity and community participation were still hindering drug control efforts.

    In response to a question about what Afghanistan could do with its present limited resources, Dr. Emafo mentioned some recent commendable initiatives, such as the enactment of a comprehensive anti-drug legislation, the adoption of a national anti-drug strategy and an action plan, the empowerment of the judiciary and the involvement of provincial Governors in counter-narcotics efforts. He also added that local law enforcement officers were being trained by the US authorities, stressing the importance of external assistance. In response to the same question, Professor Ghodse added that in order to successfully attempt to rid Afghanistan of opium, two requisites are equally crucial. These are the domestic political will and commitment - which the Board acknowledges - and a considerable delivery of technical and financial assistance from the international community. This is even more true in the light of the fact that in 2003, 77 per cent of the global opium production, 75 per cent of heroin sold in Europe and 100 per cent of heroin abused in the Russian Federation originated from Afghanistan, and 10 million people worldwide were addicted to Afghanistan-produced heroin. On the same topic, Ambassador Kandemir reiterated the importance of cooperation with neighbouring countries, mainly Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Strengthening cross-border cooperation would help address the recognized link between drug trafficking and financing of terrorist groups.

    Asked about an estimate of the overall value of the Afghanistan drug industry, Professor Ghodse said that precise figures were unavailable. He, however, pointed out that a gram of heroin costs US$ 1 in Afghanistan and US$ 100 in Europe. This is indicative of a considerable mark-up indicating that major illicit profits are not made by opium poppy farmers.

    In response to a question about the profitability of opium cultivation compared with the cultivation of licit crops, Professor Ghodse said that the average annual opium-induced income per household is estimated at US$ 500, or three times more than the national average, and 1.3 million people in Afghanistan engage in opium poppy cultivation. However, Dr. Emafo stressed that measures are being taken to raise awareness among local communities on the illicit nature of such profits, hence inducing them to opt for alternative sources of livelihood.

    Asked about an estimate of opium harvest in Afghanistan for the year 2004, Professor Ghodse said that over the past few years an up-going trend was noticed. This would indicate that a further increase is to be expected. However, on the positive side, some traditional opium-growing areas in the Kandahar province had successfully undertaken eradication exercises.

    In response to a question about an estimate of the amount of money needed to successfully address the opium problem in Afghanistan, Professor Ghodse paraphrased Mr. Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, who had recently stated that challenging drugs in Afghanistan would cost US$ 1, while the same undertaking would cost US$ 100 in Europe. On the same question, Ambassador Kandemir added that experts believe that the same sum of money spent to stabilize the Balkan countries would be needed to eradicate opium in Afghanistan.

    Asked about the effectiveness of the opium ban issued in 2000 under the Taliban regime, Professor Ghodse said that the Board had already invoked article 14 of the 1961 Convention in May 2000. As a result, the Taliban regime enacted an unsatisfactory ban on opium cultivation only in July 2000, leaving uncovered such illicit activities as opium manufacturing and trafficking.

    In response to a question about the persuasive effect of religious argumentations on poppy farmers, Professor Ghodse said that religion played a role in July 2000, and to some extent, it still does. However, nowadays legal and technical assistance measures are mainly pursued to induce farmers to abandon opium poppy cultivation.

    The briefing was attended by about 30 representatives of media, NGOs and permanent missions. Individual interviews took place after the event.