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  Drugs and Conflict in Afghanistan and Central Asia

OSH/BRUSSELS, 26 November 2001: Conflict in Afghanistan and Central Asia will not be substantially reduced unless there is a serious effort to tackle the region’s multiple drug problems. It is well known that Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of heroin. Money from drugs pays for weapons and fighters and is likely to have been a significant source of funds for terrorist organisations. But Afghan heroin is also undermining regional stability, law enforcement, political institutions and the health of its neighbours.

Iran and Pakistan now have the highest per capita proportion of drug users in the world, and the Central Asian states are rapidly catching up. HIV infection rates are rising rapidly while the drug trade feeds corruption in already weak political institutions, exacerbates border tensions and hinders trade. Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian states will not feel secure as long as Afghan drugs have such a malign influence on their society. Unless the impact can be reduced, there is virtually no chance they will end their often unhelpful intrusions into the country’s politics.

The departure of the Taliban from Afghanistan will have little effect on its own. The drug trade is the result of decades of war and poverty. A new report by the International Crisis Group, Central Asia: Drugs and Conflict, urges regional governments and the international community to devote far greater resources to the problem - and take a much more integrated approach.

ICG Asia Program Director Robert Templer said: “The United States and Europe have given only cursory attention to drug control in the region, with the focus on policing. A much broader strategy is necessary that alleviates poverty through income assistance and crop substitution and promotes harm reduction strategies such as needle exchange and treatment programs”.

Those in the drug trade often have an interest in perpetuating conflict. Trafficking is easier where law and order is destroyed by war. Governments and institutions are more easily corrupted, undercutting efforts to reduce poverty. Worsening poverty increases the risks of conflict and provides more fertile ground for drug trafficking.

Ustina Markus, ICG Central Asia analyst, points out that “unless the role of drugs in this vicious cycle is reduced, conflict of some sort will continue in Afghanistan and surrounding countries will be further destabilised”.


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