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Poppy powers Afghan Taliban, says US

US is worried that an alarming rise in poppy culture in Afghanistan is helping fund terror attacks.
IANS | By Arun Kumar, Washington
UPDATED ON MAR 02, 2007 02:16 PM IST

The US has praised India's good record on counter-narcotics, but is worried that an alarming increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is helping Taliban terrorists fund attacks on US and NATO forces.

"The Indian government has a good record on this, but it's also a huge country with a very large industry, so to prevent diversion from the legitimate pharmaceutical industry is a challenge," a senior US official said on Thursday.

"India, of course, is the only legal producer of opium and we've worked closely with the Indian government. India has a good record, frankly, on counter-narcotics," said Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Anne W Patterson.

India, she noted, has a very large, legitimate pharmaceutical industry. "We work very closely with them to prevent diversion from that. The Indian government is very committed to that," she said while the US government's 2007 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

Of particular worry in Afghanistan is the Taliban's involvement in the drug trade, Patterson said noting that cultivation of the opium poppy there increased by an "alarming" 59 percent, making the 2006 crop the largest on record.

Taliban leaders have publicly linked themselves to poppy cultivation, and drug profits now support elements of the Taliban and fund attacks on US and international troops in Afghanistan. The opium poppy is used to manufacture heroin, she said.

Patterson attributed much of the poppy problem in Afghanistan to the fact that the Afghan government "doesn't have control of [its] territory". Cultivation of opium poppies soared in 2006 in two Afghan provinces, Helmand and Kandahar, "because there is basically a lack of law enforcement and control", she said.

The resurgence of Afghan opium cultivation has increased the flow of heroin to Europe, Russia and the Near East, which "undermines those societies and the consolidation of democracy and security in Afghanistan", the report stated.

Patterson praised neighbouring Iran's role in combating drug trafficking, despite a State Department report characterising the country as a "major transit route for opiates smuggled from Afghanistan", which eventually reach Western markets.

"They are playing a very positive role" in fighting the Afghan opium trade, Patterson said of Iran. "They have been very active along the border" with Afghanistan.

The Iranians view the opium trade as a "major social and law enforcement problem" and have been the "most aggressive" by far of Afghanistan's neighbours in interdicting the Afghan opium crop, said Patterson.

Apart from Afghanistan, the report cited Bolivia and Venezuela as being particular problems in the drug trade.

Turning to terrorist financing, the US official said money laundering had long been "intertwined" with the drug trade. But the global community had become more aware since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States of "terrorists using underground systems to move money and transfer assets".

Focusing on money laundering "is one of the most valuable tools law enforcement has to combat international crime", the report said.

A focus on money laundering "can accomplish what many other law enforcement tools cannot" in attacking such threats as narcotics trafficking, alien smuggling, intellectual property theft, corruption and terrorism, it said.

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