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Leaders link drugs and regional insecurity

State representatives from the region this week emphasised the need to increase support for alternative crop cultivation and demand reduction, in addition to countering drug trafficking and related criminal activities, during a UN debate on fighting crime and illegal drugs. At a debate of the UN General Assembly’s ‘Committee Three’ (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) from Monday through Wednesday, Central Asian delegates emphasised the need for an inter-sectoral approach to the problems, covering a wide spectrum of issues, including poverty, social and economic disparities, education and health, as well as legal and judicial measures. Kyrgyz government representative Elmira Ibraimova told the committee that drug enforcement was a national policy priority for her country, and that “drug trafficking and abuse ... was on a scale that threatened its national security and threatened to undermine its future.” Of particular concern, she said, was the shift from hashish to opium addiction. Ibraimova welcomed the Security Council’s consideration of drug trafficking from Afghanistan last spring and the continuing work of the UN Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), particularly its alternative development programme and its initiative in co-hosting - with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - a conference in Tashkent this month on enhancing security and stability in Central Asia. UNDCP Executive Director Pino Arlacchi, introducing the debate on crime and drugs on Friday 30 September, said Afghanistan “remained by far the largest producer of illicit opium in the world”, and was the source for most of the supply reaching the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, as well as central and western Europe. The programme’s annual opium poppy survey for Afghanistan this year has estimated the national crop production at 3,276 mt on some 82,000 ha, 28 percent down on 1999. The survey confirmed poppy cultivation in 22 of 23 provinces in Afghanistan, with Helmand, Nangarhar, Oruzgan and Kandahar provinces having the greatest acreage. Arlacchi said the linkages between poverty and the programme’s work were much misunderstood, and that “funding had now run out for even the modest efforts being undertaken to support alternative options for poor Afghans.” As a result, it was intensifying its efforts to create a barrier against Afghan drugs, with “excellent cooperation” from Afghanistan’s Central Asia neighbours, who were concerned by the threat drugs posed. “Drugs and drug-related trafficking were financing arms and threatening security,” he said. The major obstacle to combating the drug problems in Afghanistan is the internationalisation of the country’s problems; securing the commitment of all players inside and outside the country to fully eliminate narcotics; and the high degree of distrust for the programme’s efforts, particularly by the Taliban movement, Arlacchi said. Pakistani delegate Munawar Saeed Bhatti told the Third Committee debate that while Pakistani’s launch, with the UNDCP, of a master plan for drug eradication had made it an an “opium production-free country” a year ahead of time, the use of drugs had unfortunately increased. He said that while Pakistan had made the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts a priority, efforts addressing the problem had to reach beyond its borders. Those efforts included interdiction activities, cooperation with Iran and steps to impede trafficking. Alternative crops had worked in Pakistan and were also working in Afghanistan, Bhatti said, but warned that lack of funding threatened to force the UNDCP to abandon projects there, which, he said, would send the wrong message to criminals. Kazakhstan’s Murat Smagulov - speaking for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan and the Russian Federation - said the use of narcotics was increasing worldwide, and that the UN should become the most foremost instrument for eliminating the drug trade. He said cooperation at the regional level was vital to combat drug trafficking and organised crime, but the legal basis to do so must be solid in each country in Central Asia for it to work. Afghanistan was particularly active in getting its drugs to Europe through the region, and a comprehensive programme was needed to combat the phenomenon, Smagulov said. However, a new danger was of drug traders using certain of the region’s countries as a testing ground for synthetic drugs; they manufactured new drugs, then passed them around to see how well they sold, he added. Speaking on behalf of the ‘GUUAM Group’ of states (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and the Republic of Moldova), Eldar Kouliev of Azerbaijan noted that conflict zones created the right climate for producing and trafficking drugs because they were beyond the reach of national and international control systems, and beyond the rule of law. Countries with economies in transition had social and economic obstacles that hampered drug control efforts, and the ‘Balkans route’ across Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe was widely used by drug dealers to move drugs westward, Kouliev added. Iranian representative Mohamed Hassan Fadaifard told the Committee that drug-control activities at its borders “resembled a full-scale war”, and that “international and regional cooperation in setting up a security belt around Afghanistan was a vital factor in halting the flow of drugs from southwest Asia to other parts of the world.” Iran’s anti-drug activities involved military operations against drug caravans and smugglers, carried out with sophisticated military equipment, Fadaifard said. Every year, substantial amounts of narcotics were seized from the smugglers. Yet, despite a huge cost to Iran in terms of resources and human lives, the trafficking was difficult to stop and young people inside Iran were succumbing to drug use. Sergey Karov of the Russian Federation argued that, in light of the large-scale projects UNDCP was carrying out, it should be supported by the regular United Nations budget. Even more urgently, it should receive further funds to implement the action plan it had developed on drug demand reduction. The fight against illicit drug trafficking required a complex and multifaceted approach, Karov said. Both supply and demand had to be addressed, along with organised crimes that were an integral part of drug trafficking, including money laundering, corruption and terrorism. Lack of coordination and limited resources were the biggest handicap in responding to the drug scourge in developing countries, Iran’s Mohamed Hassan Faidafard said. The UNDCP should take a leadership role in tackling the problem but, since drug trafficking and abuse was international in scope, there should also be more support from the international community for national and regional efforts to stop drug trafficking, he added. According to Faidafard, there should be regional and international cooperation in combating money laundering, terrorism, arms trafficking and corruption, while major drug consuming countries worldwide should stand by their international responsibilities and lower their domestic demand.
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