UN anti-drugs chief calls for conditional aid to Afghanistan

Agence France Presse

Kabul, January 30:

International aid to Afghanistan should be made conditional on the country showing real results and progress in the fight against opium production, UN anti-drugs chief Antonio Maria Costa said in an interview with AFP.

“I want to introduce and I want the international financial lenders to introduce a negative pledge in their lending, so that the resources will be made available (only) if there is a pledge that no opium will be cultivated in the district, in the village, in the province,” Costa said on Saturday.

Costa, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said under such a policy “the programmes can come to an end if indeed the evils of trade and the evils of cultivations are not curtailed.”

He arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday for a four-day visit including talks with President Hamid Karzai. His visit comes after Afghan opium production boomed in 2004, rising 64 per cent on already high yields.

This initiative is “new, it has not been considered so far”, he said, explaining that under the measure, local administrations would have to sign a contract with lending institutions agreeing to combat the cultivation of opium poppies. If poppy production did not fall, the contracts would stipulate that assistance could be cut off, he said.

“I am not asking bankers to become cops but to support what cops are doing,” he said, adding that his proposal had received favorable remarks from international lenders.

Afghanistan is largely dependent on foreign assistance in its efforts to rebuild after more than a quarter century of conflict.

But in parallel, 60 per cent of its economy is dependent on drug production and the country has become, according to the UN, a “narco-economy”. In 2004, Afghanistan accounted for 87 per cent of world opium production and the majority of heroin consumed in Europe.

President Karzai announced in December that the anti-drugs campaign would be the main priority of his government alongside the fight against terrorism.

The United States has also decided to make drug eradication a priority, promising 780 million dollars to help Afghanistan combat drugs in 2005.

Costa said drugs was the main threat facing Afghanistan, not the insurgency by remnants of the ousted Taliban regime.