Drugs, extremism summit in Iran

TEHRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was hosting a summit with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts on Sunday aimed at finding ways to combat Islamic extremism and drug smuggling in the region.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari both headed high-level delegations.

The summit came after Afghanistan's largest-ever drugs seizure in an operation that ended on Saturday in a Taliban stronghold and opium-production centre in the south of the country, in which troops killed 60 militants.

"Today the three nations are suffering from drug and human trafficking which has put pressure on the three countries," Ahmadinejad told the gathering.

He said the region also faced other problems such as "intervention and extremism" which have been "imposed on us from far away."

"They have been imposed by people who have no close historical or cultural proximity to us... and the foreign troops in the region who came here under the pretext of bringing security have also not succeeded," Ahmadinejad said referring to US-led forces in Afghanistan.

Karzai said the region is "suffering from extremism, war and division among nations," but added that security can return if "we cooperate fully and act like good neighbours."

The Afghan foreign ministry said on Saturday that the summit aimed to create a "mechanism" for regular high-level consultation between the three neighbours.

It would underline a shared commitment to "eradicating extremism, terrorism and drugs which run counter to Islamic beliefs and morals, and the culture and traditions of the three Islamic countries", a ministry statement said.

The three governments also want to forge closer cooperation in the fields of agriculture, commerce, transport, health and energy, it added.

In his speech, Zardari proposed that the next three-way summit be held in Pakistan. He also called for a separate "trilateral meeting on development" but did not suggest a venue.

Ahmadinejad, Karzai and Zardari met less than three months ago in Tehran with leaders of other neighbouring states for a regional economic summit that pledged to help rebuild war-shattered Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the source of 90 percent of the world's opium, most of which is converted into heroin inside the country and smuggled out through Pakistan and Iran, where drug use is growing.

The Afghan military announced on Saturday that it had used air strikes to destroy 92 tonnes of drugs, heroin-processing chemicals and bomb-making materials in the southern province of Helmand.

The Tehran summit comes as the administration of US President Barack Obama has been working to engage Iran in efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.

Iran attended a US-backed international conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on March 31.

Engaging Iran is part of Obama's strategy to secure the help of all Afghanistan's neighbours in reconstructing the Muslim country which has been battling a resurgent Taliban insurgency boosted by rising Islamic militancy across the border in Pakistan.

Iran has not had diplomatic relations with the United States for nearly three decades, and was included in former president George W. Bush's so-called "axis of evil" along with North Korea and Iraq.

Despite their rivalry, Washington and Tehran are both sworn enemies of the Taliban, an extremist Sunni Muslim militia initially backed by Pakistan, that ruled in Kabul from 1996 to 2001.

Shiite Iran, which has close ethnic and religious ties with Afghanistan, has long suffered from the effects of opium production in its eastern neighbour, with easily available heroin fuelling a big rise in drug use at home.