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Russia's Afghan anti-drug efforts panned

Jan. 22, 2013 at 12:04 AM   |   Comments

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Russia isn't doing enough to help Afghanistan stop the burgeoning production of narcotics in the country, a Kabul anti-drug official says.

Ibrahim Azhar, Afghanistan's deputy counter-narcotics minister, told local media Sunday that while Kremlin leaders pay lip service to working to halt the flow of drugs from his country into Russia, they have little to actually show for it, RIA Novosti reported.

"They make these loud statements to maintain their image and confidence in them ... These statements have been made before but have not resulted in any success," Azhar said.

The comments seemed aimed at Russian drug control chief Viktor Ivanov, who last week hailed the seizure of 106 tons of illegal drugs in 2012, up 70 percent from the previous year.

"We are building up our efforts," he said.

But Azhar said surging demand for drugs in Russia is a key part of the problem that Moscow has done little to address.

"The demand for Afghan-made drugs in Russia is extremely large but Russians have not done any fundamental work to counter this threat," Azhar said.

Although the countries are working together to mount operations to destroy drug labs and exchange intelligence on traffickers, the Afghan official contended that's insufficient to address the magnitude of the problem.

"The long war years and economic difficulties have forced some residents of Afghanistan to grow and produce drugs," Azhar said. "In the wake of this, radical and urgent measures are required to expand and implement the projects of countering drugs production but Russia has failed to succeed in this area."

Ivanov has repeatedly pointed the finger at NATO for a lack of resolve in fighting poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, saying that although it poses a grave risk to the European Union, little has been done to end it.

He has blamed the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for failing to halt the spread of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan during its 12 years of fighting Taliban extremists.

Heroin production in Afghanistan has increased 40y-fold in the past decade, Moscow's Federal Drug Control Service says, contributing to the epidemic of narcotics addiction in Russia.

In November, Ivanov said Russia wants to work with NATO but is being rebuffed, with the alliance refusing to accredit a representative of the Russian drug enforcement service to its headquarters in Brussels, RT Television reported.

The Kremlin has called for NATO-led coalition forces to spray chemical defoliants on Afghan poppy fields, much as the United States has done in Colombia to eradicate coca fields.

But NATO, the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have rejected that option, contending it would drive desperate Afghan farmers into the arms of Taliban militants.

"On the surface, I would say yes, it is a very quick way of eradicating the opium," Timothy Jones, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency attache to ISAF, told RT. "Even though we can use chemicals that attack a specific type of plant, the people on the ground may think that you are attacking everything, destroying their livelihood."

Instead, the United States under the administration of President Barack Obama and other coalition leaders have opted for a strategy of backing alternative crops and livelihoods and have paid provincial governors to use Afghan forces to eradicate opium fields, The New York Times reported.

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