WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- Poppy cultivation increased nearly 19-fold between 2001 and 2002 in Afghanistan, the world's leading exporter of heroin, according to a new U.S. study of poppy cultivation in the post-Taliban state.
According to the new survey, local farmers cultivated approximately 30,759 hectares in 2002, during the peak season for poppy in Afghanistan, the first since the December 2001 Bonn Agreement which established the first interim authority after the Taliban were ousted.
During the same period in 2001, only 1,685 hectares of poppy were cultivated in the last year of the Taliban's rein in the Central Asian state. The 2001 decline was due largely to a ban on poppy cultivation imposed by Taliban leader Mullah Omar in July 2001.
"Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is a serious problem," U.S. drug Czar John Walters said in a statement released Friday. "Drug cultivation and trafficking undermine the rule of law and the ability of the Afghan people to rebuild their country and join the international community."
Under the December 2001 Bonn Agreement, the Afghan interim authority agreed to cooperate with the United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime to end trafficking and cultivation of all illicit drugs. One U.S. official said Friday however that the spike in poppy cultivation was not due to lack of cooperation from Hamid Karzai's government, but rather a lack of law enforcement infrastructure.
The principal regions for poppy cultivation in Afghanistan are the provinces on its border with Pakistan -- Nangarhar, Helmand, Kandahar, and Oruzgan. These regions, largely populated by Pashtuns (the Afghan ethnic faction most closely linked to the Taliban) are largely immune to the edicts from the government in Kabul.
While the Taliban had significant success in eradicating most poppy cultivation in these provinces in 2001, their methods are not likely to be repeated by the Karzai government. The State Department's 2001 report on international drug trafficking released in March says, "The success of the Taliban poppy ban was a significant accomplishment during 2000, but success was achieved through draconian enforcement actions with no concern for poor farmers' welfare, a series of policy actions unlikely to be replicated by a civilized administration." Indeed, despite the decrease in cultivation, heroin traffic from Afghanistan did not decrease under the Taliban's poppy ban as many farmers sold their surplus supplies.
But other factors may impede Karzai's government from cracking down on the heroin trade. Indeed, some warlords still influential in Afghanistan have profited in the past from their country's illicit drug trade.