(2) what assistance has been offered to the UK by the (a) US State Department and (b) US Department of Defense in discharging the UK’s role as lead nation in counter-narcotics in Afghanistan.
The UK is the Afghan government’s partner nation on counter narcotics. We work closely and have a continuing dialogue with the US, and with the international community as a whole, on how we can best support Afghan efforts to combat the drugs trade. This year’s substantial increase in planting in Afghanistan is very disappointing and reflects the difficult security situation and limited law enforcement capability in some provinces particularly in the south. But drug control strategies take time and both the UK and the US agree that the Afghan government's National Drug Control Strategy is the right approach to bring about a sustained reduction in the production and trafficking of opium. Last year the US spent US$788 million in support of Afghanistan’s counter narcotics effort. This assistance is not channelled through the UK. US programmes are primarily directed at law enforcement and justice reform, alternative livelihoods, elimination/eradication, interdiction and public information.
The UK supports and agrees with the Afghan Government’s position that licensing opium cultivation for medical use is not a realistic solution to the problems of the opium economy in Afghanistan. There are currently no central government and law enforcement mechanisms in place in Afghanistan to set up and administer a system of licit cultivation and traffickers would therefore be free to continue to exploit the illicit market. Legitimising opium cultivation would also send out a mixed message to farmers, undermining the effectiveness of the Government of Afghanistan’s message that drugs are illegal and ‘haram’ or forbidden under Afghan culture. Licit cultivation of Afghan opium is also unlikely to be viable on an economic basis. According to the International Narcotics Control Board, there is currently a global oversupply in the availability of medicinal opiates.
In July 2000, the Taliban imposed a ban on opium poppy cultivation. By July 2001, the tactics they employed had led to a 91 per cent. reduction. This ban was enforced with a combination of fear and bribery, however, and drove up the price of opium so that those with opium stockpiles profited, many of whom colluded with the Taliban Government. Following the fall of the Taliban, President Karzai, with support from the international community, is working hard to extend the central Government’s authority across Afghanistan and to rebuild the country's war-damaged infrastructure. He has also made it clear that eliminating opium is vital for Afghanistan’s future and key to its stability.
However, sustainable drug control strategies take time to deliver, especially when the challenges are as severe as they are in Afghanistan. Although this year’s 59 per cent. increase (165,000 ha) in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is disappointing, it reflects the difficult security situation and limited law enforcement capability in the south. Elsewhere, in areas where access to governance, security and development has improved, reductions in cultivation achieved last year have been sustained. This is encouraging and shows that the Afghan National Drug Control strategy is the right approach. Progress has also been made in other areas including the passage of vital Counter Narcotics legislation, the conviction of over 200 traffickers and an increase in drugs related seizures.