Former UN Counter-Drugs Chief to EIR: My Plan Could Eradicate Opium in Afghanistan

An urgent task in the future reconstruction of the Afghanistan economy is the elimination of opium plantations, which today provide 80% of the world’s heroin. Pino Arlacchi, the former UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) director from 1997 to 2002, told EIR by phone, that Afghanistan today, with the help of China, could eliminate its opium production by implementing the plan he had suggested to the European Union back in 2010, especially since Afghanistan has far more resources now than in the past. Given the positive opening of the Taliban to China for reconstruction of the country, he believes Beijing could contribute to relaunching the plan, which would entail five years for eradication and five more years for consolidation.

In 2010, Arlacchi, who had been elected to the European Parliament, proposed to create “an Afghan agency with European technical assistance,” an idea which Afghanistan’s Karzai government supported. The agency was to be funded with $100,000 per year, and tasked with eradicating opium cultivation over five years through alternative development programs for farmers, but the European Parliament rejected the plan. Arlacchi had also drafted a plan with Russia’s then director of the Federal Drug Control Service, Viktor Ivanov, with Moscow ready to co-finance the proposal, but the EU rejected it.

Earlier on, in Oct. 2001, when the U.S. launched the war in Afghanistan, drug production had been all but eradicated, thanks to the successful plan implemented by Arlacchi at the head of the UNODC in collaboration with Taliban authorities. Following the U.S.-led invasion, the opium plantations came back in force.

In an interview with the June/July 2006 issue of 30 Days, Arlacchi explained, that in 2000, Afghanistan was about to be taken off the list of countries illegally producing opium, thanks to the international pressure brought to bear on the Taliban.

“My office, through many Koran experts, had confronted the Taliban with the unequivocal fact that opium is an intoxicant prohibited, as are all other intoxicants, by their religion. The Taliban are religious, insurrectionists, fundamentalists, but even if all possible bad can be said about them, you can’t say that they are inclined to the drugs trade. They engage in it only as a necessary evil to finance themselves. The results that we were seeing in the field were that in 2001, without a bloodbath and with a minimum of coercion, the farmers were not producing opium in the areas controlled by the Taliban, that is in 90% of Afghan territory. Only a few plantations remained in the areas controlled by the Northern Alliance.”

The Northern Alliance, backed by a number of foreign countries, did not have religious scruples, Arlacchi recounts, but its commander Ahmad Shah Massoud was ready to collaborate to a certain extent. But then, “Massoud was killed by al-Qaeda two days before 9/11.”

With the U.S./NATO invasion, the warlords took over and restarted opium production to generate funding. As a result, the number of families growing opium went from 30,000 in 2001 to 350,000 in 2006, and the opium price shot up from $30 to $400 per kg. That means that substitution policies have become more expensive today, but it is still a fraction of what the war cost, insisted Arlacchi.

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