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UN anti-drugs conference opens in Kabul

UN anti-drugs conference opens in Kabul

Stopping the flow of deadly drugs out of Afghanistan, where opium production has soared to record levels this year, is the focus of a two-day summit that kicked off today in Kabul, organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The meeting, bringing together international counter-narcotics officials, is being held under the framework of the Paris Pact – an initiative launched in 2003 to promote coordinated measures to counter drug trafficking in and from Afghanistan.

In addition to reviewing regional and global efforts to contain the Afghan narcotics threat, participants will also examine border security and cross-border cooperation, the smuggling of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan, and the threat posed by opium trafficking into China.

Earlier this year, UNODC reported that opium production in the war-torn nation, a $3-billion-a-year trade accounting for more than 90 per cent of the world’s illegal output, had soared to “frightening” record levels this year. Production is concentrated mainly in the strife-torn south where the ousted Taliban, which once banned poppy cultivation, now profits from the drugs trade.

The amount of Afghan land used for growing opium is now larger than the combined total under coca cultivation in Latin America - Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. No other country has produced narcotics on such a deadly scale since China in the 19th century, the agency stated in its 2007 Annual Opium Survey.

“Afghan drugs pose a major threat to public health everywhere, because of higher deaths to overdoses, and to security to Afghan neighbours, because of drug money flowing into the funding of terrorism,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa stated recently.

In light of the need for regional cooperation in the battle against opium production and trafficking, UNODC has promoted the establishment of a Central Asia Regional Information Centre and has brokered a Trilateral Initiative to improve counter-narcotics cooperation among Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

Mr. Costa noted that the drugs gain value at every border crossing because of the risks entailed by smuggling, pointing out that by the time the heroin hits the streets of Moscow, London or Paris, the value of the Afghan opium export could be worth up to 100 times more.

“While opium brings some revenue to Afghanistan, over 90 per cent of profits are made by international criminal gangs and terrorists networks,” he said.