Interview with Mr Mirwais Yasini, head of the Counter Narcotics Directorate (CND)
Kabul, October 19, 2004 (IRIN) - With the production of opium reaching record levels in Afghanistan, the role of the CND is increasingly important as efforts to control the drug are implemented. Mr Yasini discussed with IRIN some of the difficulties the eradication efforts face in Afghanistan and highlighted the links between intravenous drug use and the spread of AIDS, which he described as being, "like a fireball in the jungle."
QUESTION: How serious is the opium problem in Afghanistan?
ANSWER: Well, very serious. We can understand that we are, unfortunately, the number one producer of opium and we have our own addiction problems. It is undermining our good name in the international community and it's a threat to national security, so it's very, very serious. It's the same as international terrorism for the whole world and particularly for Afghanistan, so it's one of the cross-cutting issues.
Q: How did Afghanistan come to develop such a huge poppy culture in recent years?
A: Because of the 30 years of chaos, conflicts, foreign aggression, internal military conflict between different parties in the 90s and after that with the Taliban and the terrorist activity that was being commanded from Afghanistan. So all those calamities led to the huge increase in opium production. We were left unattended. All these are factors that led to the increase of opium here.
Q: What are the challenges facing opium eradication in Afghanistan?
A: It is a multi-dimensional issue. We have to work on alternative livelihoods... Drug production, cultivation, use, trafficking are all illegal according to section 7 of the newly adopted Constitution. It is illegal and the farmer has to obey the law.
On the other hand there is another picture: farmers of Afghanistan were subjected, almost, to 30 years of devastation, so we have to get something. The international community has moral obligations and the Afghan government has a duty to deliver the minimum standard of living to its citizens so we have to have a strong law enforcement as well as alternative livelihoods.
We have to have a very precise criminal justice and also we have to work on the demand side. All these things will lead to eradication of the drug menace. Otherwise, just one thing, working on one side will never be successful.
Q: In terms of the specifics, how is eradication taking place?
A: We have the central eradication force by the name of Central Eradication Cell established in the Ministry of the Interior [MoI]. We did eradication last year through governors and local commanders, but now we have an organized force and MoI. That force is going into the field and we are physically destroying the [poppy] fields in all provinces.
Q: By what means are you conducting eradication?
A: We are using the stick. We are cutting with the stick. Also in some areas we used to use the tractor ploughing the fields. We don't use any spray - we don't use any chemicals.
Q: Can the governors be relied upon to conduct eradication?
A: We have to follow them. But it will be very difficult to rely on them in other aspects of drugs.
Q: The Taliban were very successful in 2000 in eradicating opium. Is their way the way forward?
A: The Taliban had a completely different approach to the solution to the problem. They imposed severe punishment on citizens, which was repugnant to all human rights as well as to the laws of the land. But we have a human approach. We respect international laws - the human laws. We cannot break the law to achieve our objective so we have to be
Q: Is the eradication strategy linked to issues of alternative livelihoods?
A: It is very difficult to link it properly because the standards of alternative livelihoods are different from place to place and time to time. What we are thinking is that we can give the farmers the minimum standard of living like irrigation, substitute crops, road construction for the reason that we have to create market accessibility. Otherwise it will be very difficult to tackle.
Q: In the short term opium is seen as a blessing for the farmer and eradication is destroying their survival mechanisms. Is there a tension here?
A: It's not as much tension as we thought because only 7 percent of our farmers depend on opium or poppy cultivation. Other than that the other farmers depend on legal crops so it is not the majority yet but as every day is passing there are alarming signs that more people may cultivate and there will be a time when Afghanistan will become like Colombia.
They have a sustainable drug problem there.
We don't want to see that. There are some worries, but we have to implement the laws and we have to do the job in order to secure humanity and regain our good name in the international community. In order to save our younger generation. In Afghanistan we have a very poor medical system. Almost none.
We don't have control on syringes and [these] can be used by 10 addicts for weeks and then transmit all the transmittable diseases, HIV, Hepatitis B and C, TB and other diseases, and the amount of crime in society and it is just like a fireball in the jungle.
Q: The interior minister has claimed that senior government officials are involved in the drugs trade. How serious is this?
A: It's very, very serious. As long as you don't have a clean law enforcement capacity you can never expect to eradicate the drugs. Because if we have corrupt officials that means we have hurdles in the way of the job and we need to remove them quickly - and that is very serious. I completely agree with minister Jalali [Minister of the Interior].
Q: How important is the international community in the fight against narcotics?
A: Well, this evil, this epidemic, is no less than terrorism. It goes side by side. The international community has to help us. This is not the work of a country or two or three countries. The whole international community has to come forward and help us in order to treat this problem, or illness or to eradicate these evils. So we are hoping they will help more.