Briefing to the United Nations Security Council 

The situation in Afghanistan

New York

20 March 2007


Mr. Chairman,  Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to address this session of the Council.

Since I was last invited to brief you in October 2006, you have had the chance to see for yourselves the debilitating effects that drugs and crime have on Afghanistan.

Today, I would like to brief you on the latest opium crop survey carried out by my Office.  Copies of the Survey are available and have been distributed.

First the opium situation. At present, it is easy to be pessimistic about the situation in Afghanistan, especially regarding opium. But our Winter Assessment, just released, shows a new and possibly encouraging phenomenon: divergent cultivation trends between the centre-north and south of the country.

In the centre-north of Afghanistan security and development are slowly taking hold.  We know from experience in other parts of the world that greater stability and more assistance help farmers turn their back on drug cultivation:  this has happened in the Andean region and in South-East Asia.  It is now happening in parts of Afghanistan, where a balanced system of retribution (eradication) and rewards (assistance) is creating an opium-free belt across the middle of the country, from the border with Pakistan in the south-east to the border of Turkmenistan in the north-west. 

I am especially happy for the establishment of a well-endowed Good Performance Fund that can benefit provincial administrations that eradicate poppy. Rewarding compliance with the law is our best chance of doubling - by the end of this harvest cycle - the number of opium-free provinces from six in 2006 (mostly around Kabul) to about twelve. If this happens, it would mean a third of the country without practically any opium cultivation by summer 2007.

In the south of the country the story is different. Here the vicious circle of drugs funding terrorism, and terrorism supporting drug lords is stronger than ever. The resulting ever-increasing opium cultivation in the 5 provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Zabul and Nimroz is an issue of insurgency as much as a drugs problem. It is therefore vital to fight them both together, at the same time, with the same weapons.  During my recent visit to Kabul, I was glad to learn that both military and counter-narcotic officials now appreciate this argument and are developing complementary rules of engagement. 

Afghanistan's drug problem occurs in a security vacuum, where illicit crops coexist with other criminal activities that support such cultivation -- foremost among them, the import of precursor chemicals needed to produce heroin and the export of the illicit proceeds derived from the opium economy.  The relevant numbers are big - so big that their lack of detection is a revealing story in itself.  Think of this:  (i.) last year alone, more than 1,000 tonnes of acetic anhydride were smuggled into Afghanistan, together with five times as many tons of other chemical derivatives needed for drug refining.  Also, (ii.) over US$ 3 billion of illicit drug money was moved in the opposite direction, into havens where it was laundered and put beyond reproach. Stemming these tides requires tighter border control in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries.

Therefore and second, border management needs to be improved. 

At the moment the Afghan government is in no position to control its territory, let alone its borders.  Therefore, neighbours and all those with a stake in stopping the flow of drugs, chemical precursors and money must help.

UNODC has recently proposed a major initiative to assist Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan improve border management and anti-narcotic intelligence cooperation.  The initiative includes physical infrastructures (or hardware), such as border posts, trenches and containment walls, together with border security encampments. Operational measures (the software) will also be improved, with joint interception exercises, intelligence led investigations, common border liaison offices and compatible communication systems.  Controls at the sea borders of Iran and Pakistan need to be reinforced, together with better checks at freight crossings into Afghanistan, especially in the areas currently not patrolled. We envisage devoting special attention to container security and to the interception of cargos that are mislabelled to hide chemical precursors.  

I urge you to support this proposal, to complement the vast, ongoing bilateral assistance for security sector reform in Afghanistan, and its border management. 

Third:  we need to bring major drug traffickers to justice. Your mission report refers to a culture of impunity in Afghanistan.  I therefore applaud your decision in Resolution 1735 of 22 December 2006 to add major drug traffickers to the Consolidated List of individuals and entities supporting Al-Qaida and the Taliban.  In general, the challenge is to strengthen Afghanistan's criminal justice system and prosecute people who are profiting from drugs and crime.  In particular, Resolution 1735 will make it easier to interdict the incipient Afghan drug cartels, prevent their leaders and operatives from travelling internationally, confiscate their assets and facilitate their arrest and extradition. 

Fourth, the cancer of corruption.  Your Report correctly recognizes bribery, dishonesty and corruption as major threats to Afghanistan.  These crimes are bad per se, as they undermine the rule of law.  They are especially ominous as they lubricate the drug machinery and provide the context for criminal activity;  they facilitate the evolution of the narco-economy into a tolerated form of enrichment; and they help illicit revenues sink their buying power into legal economic activity, government structures and provincial administrations.  

Afghanistan has recently ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption. As custodian of this Convention, we attach particular importance to Afghanistan being a state party to it and intend to assist Afghanistan comply with the resulting international obligations, counting on generous funding by Canada.  The general goal is to strengthen the country's legal and administrative capability; educate a new generation of young and honest civil servants;  enforce corruption-prevention through financial disclosures and competitive tender processes;  promote anti-corruption investigations, prosecution and the recovery of illicit proceeds placed abroad.   The specific objective of our initiative was agreed with President Karzai a forth-night ago:  the establishment of a strong, honest, national independent anti-corruption authority, capable of making the country comply with the Convention.

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Mr Chairman:  regarding the Afghan opium situation in Spring 2007, I stressed 4 points: (i.) the new, potentially positive cultivation trends;  (ii.)  the urgent need to strengthen border control;  (iii.) the importance of your decision to list major drug traffickers, and (iv.) the priority of promoting honest governance. 

I hope the Council will judge these developments as helpful to free Afghanistan from the clutches of drugs, crime and violence.