Press conference with UNAMA and UNODC

5 Mar 2008

Press conference with UNAMA and UNODC

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Christina Oguz, Country Representative, UNODC and Aleem Siddique, Acting Spokesman, UNAMA.

Dari - Pashto

UNAMA: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, my name is Aleem Siddique from UNAMA Spokesperson’s office. Before we begin with the main part of our press conference, I’d like to make a short statement on the recent controversy surrounding the re-publication of the Danish cartoons and the Dutch film which has generated so much debate both here and abroad in recent weeks.

We share the concern of the Afghan people over the controversy that has been created by the publication of the Danish cartoons and the Dutch film. We have always believed that the freedom of the media entails full respect for the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions, including the holy religion of Islam.

We believe in the importance of overcoming misunderstandings and animosities between people of different beliefs and cultural traditions through peaceful dialogue and mutual respect. In this regard we welcome the recent declaration by the Wolesi Jirga on this particular issue.

It is vital that we recognize that the actions of one cartoonist and another film maker do not characterise or reflect the overarching nature of international engagement with Afghanistan and its Government which has always been based on mutual respect and understanding.

On a separate issue, there has been reporting over recent days about the extent of Government control over Afghanistan. Let’s be clear on this issue – our experience and our understanding from working on the ground across all 34 provinces of this country, is that 70 per cent of the security incidents that we have seen across Afghanistan over the last year have been limited to around 40 districts, out of a total of nearly 400 districts across the country. The Government has 34 Governors for 34 provinces all of which are under the control and direction of President Karzai and his Government. Suggestions to the contrary are quite frankly misleading and underestimate the increasing efforts that the Government along with its international partners are making to improve the quality and breadth of governance across Afghanistan.

Some of you will be aware that earlier this morning the International Narcotics Control Board responsible for monitoring the implementation of UN conventions on narcotics has issued its annual report. The report highlighted the need to do more to restrict the import of precursor chemicals -- which are used in the production of heroin -- into Afghanistan, while also calling on Governments around the world to do more to tackle the criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking.

To help us put this report into the context of Afghanistan, we are joined today by Christina Oguz, the Afghanistan country representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime who will help us shed some light onto this report, put it into the context of Afghanistan and also highlight the role of the United Nations in helping to deal with some of the challenges that have been highlighted by this report.

UNODC: Good afternoon everybody, thank you for coming, you are a really big crowd. As you all know, Afghanistan became by far the largest producer of opium already during the Taliban regime and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) started a dialogue with the Government of Afghanistan of that time in 2000. The reason for this was that this development was endangering the aims of one of the major international drug control conventions, the one from 1961 which has the aim of ensuring that narcotic drugs are cultivated, produced, manufactured, traded and consumed only for medical and scientific purposes.

In this dialogue, INCB has raised the issue of corruption and they have said that firm measures against corrupt officials involved in illicit drug activities must be taken.

This year again, in its annual report, the INCB voices very serious concerns because the situation is definitely not better, quite the contrary. Among the problems pointed out by INCB is that the cultivation of opium poppy has reached unprecedented levels.

Opium is the raw material for making heroin and morphine, and to do that you need chemicals. These chemicals are easily available despite the fact that there is no legal or industrial use for these chemicals within the country. They are smuggled from outside into Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is now one of the world’s largest producers of cannabis as well,

And again they have raised the issue of corruption and say that corruption is a major obstacle to solving the drugs problem in this country.

So far, when we talk about the drugs problem, very much of the focus is – rightly so – on cultivation, on the need for the farmers to have alternatives to poppy cultivation, and also eradication, but this is not the only drug problem that the country has..

Drug addiction is a growing problem, but I am now going to focus on the trafficking and manufacturing of the drugs. The opium is to a very large extent being converted into morphine and heroin within Afghanistan or in the border areas, particularly the areas bordering Pakistan. Very often these are mobile units, very small units that they put on a truck so that they can move them around so hat it makes it more difficult to detect them.

The majority of these laboratories are owned by Afghans, and I am talking about Afghans with very good connections to high-ranking officials within the country and the chemicals that they use are as I said, smuggled into the country, often disguised as oil or some other legal commodity. The seizures have gone up within Afghanistan but hardly anything of this is being seized in the surrounding countries, like for example Pakistan, Iran or Turkmenistan.

The trafficking of opium and heroin within the country and also out of the country is very, very well organized, supported by powerful individuals inside the country and linked to international criminal networks.

There are also links between organized criminal networks and terrorist networks. They use the same routes for smuggling opiates, chemicals, weapons or whatever there is to be smuggled. These routes are controlled either by the criminal groups or the terrorists, depending on where they are, and they gain profits from protecting these routes. You are familiar with the tax usher, which is paid, 10 per cent on agricultural produce, and you are also aware that in the south of Afghanistan the Taliban take 10 per cent from the farmers. But there are also indications that they are directly involved in processing and in trafficking and that they also take a part of the profit from these trades.

UNODC estimates that this drug industry within Afghanistan is worth about 4 billion US dollars and about 1 billion of that is farm gate but not all that 1 billion goes to the farmers because they have to pay for seed, fertilizers, bribes, usher, labour, so a smaller part of that goes into the farmers’ pockets. Seventy-five per cent of the profit ($3 billion), according to our estimates, are taken by the illicit traders and the manufacturers, but the global market is of course worth more, maybe between 40, 50, 60 billion US dollars.

We are talking about a lot of money and you can imagine how many people are interested in getting a part of this money.

The Counter Narcotics Police is getting more active and is making more difficult in some areas of Afghanistan, but mainly for the smaller traffickers, who now have to change their routes or the way they traffic, for example changing from cars to donkeys or human beings, carrying it over the border.

But the brains behind these operations and the high-level executives – if you look at it as a corporation, where you have high-level executives – these people are untouched. The networks are very powerful because the drug traders are linked to corrupt officials and to criminal networks outside Afghanistan.

How is it possible for the police to seize large amounts of drugs without making any arrests, without any suspects? How is it possible that the suspects run away? You know what Afghanistan looks like, some parts are more or less a desert, and you can run away? These are questions we are asking ourselves.

There are telephone calls being made to release suspects who have been arrested. This “telephone justice”, as we call it, is unacceptable, because it undermines the trust in the Government and its institutions, and it must be stopped.

Everybody who is involved in the drugs industry and in corruption must be investigated, prosecuted and – if found guilty – punished to the full extent of the law. The law must apply to everybody equally, not only to the lower-level criminals but also to the higher levels, and also to those who are not directly involved but who are facilitating the trade.

Without this happening the drugs problem will not be solved and criminality, corruption and insecurity will prevail in the country. The task that the Government is faced with is very, very difficult to solve for a number of reasons. Most importantly because of the lack of government control in certain areas which are important for the drug trade, because of security problems, because of widespread corruption -- it is not easy to target corruption when corruption is part of your machinery to solve the problem – and also because of low capacity within Government institutions.

UNODC is already working very closely with the Government to help them solve these problems, and I would like to give you some examples of things that we can contribute:

For example, the heads of criminal networks are not identified by chance, as you can imagine, because of their connections. For it to be possible to target them, you need intelligence-driven police work. The Afghan police do not have the criminal intelligence capacity yet. We are ready to assist them by training them, but we need the Counter Narcotics Police to have the intelligence officers to be trained. I was informed that one or two days ago the head and deputy head of the intelligence unit had been appointed and I very much welcome this, but I would also like to echo the JCMB conclusion form Tokyo that the appointment of suitable officers to the CNPA must be accelerated.

We can provide legislative assistance, for example legislation on mutual legal assistance and extradition, which will help the Government of Afghanistan to work more closely and better with its neighbouring Governments to target those international criminal networks that link into the powerful drug lords of this country.

We can assist in the implementation of Article 42 of the Counter Narcotics Law, which makes it possible to confiscate assets that have been acquired directly or indirectly as a result of drugs crime, and I am not aware that this possibility has been used to any significant degree. This would make it possible to confiscate for example luxurious cars or houses.

We can help with the anti-corruption strategy and its implementation, including the decision by the Government on the design and establishment of an independent anti-corruption body.

The Government takes this very seriously; the newly appointed Minister for Counter Narcotics General Khodaidad is fully supportive of what I have said here. I spoke with him yesterday and we both agreed that telephone justice must end and that more serious work must be done on corruption and on targeting the heads of the criminal networks.

It is so important because the drug business stands in the way of the Afghan in the village or the Afghan in the street from getting what he or she wants more than anything else in life, and that is security.


BBC [translated from Pashto]: The Ministry of Counter Narcotics has all the time been outspoken about the reports launched by the United Nations on different occasions. These reports indicate that the responsibility for failure in the fight against narcotics lies with the Government of Afghanistan but on the contrary, most people say that it is the international community who is not doing well in this regard.

UNODC: Afghanistan is an independent country. The action needs to be taken by Afghans. This does not mean that we can blame the world's drug problems on Afghanistan just because Afghanistan is providing the raw material for heroin. All the other things you need to make heroin come from outside Afghanistan, so this is a shared responsibility between the Afghan Government, the surrounding countries and also the other countries who are actually manufacturing the chemicals that are being diverted from legal trade or smuggled into the country. I would say it is a joint responsibility.

I would just like to add, I said that one reason why these people are so powerful is because they are linked to high-ranking officials within the country and to criminal networks outside the country, so we have to fight this along these routes.

BBC [transalted from Pashto]: The international community is not doing 100 per cent, the assistance is not enough

UNODC: You need not only assistance, you also need legal instruments within the country which this country doesn't have yet, so that it can co-operate across the borders for example. This is one of the things we would like to help the Government to have.

UNAMA: What we are looking in here is a supply chain; part of the supply chain is in this country and part of it is outside the country. There is no point in the international community and the Government of Afghanistan pointing fingers at each other to say this is your fault, when quite clearly what we need to see is joint action to deal with this issue. Pointing fingers at each other is not going to deal with the increasing addiction rates that we are seeing in this country and outside this country. What we need to see is joint action on the part of the international community together with the Government of Afghanistan. Those that try to divide the international community from the Government of Afghanistan are doing nothing to deal with the issue that we are face together. We need to see joint action on the part of the Government of Afghanistan and on the part of international community. We are stepping up to the platform and are making clear that we are willing and able to tackle the corrosive influence of drugs in this country, we are assured by the Government of Afghanistan that they are willing to work with us on this very thorny issue. But as you are all well aware, the issue of drug production and trafficking -- if you look at Myanmar, India or Thailand -- it has taken these countries 20 years to solve. In Afghanistan, we are in a post-conflict environment, where we have had only five or six years. It would take longer than that to deal with the issue. But do not underestimate the commitment of either the Government of Afghanistan or the international community to deal with this very thorny issue.

ALJAZEERA [translated from Pashto]: We see that the international community is tough enough against terrorists and are very serious in their fight against terrorism. If they were as serious in their fight against narcotics as they are against terrorism, we would not see this rising drug problem in Afghanistan. Why do international military forces not take part in fight against narcotics?

UNODC: I talked previously about the links between terrorism and organized crime, and these links we have across the whole world. There is no question that there are not such links. So we cannot say that we will fight the terrorists or we will fight the criminal networks, we have to do both. In terms of the military supporting in this fight against the drugs, I have seen a shift in the way ISAF is looking at this, because you cannot distinguish these two things. Of course they had their own mandate; they have to work within their own mandate, but since these two issues are so very linked -- sometimes it is the same person in the same house or it is the brother or uncle or -- so it has to come together and it is coming together increasingly within Afghanistan. I think this is key to solving the problem in the South, that you don't say first we fight the insurgency, then we fight drugs, you have to fight them both -- and the corruption, because there are three powerful components working in the wrong direction here: the insurgency, the drug trafficking and manufacturing networks and the corruption.

FREELANCE JOURNALIST: You just referred to the shift in the way ISAF is looking at this problem. What exactly prevents ISAF within its current mandate that is to tackle terrorism from tackling also the centres where there is a linkage to terrorism, financing terrorist groups and supporting their infrastructure? Is it political considerations that prevent them and also the UNODC? If you have sufficient evidence to say that there are high level linkages among Afghan officials with the drug trade what prevents you from naming these linkages directly?

UNODC: Your first question is easy to answer; I would put that question to ISAF because it is not in my mandate to answer this one. On your second question, UNODC is not collecting evidence about people. We are collecting information in general and it is not sufficient obviously that somebody knows that somebody is corrupt. You have to collect the evidence, you have to investigate the case, you have to prosecute the case and that is for somebody else to do, not for the United Nations.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: My question is in follow-up of the previous question. You just spoke of evidence of high-ranking officials involved in drug trafficking in Afghanistan; why do you not name them? If the Government of Afghanistan does not name these officials due to political considerations what prevents the United Nations from doing so? My second question: Do you agree that the counter-narcotics fight that began after the fall of the Taliban has failed?

UNODC: On your first question, it is not for the United Nations to name people. I don’t have names of people with firm evidence. I have information about high-ranking officials being linked to the trade. This is a question that needs to be investigated properly. The police must be involved; the prosecutors must be involved in identifying these people. But we are of course ready to help them with putting the systems in place that they need to do this job. That is a weakness and this is not just a question about political will. It is also a question how you can identify these people. I would like to say that this is not an easy task in any country. Because part of the problem is that we are talking about people who are very well connected and that goes also for countries with much more developed justice systems. So it is not an easy thing to do and it has to be done and there must be signals from the very top that it is important that the police and the prosecutors are targeting this problem.

UNAMA: Afghanistan is a proud sovereign country responsible for administering its own justice system. The United Nations has no role to play in administering the justice system on behalf of the Afghan people. That has to be administered by the Afghan authorities. We are here in an assistance role, to help build capacity, to help develop the legislation so the Afghans themselves can bring these people to book for their involvement in the drug trade.

UNODC: On the last part of your question; But of course it is an increasingly worrying problem. It is extremely serious, I don’t think however that it is hopeless. I am quite optimistic that we will be able to solve this problem but we do need two-pronged strategy here. In the north of the country, as you may know, in terms of cultivation, it is going down from lower levels and what we need there is to make sure that we have the more positive incentives for people out there -- that is heavily investing in infrastructure, in legal livelihoods, in education, health, etc, this will help in the north. At the same time you will obviously also have to do something about drug-trafficking and corruption in these areas because this is widespread across the country. In the south however, there is a very unfortunate political context of insurgency, terrorism, corruption, organized crime, which is like a hotbed for opium cultivation. So, in order for that part of the country to find a solution you will have to, as I said before, fight these together. It will take long time, and as Aleem said before, it took Thailand about 20 years, so I think it will take at least that much time here. I don’t see it as hopeless at all but I think it is extremely important that we see that this country has two tendencies. You can’t do the same thing in the north as and in the south. You have to distinguish these two things. I am confident that with a little bit extra effort the Government should be able to increase the number of opium-free provinces. Last year they increased from 6 to 13 and I think this year they should be able to add a few more this year.

AFP: According to the reports of UNODC and the Ministry of Interior, regions that are free of poppy are now planting cannabis. With the poppy decrease there is an increase in cannabis cultivation. What is the reason for that?

UNODC: I am afraid that it is more serious than your question indicates. Because it is not only that cannabis is becoming a substitute in areas that have left opium poppy. For example in Kandahar there is a lot of cannabis also and a lot of opium.

The top is not always a good place to be. And Afghanistan is aiming for the top of the cannabis league as it is now. I think that, if a child has something in his hands and you give him something else, he drops that thing to take the second one. And we, the international community and the Government Afghanistan should not do that. We should be able to focus on more than one issue here. That is why we need a more comprehensive approach. There is always a risk if you put all the limelight on one issue, because the light is there, the dark is darker outside the limelight and you can do all kinds of things there, and that is not okay. The INCB has pointed this out to the Government, and I am confident that with the new Minister for Counter Narcotics we will also have action on cannabis.

ARIANA TV: The recent report of INCB states that in 2008 poppy cultivation will increase in Afghanistan. Despite millions of dollars being spent to fight narcotics, why is it increasing?

UNODC: This is not correct, this is wrong. INCB does not do make any predictions about the future. UNODC and the Ministry of Counter Narcotics have done a rapid assessment asking the farmers in 500- 600 villages about what they are planning, and that shows a further decrease in the north, a very, very sharp decrease in Nangarhar which was one the major cultivation areas and an increase in the south. But overall, probably the same or a slight decrease.

TAMADUN TV: It is said that some people from ISAF and some private companies here in Afghanistan are involved in drug trafficking from Afghanistan. What is your information about that?

UNODC: I have no information at all about that.

UNAMA: Any suggestion that international military forces or ISAF are involved in the drug trade is quite frankly – bonkers.