'Britain is losing the Afghan drug war'
By Eleanor Mayne in Kabul, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:17am BST 02/09/2007
Britain's multimillion-pound attempt to battle the drug trade in southern Afghanistan has been a failure, the country's first vice-president has claimed.
Ahmad Zia Massoud has taken the unprecedented step of speaking publicly about his country's drugs problem in an exclusive article for The Sunday Telegraph, warning that despite Britain's efforts, the poppies have spread "like a cancer".
Afghanistan's opium harvest has more than doubled in the past two years and in a report last week, the United Nations said it expected production to hit a "frighteningly high" 8,200 tonnes this year, an increase of 34 per cent on last year.
Particularly embarrassing for Britain was the figure from Helmand province, where output jumped by 48 per cent.
"It is now clear that your counter-narcotics policy in the south of our country has completely failed," Mr Massoud says.
Writing in the paper today, Mr Massoud describes the drugs eradication policy as "too soft", adding: "We are giving too much carrot and not enough stick."
Britain has spent £208 million over the past three years on counter-narcotic operations but Mr Massoud argues that the failure to shut down the opium trade amounts to a victory for the Taliban.
"The opium directly supports those killing Afghan and international troops," he writes. "I believe that failing to achieve a substantial reduction this year in the opium crop will be equivalent to supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan."
In contrast to the British authorities and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, he said that spraying of the poppy crop was needed to break the deadlock in the south.
British military commanders are reluctant to get involved with anti-drug operations, fearing that it would drive farmers into the arms of the Taliban.