End of Taliban will bring rise in heroin

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The defeat of the Taliban would result in a surge in opium production, which has beenvirtually halted in Afghanistan by the Kabul regime over the last year, United Nations officials have warned.

A new UN survey reveals that the Taliban have completed one of the quickest and most successful drug elimination programmes in history.

The area of land given over to growing opium poppies in 2001 fell by 91 per cent compared with the year before, according to the UN Drug Control Programme's (UNDCP) annual survey of Afghanistan. Production of fresh opium, the raw material for heroin, went down by an unprecedented 94 per cent, from 3,276 tonnes to 185 tonnes.

Almost all Afghan opium this year came out of territories controlled by America's ally in the assault on Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance. Because of a ban on poppy farming, only one in 25 of Afghanistan's opium poppies was being grown in Taliban areas.

However, while poppy cultivation dropped, exports of refined opium and heroin from the Taliban-controlled areas remained unchanged because of stockpiles.

Some UN officials privately believe that the Taliban have not received enough credit for controlling drugs, and that under any post-Taliban regime cultivation, consumption – and the amount of opium and heroin on world markets – would inevitably increase.

"These are things which no one can say," said one UN official who worked in Afghanistan before the terrorist attacks of 11 September. "No other government in the world would have been able to do that. When I travelled through Badakshan [a province largely controlled by the Northern Alliance] you often saw the poppies."

In its early years the Taliban justified the cultivation of opium on the basis that it was a drug consumed abroad by unbelievers.

But in 2000, the regime changed its mind and vigorously enforced the ban, apparently in the hope of winning credit with the UN and strengthening its claim to Afghanistan's seat in the General Assembly, currently occupied by the Northern Alliance.