Karzai hits out at Russians over drugs bust

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The Independent Online

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has lashed out at Russia's growing influence in his country, deriding a multi-million dollar drugs bust that involved four Russian agents as a "violation of Afghan sovereignty as well as international law". About 70 Afghan, Russian and Nato personnel, backed up by attack helicopters, seized drugs with a street value of $250m (£157m) in eastern Afghanistan over the weekend.

"While Afghanistan remains committed to its joint efforts with the international community against narcotics, it also makes it clear that no organisation or institution shall have the right to carry out such a military operation without prior authorisation and consent of the government of Afghanistan," said a statement released by the President's office.

Russian officials professed surprise at the outburst, with one counter-narcotics agent claiming that Kabul had been "informed of the operation", which was also apparently orchestrated in advance by Afghanistan's interior ministry.

Elite Afghan counter-narcotics agents had taken part in the raid on heroin and morphine-producing labs in eastern Nangarhar province, an unnamed agent told state media, making it "not very understandable why there has been such a reaction". An aide to the Russian president Dimitry Medvedev called Mr Karzai's statement "incomprehensible".

That may be stretching the truth. The strain of balancing incompatible foreign interests in his country has frequently told on Afghanistan's highly-strung leader, and Moscow may have trumpeted news of the drugs bust a little too loudly for Mr Karzai's comfort.

Russian influence in Afghanistan is growing swiftly, and it is a sensitive issue. Twenty-one years ago the Soviet Red army withdrew from Afghanistan following its biggest military disaster; a nine-year folly that cost tens of thousands of lives, tipped the country towards civil war and introduced its civilians to the horrors of carpet-bombing, scorched earth tactics and collective punishment. Many of Afghanistan's current generation of political leaders spent their formative years fighting the Soviets, and have bitter memories of their old nemesis.

Yet, as Nato scrabbles around for an exit strategy, the prospect of Russian help in Afghanistan has grown increasingly attractive for the beleaguered alliance. Last week, The Independent revealed that Moscow was engaged in training the Afghan army and counter-narcotics troops, and had agreed in principle to supply Nato with several dozen helicopters for use in Afgh-anistan. In return Moscow is seeking more co-operation from Nato, including demands that the alliance restricts the number of troops it bases in member countries that are also former members of the Warsaw Pact.

Although Russia appears to be milking its return to the fray for all its worth, it has little interest in an unstable Afghanistan, which could destabilise neighbouring Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – countries that Moscow sees as client states.

The Russian government has also frequently criticised Western and Afghan counter-narcotics policies as next to useless and advocated a much tougher line against drugs production.