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Afghan opium production decreasing: UN -

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Afghan opium production decreasing: UN

Broadcast: 25/06/2009

Reporter: Steve Cannane

The UN drug report has revealed opium production in Afghanistan is falling, but the country still
produces 93 per cent of the world's supply.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has released its world drug
report revealing opium production in Afghanistan fell last year and is expected to fall again this
year. But despite the drop, 93 per cent of the world's opium supply still comes from Afghanistan
and according to an Australian journalist studying the drug trade there, until farmers are provided
with viable alternatives, eradication won't be possible.

Steve Cannane reports on the eight-month journey into Afghanistan that Gregor Salmon took while
writing his new book 'Poppy'.

STEVE CANNANE, REPORTER: Gregor Salmon spent eight months following the opium trade across
Afghanistan. His book 'Poppy' is based on interviews with opium farmers, police and politicians.

Last year's opium crop was 7700 tonnes, the second biggest on record. While some provinces boast
they are poppy free, Gregor Salmon thinks the eradication program will fail

GREGOR SALMON, POPPY AUTHOR: The thing about eradication is it sounds great, you go and smash the
crop. It's like saying to Queensland cane farmers, "Don't grow sugar cane", you can imagine the
response, it would be outright hostility, there'd be resistance, and there'd be demands for you to
provide suitable and concrete alternative plans.

STEVE CANNANE: Today's UN report says opium cultivation fell in Afghanistan by 19 per cent in 2008.
But if you read the fine print, the amount of opium produced went down by only 6 per cent due to
higher crop yields.

Afghanistan is under pressure to stop the flow of heroin onto the streets of Europe and North
America. And that has led to poppy eradication programs. But this farmer from the Nangarhar
Province says he has no choice but to grow poppies.

FARMER TRANSLATION: We have no facilities, we need a proper irrigation system, we don't need to
grow this, this is poison. If we put it in our mouths we'll be dead, we have no choice only to grow
this because it needs less water. Wheat does not make sufficient profit to cover the cost.

GREGOR SALMON: These farmers are subsistence farmers, they are not paying off a Lexus, so what they
plant is to enable them to feed themselves and their family. The impression I got from farmers when
I put to them what eradication keeps occurs, and no follow through in aid. They say, "We'll turn to
the Taliban."

STEVE CANNANE: The International Monetary Fund estimates that 3.3 million Afghans or 12 per cent of
the population are involved in opium cultivation. Over 50 per cent of Afghanistan's GDP comes from
the crops.

Drug money not only helps fund the Taliban, corrupt police and politicians take their cut as well.
Gregor Salmon spoke to a number of Afghan leaders, convinced that President Hamid Karzai's brother
is one of those making big money from the drug trade.

GREGOR SALMON: With regards to Ahmed Wali Karzai, I spoke to a number of MPs, and I spoke to tribal
Elders from Kandahar, they said that they firmly believe that he was the drug kingpin of the south.

STEVE CANNANE: Ahmed Wali Karzai is the Chairman of the Provincial Council in Kandahar. In October
last year the 'New York Times' reported that top officials in the White House believed he was
involved in drug trafficking.

Journalist Tom Lasseter confronted Ahmed Wali Karzai with these allegations at his home in Kandahar
last month.

TOM LASSETER, JOURNALIST: Ahmed Wali Karzai started to get upset. Then he cut the interview short,
and then as I was leaving his house, he started yelling obscenities and threatening to beat me.

STEVE CANNANE: Tom Lasseter spoke to over 20 past and current Afghan officials, one of them was a
former regional intelligence coordinator.

TOM LASSETER: Daoud Mohammed Khan said that Ahmed Wali Karzai had essentially forced him through an
intermediary to release a Taliban Commander whose men had arrested in well-known drug transit

STEVE CANNANE: When asked about the specific allegations Ahmed Wali Karzai told Tom Lasseter, "He's
dead, let's leave it there."

Daoud Mohammed Khan was killed in a roadside bombing soon after talking to Tom Lasseter. Hamid
Karzai maintains there's no proof his brother is involved in the drug trade. But another
now-decreased MP told Gregor Salmon there is evidence.

GREGOR SALMON: One of the critics of Ahmed Wali Karzai was a guy called Haji Habibullah Jan, who I
spoke with in Kabul, but he was gunned down a few months later. He was involved in an incident
earlier where a car-load of heroin was found, and the commander, I think it might have been Haji
Habibullah himself took the call and Ahmed Wali Karzai said, "This is my stuff, let it go through."

STEVE CANNANE: If Ahmed Wali Karzai is a drug lord, don't expect him to be arrested anytime soon. A
US State Department report issued earlier this year said no major drug trafficker had been arrested
or convicted in Afghanistan since 2006.

Steve Cannane, Lateline.