Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Counternarcotics strategy and police training in Afghanistan

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia met on Thursday to discuss counternarcotics strategy and police training in Afghanistan. The hearing was led by Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), the subcommittee chairman.

In Ackerman’s opening remarks he stated: “After six years of trying to put things right in Afghanistan, we should be well beyond the point of suggestions. It’s time for direction. It’s time for action. It’s time for attention from the President; attention, that as I noted earlier, has been focused elsewhere, with possibly even less progress to show.”

Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, was one of two witnesses present at the hearing. Schneider said that the United Nations’ 2007 World Drug report states that “today Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world’s opium; cultivates 193,000 hectares or 500,000 acres of land, a 17 percent increase after last year’s 59 percent increase.” He added: “The drug trade has undermined every aspect of the government of Afghanistan’s drive to build political stability, economic growth and rule of law.”

The other witness present, Thomas Schweich, the State Department coordinator for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan, said that whereas in the past, poppy cultivation had been significantly higher in the country’s poor rural areas to the north, today the worst areas tend to be the wealthier provinces in the south.

Schweich also discussed the U.S.’s new strategy, which includes thee principle elements:

First, dramatically increasing the scope of incentives, such as development assistance and expansion of the Good Performers Initiative, and disincentives, such as interdiction, eradication, and law enforcement. Second, working with NATO allies to improve coordination of counternarcotics and counterinsurgency information-sharing and operations. Third, developing consistent, sustained political will for the counternarcotics effort among the Afghan government, U.S. allies, and international civilian and military organizations. This last element will entail working with the international community on a coordinated strategy to ensure that government officials in Kabul and the provinces appoint strong, law abiding officials and remove weak or corrupt ones.

During both his testimony and the question and answer period, Schweich maintained that while progress is being made, Afghanistan is not a success story and the reality on the ground should not be sugar-coated.

During the question and answer period, some lawmakers pointed out the difficulty of tackling such an enormous problem, citing the fact that opium revenue accounts for about a third of Afghanistan’s GDP.

“The situation in Afghanistan is a massive problem that we created ourselves and we need a concrete solution,” Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.) said.

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