MOSCOW, June 7 (RIA Novosti) – Afghanistan, the world’s No. 1 producer of opium, will have to decide on its own how to combat drug trafficking after the US military pulls out next year, the head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said Friday in Moscow. His Russian counterpart agreed but said further international involvement would also be needed.
“There are number of options on the table, but the decisions will be made by the Afghan people and the government of Afghanistan as to what the best approach is,” DEA chief Michele Leonhart said during a drug-enforcement conference in the Russian capital.
Afghanistan, which is plagued by insurgency, is seeing a rise the total area of opium plantation within its borders. According to estimates by the United Nations, there were about 154,000 hectares (380,000 acres) of land dedicated to opium cultivation in the country, up almost a fifth from the year before.
The Afghan drug trade was one of the central topics of the three-day 30th International Drug Enforcement Conference in Moscow, which ended Friday. But public statements revealed little certainty about a plan, if any, for addressing production in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops in 2014.
The head of Russia’s anti-drug service, Viktor Ivanov, agreed with his American counterpart that Afghanistan, as a “sovereign nation,” would need to decide on its own plan of action to counter the drug trade. But he emphasized that Russia had repeatedly called on the United Nations to deem Afghan drug-trafficking as an international threat that would justify foreign intervention in the future.
According to report last year by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, almost a quarter of the heroin produced in Afghanistan – some 90 tons out of 380 – passed through Central Asia, 75 percent of which was “destined for the Russia market.”
Russian drug officials have estimated that their country consumes about 21 percent of the world’s heroin. In the past, Ivanov has blamed US policies in Afghanistan for exacerbating the problem. On Friday, he criticized Russia’s visa-free regime with many former Soviet republics in Central Asia for facilitating drug smuggling.
Tighter migration policies, including “the introduction of international passports, … would increase the effectiveness of fight against the contraband of drugs from Afghanistan by up to 30 times,” Ivanov said, meaning that stamps in passports would help the law enforcements to track traffickers.
Citizens of many of the former Soviet republics still have two separate types of passports or IDs, one for domestic use and one for international travel. Currently, labor migrants from neighboring countries can often enter Russia using their domestic IDs.
Earlier this year, President Vladimir Putin floated the idea that citizens of neighboring countries should be using international passports to enter Russia. Moscow has previously used the issue as a bargaining chip with Central Asian countries that serve as a major transit route for Afghan opiates.