Dream team? Russia proposes joint anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan

Reuters / Jonathon Burch
With the Alliance’s war on opium in Afghanistan suffering setbacks, the director of Russia’s Drug Control Service has said the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and NATO could cooperate in battling drug trafficking in the Central Asian hotspot.

­A special anti-drug agency is being created within the SCO to coordinate the member-countries' fight against drug-trafficking, Viktor Ivanov said at a press conference in Moscow on Thursday.

Ivanov sees the new agency as a means not only for combating heroin use in Russia and beyond, but as a means for creating a “reset” between the two regional organizations.

"When this agency has been formed the SCO will become a lot more effective,” he said. “It will turn this organization into a key regional anti-drug structure and create a unique opportunity to reset relations between the SCO and NATO."

The leading figure in Russia’s war on drugs then provided some insight as to how the two organizations may divide their drug-fighting efforts.

"If SCO countries concentrate their potential and capabilities in intercepting drugs on their territory, NATO – as the organization with a huge contingent in Afghanistan – could concentrate on destroying drug production in Afghanistan," Ivanov said.

The Russian director specifically identified the objects of interest in Afghanistan, including "poppy fields, laboratories, and storage and logistics facilities."

Ivanov then showed how the Alliance, with its heavy troop numbers, could effectively divvy up its responsibilities in Afghanistan.

"(NATO’s) military contingent, including the non-governmental armed formations, is about 4 million strong. If the over 130,000-strong Afghan military and police contingent is added, there will be five law enforcement personnel per each hectare of the 130,000-hectare optimum area, or one law enforcer per 2,000 square meters sown with opium,” he said.

Ivanov said that each 2,000 square meters, “which is equal to the area of a small supermarket,” would be destroyed “if this opium poppy were to be mown."

If desired, the NATO contingent jointly with the Afghan military, could destroy opium plantations in Afghanistan in one day, he added.

Ivanov earlier criticized NATO for not being active in destroying opium poppy plantations in Afghanistan.

He said Russia is the largest consumer of Afghan heroin. There are 5 million drug addicts in Russia and up to 100,000 Russian citizens die of drugs each year, according to the Federal Drug Control Service.

US and NATO officials have been stuck in a Catch-22 in the fight against Afghan opium. On the one hand, they are attempting to "win the hearts and minds" of the local population, which depends on the cultivation of opium poppy for their livelihood. At the same time, they need to cut off finances to the Taliban insurgency, which gets much of its funding through the sale of opium poppy to foreign markets.

Afghanistan now produces some 90 per cent of the world’s opium, the great bulk of which ends up on the streets of Europe and Russia.

More than 100,000 Russians die from drug abuse each year, and with the country in the grips of a dire demographic crisis, it cannot afford to ignore NATO’s halting efforts to combat the opium scourge.

Robert Bridge, RT