Iran: Senior diplomat calls for help to stop drug trade

Iran Materials 24 July 2009 12:34 (UTC +04:00)
Iran needs more international help to stop vast quantities of opium being trafficked from Afghanistan to Europe across its territory, a senior Iranian diplomat has told Adnkronos International (AKI).
Iran: Senior diplomat calls for help to stop drug trade

Iran needs more international help to stop vast quantities of opium being trafficked from Afghanistan to Europe across its territory, a senior Iranian diplomat has told Adnkronos International (AKI). Iran's vice ambassador to Italy, Hossein Moghaddam, said that drug trafficking worth billions of dollars had created a serious a problem of drug dependency in Iran and was also funding terrorism in the region.

"Narcotrafficking is not a regional problem, but an international one that Iran cannot fight alone," he said.

The United Nations and the European Union could help defeat drug traffickers by providing security forces to help police Iran's more than 1,000 kilometre-long border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said.

"We have tried to control this problem, but with no positive results," he said. "The terrain along the border is mountainous, and is riddled with caves and underground tunnels and few roads. There are many holes, many places you can't control."

A total 311,306 kilogrammes of opium was seized in Iran in 2006 - 81 percent of the world total - according to the United Nations World Drug Report 2008.

Most opiates continue to leave Afghanistan via Iran. In 2006, 53 percent of all opiates left Afghanistan via Iran, and 33 percent via Pakistan. Most of the opiates from Afghanistan are destined for western Europe.

The amount of drugs being smuggled into Iran from Afghanistan and Pakistan has surged since the Taliban was ousted, according to the Iranian government.

Most drug traffickers operate between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Others are located in Iran's southeastern province of Baluchistan, bordering Pakistan, Moghaddam.

The traffickers use camels, mules and other animals to transport the drugs across the border.

Once inside Iran, the drugs are hidden in vehicles including trucks and cars, transported to major cities, and on to Turkey and to European countries.

"Iranian forces want to control the narcotrafficking. Over 100 soldiers have died policing the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan," Moghaddam stressed.

He said Iran has had no material help from the EU in fighting drug trafficking in the region, although there is "good cooperation" between Iran and Italy's counter-narcotics intelligence services in Afghanistan.

So far the European Commission's tiny police mission EUPOL has deployed 140 officers to train Afghan police border guards in counter-trafficking. Iran has also received some electronic instruments and sniffer dogs from the United Nations, Moghaddam said.

"But it's not enough help. We are alone in fighting this issue."

Jorrit Kamminga, a senior policy analyst with the International Council on Security and Development think-tank said that the international community, especially Europe, should do more to help Iran police its 1,000 kilometre-long border with Afghanistan.

"The border control is not there," Kamminga stated.

"Iran and Afghanistan should do more to stem the flow of opiates going westward. The international community should do more in terms of technical assistance, training and financial support," he said.

International help is needed to increase Afghan officials' ability to arrest traffickers and dismantle heroin laboratories in Afghanistan and in Iran, he said.

"It's a shared responsibility. And Europe has a big role to play."

Afghanistan is the world's largest opium producer, according to the UN.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the deployment of international forces in Afghanistan, poppy cultivation has flourished.

Cultivation and opium production almost doubled in the country between 2005 and 2007, reaching 8,870 metric tonnes. In 2007, Afghanistan accounted for 92 percent of global opium poppy cultivation.

The sheer quantity of narcotics entering Iran has made it the country with the highest proportion of drug users in any population in the world, Moghaddam said.

The Iranian government is especially concerned about substance-abuse by youngsters, he said.

As many as 10 percent of the country's young people take drugs, mainly opium, heroin and, in recent years, amphetamine-type stimulants, according to Moghaddam.

There are an estimated 3,000 drug addicts in Iran, most of whom are young people, living in the capital, Tehran and other big cities, such as Isfahan, Shiraz and Mashaad.

Kamminga confirmed the gravity of the situation. "The problem has increased enormously," he told AKI.

The Iranian government should not rely on the prison system and and the police to deal with a "huge public health problem" caused by HIV infection and opiates addiction, he said.

In 2006-2007, two-thirds of HIV/AIDS patients - 20,000 cases - were infected through needle sharing and 25 percent of drug addicts in Iran have HIV, Kamminga noted.

"Iran should do more in terms of demand reduction to solve the huge public health problem caused by HIV infections and opiates addiction.

"Both problems are spiralling out of control. Iran should shift away from a focus almost entirely on supply reduction and come to terms with a domestic health crisis, he said.

Iran imposes heavy punishment for drug traffickers - 10 years in jail for the first offence, 20 years for the second offence and execution for those who commit a third offence.

A dozen people were executed in Iran for drug trafficking offences last year and several hundred were imprisoned.

Revenues from narcotrafficking are helping fund the increasingly ferocious Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, which produces around 90 percent of the world's opium, most of it in Helmand and two other southern provinces.

There is a "tight connection" between local tribal leaders and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the government is so weak that it cannot ensure security inside the country, Moghaddam said.

"Iran has a big role to play in stabilising Afghanistan. It's our neighbour and we know its situation very well," he said.

He warned the the US against withdrawing its forces from the conflict-wracked country too quickly.

ICOS has documented many cases of Afghan farmers who were recruited by the Taliban after their opium poppy crops were destroyed by Afghan security forces backed by the US military.