Some drug barons have changed their ways because they have already made millions of dollars and now see their self-interest in reform and politics, said a senior Western official involved in the anti-drug effort.
But the official said he doubted the strategy would work.
Still, the U.N. and the Afghan government predict that this year's opium harvest will be at least 30% smaller than last year's 4,200 tons, partly because of a more aggressive eradication effort. The law of supply and demand has helped too. A glut has driven down prices and profits. But the smaller harvest is expected to push prices back up and encourage more planting and trafficking.
It is crucial for the Afghan government and foreign donors to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to farmers before the next planting season this year to make it unnecessary for them to grow opium poppies, said Schmidt, the U.N. official. Sufficient money has been pledged, but some governments have failed to make good on their promises, he said. And continuing insecurity in large parts of the country makes development work difficult.
Schmidt said he was certain that the poppy crop this year would be smaller than last year's. "But the question is 2006."
More than 2,000 years ago, much of Kunduz was a swamp. Alexander the Great stopped here for fresh horses as he pressed south in 329 BC in his conquest of much of the known world.
Today it's a dust-blown smugglers' paradise.
As they have for generations, horses decorated with small pompoms and bells clip-clop through the city, pulling carts that are used as taxis. The police chief of Kunduz province, former militia commander Gen. Mutaleb Baig, is also a throwback to the old Afghanistan. Instead of a police uniform, he prefers a green quilted coat, which he drapes over his shoulders like a chieftain's cloak.
In late 2001, U.S. Special Forces and Central Intelligence Agency operatives worked with the Northern Alliance rebel group to besiege thousands of Taliban soldiers in Kunduz. The fight to take the city helped form close ties between U.S. forces and warlord Daoud, who had been finance secretary to Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader who was assassinated two days before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Before the attacks and the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, State Department officials had often cited Northern Alliance drug trafficking as one reason the U.S. should not publicly support the anti-Taliban militia.
But police and traffickers interviewed in Kunduz said Daoud did more than use narcotics to help fund the fight against the Taliban: He made drug smuggling a family business. They said he continued to profit from the opium and heroin trade even after Karzai brought him into the central government last August.
Nyamat, a former intelligence agent who has been on the police force for 25 years, accused Daoud's brother, Haji Agha, of handling the family drug business for Daoud, and he said that when his men arrested small-scale smugglers, the deputy minister had them released.
Nyamat, whose almond-shaped eyes are reminiscent of Genghis Khan's Mongols, who swept through Afghanistan in the 13th century, said four of his own officers moonlighted for drug traffickers. Even counting them, his unit is 15 officers short of full strength.
He got up from his desk in a basement office of the Kunduz police station, closed two small windows, and lowered his voice. He said he couldn't trust anyone, least of all provincial chief Baig, a former deputy to Daoud.
Nyamat alleged that Baig's officers had undermined his efforts by rationing gas and refusing to provide armed backup during drug raids. Baig has fired him four times. The commander of the anti-drug force in Kabul keeps reinstating him.
Nyamat said he had reported his suspicions several times to his superiors, and in November he approached American officials working with the counter-narcotics police in Kabul. When nothing resulted from the discussions, he sent a trusted deputy to the Afghan capital to complain again in late February.
Daoud denied involvement in the drug trade but said other senior government officials, police and militia commanders were guilty of it.
He said in an interview that he and his brother had never had anything to do with opium or heroin, and said no Northern Alliance commander had ever trafficked narcotics, because Massoud did not tolerate it. He accused enemies of spreading lies about him.