Afghanistan, the world’s largest grower of opium poppies, should not shoulder all the blame for its drug surge, its foreign minister said Tuesday while on a visit to Estonia.
“It’s not only Afghanistan but the global demand for drugs that should be blamed for illegal narcotics from Afghanistan,” Zalmai Rassoul told reporters in Tallinn.
Bringing that demand down “requires an international effort”, he added, as Afghanistan struggles to eradicate its rapidly growing poppy industry.
The United Nations released a report this month warning that the country, one of the world’s poorest, is moving towards record levels of opium production this year. Opium is used to make heroin.
Afghanistan already cultivates about 90 percent of the global opium supply and now production is expected to rise for a third straight year, expanding even to poppy-free areas.
Rassoul joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai for a two-day visit to Estonia, which has troops stationed in Afghanistan.
According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan had around 154,000 hectares (380,000 acres) of poppy fields in 2012.
Last month, Kabul said it planned to destroy 15,000 hectares this year in its latest efforts to control the heroin trade that fuels endemic violence and corruption.
Poppy farmers are taxed by Taliban militants who use the cash to help fund their insurgency against the government and NATO forces, according to the UNODC.
“Afghanistan is suffering from drugs too,” Rassoul said Tuesday, adding that the number of Afghan drug addicts is on the rise.
Asked why the government was struggling to curb opium cultivation, Rassoul said: “We have been busy fighting on many fronts, fighting terrorists.”
“In areas controlled by the government, drug cultivation is falling, but we do not control the whole Afghan territory yet,” he added.