Thank you very much. It is a great honor to speak at this High-Level General Assembly Thematic Debate and to speak alongside such distinguished panelists.
It is difficult to overstate the threat of drugs in Afghanistan. Fueled by almost 40 years of instability, war, conflict and violence, the drug problem is only exacerbated today by the interrelated challenges of terrorism, armed activities, criminality, insecurity, corruption, and poverty. The scourge of illicit drugs in Afghanistan impoverishes thousands of farmers who become indebted to drug traffickers, moneylenders and criminals. It ruins lives and livelihoods of more than 1.5 million young men and women who become addicts and destroys the communities around them. Unless we eradicate the cultivation, production, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs in our country, our hard-fought efforts for the consolidation of peace, security and development will be in vain.
In 2003, Afghanistan established its counter-narcotics strategy, which aimed to stop cultivation and production, disrupt the drug trade by targeting traffickers and their backers, strengthen rural livelihoods and reduce the demand for illicit drugs. It was embedded in the framework of our national development strategy and related to efforts to strengthen governance and rule of law. Afghanistan benefited in this endeavor from the strong support of the United States, the United Kingdom, UNODC and other international partners.
We have achieved major successes since the strategy was established 12 years ago. The Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the Ministry of Interior have established alternative livelihood programmes focusing on areas as diverse as cotton and saffron farming, handicrafts, land stabilization and watershed development. Law enforcement authorities are conducting ever-increasing numbers of operations with larger amounts of drugs seized and high-value targets arrested, prosecuted and convicted. The number of provinces engaged in drug production has declined dramatically.
Despite these achievements, last year Afghanistan saw an increase in the consumption and production of illicit drugs, concentrate mainly in four south-west provinces with high security challenges. The increase coincides with the completion of the transition process, the end of the international combat mission and the assumption of full responsibility of Afghan national security forces. As Afghanistan arrives at a new beginning, the Taliban and other armed opposition groups have renewed their brutal campaigns to disrupt the stability and security of the country. The nexus of terrorism and criminality, funded by the narcotics industry, has emboldened extremists to strengthen their violent campaigns. Now groups like ISIS are aiming to control the counter-narcotics market in order to gain a foothold in Afghanistan and to finance their borderless, brutal campaigns.
The government of Afghanistan has prioritized its counter-narcotics efforts as a crosscutting element of its reform agenda. From his first days in office, President Ashraf Ghani pledged to implement strict effective counter-narcotics measures that will increase the costs of operating in the sector, with a particular focus on poppy-eradication and financial tracking. In addition, the government of Afghanistan will complement enforcement with programs that provide licit alternatives for rural livelihoods. The President’s commitment to fighting corruption and strengthening rule of law are essential to these efforts.
Our counter narcotics efforts are not limited to addressing production, cultivation and trafficking inside Afghanistan. Regional and international cooperation are essential to the fight against narcotics, particularly at a time when narco-trafficking is more pernicious, sophisticated and widespread than ever before. To this end, the government of Afghanistan’s emphasis on regional cooperation and connectivity is paramount to Afghanistan’s, the region’s and the international community’s efforts to mitigate the interrelated challenges of terrorism, criminality, extremism and illicit drugs.
Finally, eliminating the threat of drugs requires genuine, comprehensive global and regional strategies to implement both drug-supply reduction, and crucially, drug-demand measures. We will only be successful if we focus on all three ends of the drug industry: production, trafficking and consumption. With the continued support of the international community on this issue, I firmly believe that we can continue to work constructively together to make tangible gains that make Afghanistan, the region and the world safer, more peaceful and more prosperous.