KABUL (Pajhwok): Meshrano Jirga members on Tuesday called insufficient government’s efforts to counter the menace of narcotics, but officials linked their performance to availability of resources.
Counternarcotics Minister Din Mohammad Mubarez Rashidi, Public Health Minister Suraya Dalil and Labour and Social Affairs Minister Amina Afzali testified before the Senate regarding poppy cultivation, drug smuggling and the increasing number of beggars.
Some lawmakers claimed poppy cultivation and drug smuggling had increased amid growing number of drug addicts and street beggars. Reports say poppy crop has been cultivated on 209,000 hectors of land in Afghanistan this year.
Rashidi told the upper house that his ministry had the plan to eradicate poppy crops on 22000 hectors of land, but could not do so because of a decision by the National Security Council (NSC).
He said the NSC had decided that no action should be carried out that threatened the security environment in the lead-up to the April 5 presidential and provincial council elections.
“We lose up to 150 policemen to clashes each year during anti-poppy campaigns,” the minister said, calling the twin menace --- terrorism and drug smuggling --- biggest threats to Afghanistan’s survival.
The counternarcotics minister accused his predecessors of not properly using funds set aside for anti-poppy campaigns in the past, saying projects, which were supposed to be executed in villages, had been implemented in urban areas.
Rashidi said the only solution to poppy cultivation was the provision of alternate streams of income to farmers and warned poppy growth would continue to increase until alternative crops had not been introduced.
The minister also said the international community had not provided assistance as needed. “The international community has been making political promises to Afghanistan and is doing nothing practical to do away with poppies.”
Rashidi believed the number of people addicted to drugs surpassed two million against the recorded figures of 1.6 million.
There were 108 rehabilitation centres across the country, treating about 100,000 drug addicts each year, he said, revealing his ministry had completed a drama serial aimed at creating awareness about the hazards of drugs. The serial would be launched on a TV channel soon, the minister said.
He also criticised awarding trivial punishments to drug smugglers. “A notorious drug smuggler is jailed for 20 years as the maximum punishment, but the prisoner threatens the law by using the money he had earned through drug smuggling.”
The minister urged the Parliament to approve the anti-money laundering law at the earliest in order to prevent drug smugglers from threatening Afghanistan’s laws with their black money.
For her part Amina Afzali said her ministry had set up vocational training centres for rehabilitated drug addicts.
She said so far 4000 treated drug addicts had graduated from such centres and had started their own businesses. She said international assistance was direly needed to continue training rehabilitated addicts.
The Minister for Labour, Social Affairs, Disables and Martyrs said unemployment, which remained the major challenge, had been a result of the lack of professional individuals. She said her ministry had established 30 centres producing 20000 skilled workers each year.
About the increasing number of beggars, she said in the past, there had been a commission, which would pick beggars from streets, but the body had stopped doing so due to paucity of funds.
She said the international community had promised giving $5 million in aid to Afghanistan for the rehabilitation of beggars, but the amount was yet to be given.
Public Health Minister Suraya Dalil acknowledged the number of drug addicts had increased in the country, saying only 25 percent of them needed full attention as bed-ridden patients.
The rest should be convinced into quitting drugs through awareness programmes, job opportunities and other such efforts, she opined.
“I should say men make 80 percent of the drug addicts, women 13 percent and children seven percent,” Dalil said.
She said it had been planned to set up five big drug addict rehabilitation centres, saying one of the proposed centres had been completed in southern Helmand province and would be inaugurated soon.
Dalil said her ministry was all set to be transferred the affairs of drug addicts from the Ministry of Counternarcotics.
Senate Chairman Fazl Hadi Muslimyar said a number of Afghans languished in foreign jails on charges of drug smuggling, some lived beneath bridges and others lost their lives to drugs. He stressed concrete measures to resolve the problems.