Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ex U.S. official says Karzai shields drug trade

Ex U.S. official says Karzai shields drug trade

Thu Jul 24, 2008 4:15pm BST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government's former point man in the fight against the heroin trade in Afghanistan has accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai of obstructing counter-narcotics efforts and protecting drug lords.

Karzai on Thursday vehemently rejected Thomas Schweich's comments, saying international criminal gangs were the main beneficiaries and culprits of the trade.

Schweich, who resigned last month from the State Department's narcotics bureau, said in an article to appear on Sunday in the New York Times magazine that the Afghan government was deeply involved in shielding the opium trade.

"While it is true that Karzai's Taliban enemies finance themselves from the drug trade, so do many of his supporters," Schweich wrote in article posted on the newspaper's Web site.

"Narco-corruption went to the top of the Afghan government," he wrote, adding that drug traffickers were buying off hundreds of police chiefs, judges and other officials.

Karzai, in Kabul at a joint press conference with the visiting NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said Afghanistan should not be blamed for the booming narcotics trade, although his government deemed it a menace to the future of Afghanistan.

"As I had said two years ago, Afghanistan never takes the blame (for the drugs threat). The Afghan nation due to desperation, war... has been forced to (resort to) this issue," Karzai replied when asked to comment about Schweich's comments.

He said his government had put behind bars hundreds of drugs traffickers and pressed for a substantive solution of the drugs threat.

"Without doubt, some Afghans are drugs smugglers, but majority of them are the international mafia who do not live in Afghanistan," he said. Continued...

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