THE PLANK NOVEMBER 18, 2009
An tricky difference of opinion on how to deal with Afghanistan's massive opium trade:
The U.S. does not want to address the problem of drug production in Afghanistan, said Russia's anti-narcotics chief after talks with U.S. Special Envoy for AfPak Richard Holbrooke.
"My meeting with Holbrooke unfortunately confirmed our fears that they are not prepared to destroy the production of drugs in Afghanistan," Viktor Ivanov, head of the Federal Narcotics Control Service, told Russian journalists on Tuesday, hours after Mr. Holbrooke left Moscow for Kabul after one-day consultations.
Mr. Ivanov said the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan was "totally ineffective" and the presence of a 100,000-strong military force was only escalating tension. He recalled that drug production in Afghanistan had increased by 44 times since 2001 when the U.S. troops entered that country. Russia is the country worst affected by Afghanistan's heroin, with 2.5 million addicted to drugs and 80 addicts dying every day.
In Moscow, Mr. Holbrooke met Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to discuss more assistance in Afghanistan, including the transit of U.S. military supplies via Russia. Earlier Mr. Ivanov called for linking the granting of transport corridors to NATO forces to the alliance's commitment to combat drug production in Afghanistan.
Holbrooke has recently instituted a shift in U.S. policy away from cracking down on opium production, based on the view that fighting the drug trade only plays into the insurgents' hands. But the text I've bolded above tells you why the Russians would see the issue differently.