Poppy cultivation has increased in volatile areas and decreased in comparatively secure parts of southern Kandahar province, officials said on Monday.
Local officials, who talked to Pajhwok Afghan News, said the central government should carry out strong military operations against militants instead of eradicating the poppy crop.
They said the operations would help bring under government control remote areas where the illicit plant was grown.
Counternarcotics chief for Kandahar Gul Mohammad Shukran told Pajhwok Afghan News during an interview that poppy cultivation had decreased in the province as compared to the past.
“The crop is least grown in areas where there is security and where the government’s writ prevails,” he said.
In areas where insurgents held sway were rife with poppy cultivation and drug smugglers, he said. But added the overall poppy cultivation in unstable areas had also reduced.
Shukran did not say how much land has been grown with poppy this year. However, he said UNODC has launched its survey in this regard. The survey is yet to be completed.
He said the survey would reveal how many hectors of land had been grown with the banned crop in Kandahar.
Shukran said Zheri, Panjwai and Maiwand were districts where the poppy was widely cultivated. He informed a poppy-eradication campaign would be launched within few days in at least three or four districts.
He said the Ministry of Counternarcotics had set them the target of eradicating the poppy crop on 2500 hectors of land in Kandahar.
However, he said the lack of fund and resources for the anti-poppy campaign remained unaddressed.
District chiefs and local security officials said the government should launch operations against militants instead of eradicating poppy.
They said the operations would help get rid of the twin menaces --- insecurity and poppy.
Panjwai district chief Haji Fazl Mohammad Ishaqzoy told Pajhwok Afghan News that the entire district was under the government’s control and poppy crop in the town had decreased compared to the past.
He said he had met residents of various areas and had warned them against cultivating poppy crop in their fields.
He estimated 60 to 70 percent drop in poppy cultivation in Panjwai district and said the Food Zone Programme had a great contribution to the development.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided $200 million for the two-year Food Zone Program in Kandahar.
The programme is aimed at encouraging farmers to switch to legal crops by executing development projects, creating awareness about drugs’ hazards and others.
The Panjwai district chief said mostly irrigation water projects were carried out under the programme in line with people’s demand, which helped poppy cultivation decline.
He said people in some areas had grown the plant due to abject poverty but the plan to eradicate the crop was ready.
He said he had asked the deputy counter narcotics minister when he visited Kandahar a few weeks back to conduct military operations in order to both eradicate poppy crop and insecurity.
He said the poppy crop had been widely grown in areas where the Taliban held sway and benefitted from the crop’s income.
Maiwand district chief Haji Obaidullah said Maiwand was a large district and it shared border with many other districts of Kandahar.
He said remote areas in the district served as safe haven for militants and drug smugglers and thus poppy was openly grown there.
He said the most disturbing thing was that the same poppy crop was harvested thrice and even four times a year, with the Taliban benefitting the most.
He said the crop was also grown in areas under government’s control because these areas faced water shortage and hardly produced other crops.
Farmers said poverty led them to grow the illicit crop, but their crop was either destroyed by government forces or natural disasters for the past several consecutive years.
A resident of Pashmol area in Panjwai district, Jan Mohammad, said if the government rehabilitated the Dehla Dam to increase water level, find market for people’s harvests and create jobs for the youth, no one would grow the poppy.
He said people cultivated poppy to fight poverty because there were more buyers of opium than other crops.
A day earlier, the provincial government ordered the security forces to get ready for the poppy-eradication campaign.
Acting governor Haji Abdul Hanan asked security organs to cooperate with the counternarcotics departments in making the campaign a success.
Without international support, the cultivation of poppy decreased by 19 percent and production by 48 percent last year, thanks to people’s cooperation.