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War on terror lets poppies return to Pakistan
Updated: 2005-03-01 21:15

ISLAMABAD - Opium poppy production has resurfaced in Pakistan because security forces have been busy tackling militants linked to the Al-Qaeda network along the Afghan border, a key official said.

Major US ally Pakistan was declared a poppy-free country in 2000 but farmers began cultivating the heroin-producing flowers again in 2002, said Major General Nadeem Ahmed, chief of the army-led Anti-Narcotics Force.

Pakistan needed more international help if it was to win both the war on terror and the war on drugs, Ahmed told reporters at the launch of a report by the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board.

"After a break of two years there has been some resurgence of poppy crop in Pakistan," he said on Tuesday.

Poppies had sprung up over some 6,700 hectares (16,500 acres) in Pakistan in that time, and while 78 percent had been eradicated another 22 percent remained intact, the general said.

Ongoing counter-terrorist operations in North West Frontier Province, as well as moves to tackle a tribal revolt in southwestern Baluchistan province, had diverted key forces, he added.

"These two issues have hampered our efforts going for full eradication," the anti-drugs chief said.

Pakistan used to be one of the world's largest heroin producers -- churning out around 800 tonnes a year in the late 1970s -- until it brought in tough measures to cut its output almost to zero.

However in the wake of the September 11 attacks it was faced with a new problem -- hunting down scores of Al-Qaeda-linked militants believed to have sneaked out of Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

It pushed tens of thousands of regular troops into its lawless tribal areas as well as soldiers from the paramilitary Frontier Corps, catching some 700 foreign fighters, according to the government.

This year the Frontier Corps has also been deployed to guard Pakistan's largest gas field and other installations in restive Baluchistan after attacks by tribesmen demanding economic benefits from the province's natural resources.

"If the Frontier Corps is available in both these provinces and they are not committed to internal security tasks then hopefully we will be able to keep it (drugs) well under control," Ahmed said.

However he warned that international efforts led by the United States to stamp out drugs in neighbouring Afghanistan -- now the world's biggest producer of opium -- could backfire on Pakistan.

"Pakistan is likely to see an upsurge in poppy cultivation, reverse flow of labs from Afghanistan into Pakistan and shifting of storage sites," Ahmed said.

Its frontline position meant Pakistan needed more financial and material support from the international community, Ahmed added.

"We are fighting our war as well as the international war on narcotics. We need air, ground mobility and electronic intelligence where international community need to come forward and help Pakistan," he said.

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