Reuters - British efforts to combat opium production in southern Afghanistan have completely failed, Afghanistan's first vice-president said on Sunday, calling for tougher measures, including aerial spraying.
Ahmad Zia Masood said Britain and the United States had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to combat growing of opium poppies used to make heroin.
Yet United Nations' figures released last week showed opium production rose by 34 percent this year, he said.
"It is now clear that your policy in the south of our country has completely failed," he wrote in an article in Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
"In Helmand (in southern Afghanistan), where the British are based, poppies have spread like a cancer," he said. "The province now produces half of Afghanistan's opium."
The main reason the policy had failed was insecurity, he said. "Opium cultivation has continued due to the pressure exerted by the Taliban, who 'tax' every aspect of the poppy crop," he added.
Counter-narcotics policy has been "much too soft," Masood said. "The time has come for us to adopt a more forceful approach. We must switch from ground-based eradication to aerial spraying," he said.
Bringing development and jobs to Afghan people was important, but large sums spent on irrigation projects and road-building had simply made it easier for farmers to grow and transport opium, he said.
Another problem was that counter-narcotics operations were not in Afghan hands, he said. "Poppy cultivation is an Afghan problem and it needs an Afghan solution," he said.
Masood acknowledged there was deep-rooted corruption in Afghan state institutions engaged in combating narcotics and terrorism. "We must wipe out this plague," he said.
Afghanistan's opium crop has risen every year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said on Monday.
Afghanistan produced 93 percent of the world's opium this year and the area of the country used to grow poppies rose by 17 percent, it said.
Asked about Masood's comments, Britain's Foreign Office said it had nothing to add to a statement released in response to the U.N. report last week.
That statement said the increase in opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was a "real cause for concern" and the figures for Helmand "particularly disappointing."
But it said there were signs of progress. In parts of the north and centre, drug cultivation was coming down or stabilizing and the number of poppy-free provinces had increased from six to 13. "Ridding Afghanistan of this curse will take a generation, perhaps more," the Foreign Office said.