By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press Writer
A "tsunami" of opium will hit Afghanistan's neighbors if border security remains weak and officials fail to intercept the drug, whose profits fund terrorism, the U.N. anti-drug chief said Wednesday.
Afghanistan's opium poppy harvest poses a "major threat" to global public health and to the security of neighboring countries because more than 90 percent of the profits flow to international criminal gangs and terrorist networks, said Antonio Maria Costa, chief of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Since 2005, new heroin routes have emerged through Pakistan and Central Asia into China and India, he said.
"If border control is not improved, Afghanistan's neighbors will be hit by a tsunami of the most deadly drug," Costa said in a statement on the opening day of an international anti-drug meeting.
Afghanistan saw a record harvest of 9,000 tons of opium in 2007, the U.N. said, a 34 percent increase from 6,724 short tons in 2006. The export value of the country's opium is estimated at $4 billion, up 29 percent from 2006. The opium sales equal more than half of Afghanistan's legal gross domestic product.
Gen. Khodaidad, Afghanistan's acting counter-narcotics minister, who uses one name, told a group of counter-narcotics officials from Afghanistan's neighboring countries, the European Union, the United States and NATO, that the country can't solve its drug problem by itself.
"We all know that opium and heroin cause severe, severe problems, addictions, corruption, criminality, terrorism," Khodaidad said at the opening of the two-day meeting. "Afghanistan is not alone. Many countries in the region share this problem. If we are all part of the problem we are all part of the solution."
Jean-Luc Lemahieu, a UNODC official, said the international body is looking at regional border solutions for Afghanistan such as purchasing communications equipment that officials in neighboring countries could use to coordinate with each other on drug searches. UNODC is also exploring the possibility of joint operations by neighboring countries, he said.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has said it will increase its role in the drug fight next year, stepping up interdictions of drug traffickers and raiding drug labs.
"We hope they have a far more outspoken role in the drug labs and in the trafficking," Lemahieu said. "If you see a big drug convoy, don't let it go."