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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Poppy production in Afghanistan is expected to set another record this year. A new report from the United Nations due out today reveals that 95 percent of the world's opium comes from fields in Afghanistan. It's the sixth straight year of increases in poppy production, going back to the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban.

We turn now to Mark Schneider. He's with the International Crisis Group, and he follows this subject closely.

Hello.

Mr. MARK SCHNEIDER (Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to try to halt poppy production in Afghanistan. And quite a bit of talk has been expended on the subject. Why, this year, another record production?

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Unfortunately, the major failure has been one of political will on the part of the government, and initially, a very slow and very limited degree commitment on the part of the donor agencies to this problem, particularly the United States, which gave the lead to the U.K.

And the reality is that in the first three years, very little was done to stem the growth in poppy production. The result now is that they're trying to catch up. And while the major elements of the counter-drug policy make sense, the priorities are, unfortunately, somewhat tilted in the wrong direction.

MONTAGNE: And when you say the wrong direction?

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Yeah. The U.S. has announced that they're going to be giving the major priority to eradication, and, in fact, have indicated they would like to try to do the possibility of aerial eradication, which makes no sense in a conflict situation.

MONTAGNE: The argument being that eradicating poppies, especially spraying, will just ruin crops for farmers who will then go over to the Taliban.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Exactly. If you read closely the new statement, it says that they do want to consider aerial eradication. And that's indicating that they're putting a lot of pressure on the Karzai government to remove their opposition. That would be a mistake. There really need is even much more focused on the side of getting rid of those who are engaged in drug trafficking who remain within the structure of the Afghan government, whether in the police or the ministries or their parliament, and making clear that anybody who today is engaged in drug trafficking cannot today be engaged in legitimate political activity. That's the first step.

MONTAGNE: Well...

Mr. SCHNEIDER: The second is law enforcement.

MONTAGNE: Second is law enforcement.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: It means that they have to go after those who are engaged in drug trafficking and put them away. They have to focus on law enforcement and interdiction and put more attention, more intelligence efforts in going after those who are taking the processed opium out of the country. That really needs to be done much more effectively than in the past.

MONTAGNE: It's a complicated problem, obviously, but there have been gains in the north. Apparently, poppy production has gone down in the north of Afghanistan. Why is that?

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Partly because there's a greater degree of security in the north, so you're able to do more in the way of alternative development, and you're able to do more in the way of strengthening local authorities to go after the drug traffickers. The problem in the south and the east is that you don't have security. It's an unfortunate a Catch-22. You don't have a security, so that they grow drugs. They then take the revenues to strengthen their capacity to continue the insurgency.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Not at all. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Mark Schneider is the senior vice president for the International Crisis Group.

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