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America Strikes Back: Authorities say International Terrorism and Drug Trafficking Closely Linked

Aired October 11, 2001 - 06:38   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Authorities say international terrorism and drug trafficking are closely linked.

To help us understand the tie between the two, we are joined this morning by Sandeep Chawla. He is head of the research -- head of research, rather, for the United Nations International Drug Control Program. And we thank you very much for your time this morning, Mr. Chawla.

Can you explain to us exactly what the -- how much money the Taliban is actually making off of any opium or heroin sales? I have seen and heard so many different numbers quoted.

SANDEEP CHAWLA, UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL DRUG CONTROL PROGRAM: It's very difficult to establish authoritative numbers on a subject like this simply because we don't know the clear extent of the crop over last year. But to give you one idea of estimating it: For the year 2000, the total farm gate (ph) value, meaning the prices paid to farmers in Afghanistan for the opium crop, was about $90 million U.S. dollars.

The assumption is that the Taliban imposed a 10 percent agricultural tax on this, and beyond that in some areas are able to levy an additional 20 percent tax on it. So the figures for last year were, at the most, about $30 million ...

HARRIS: Now ...

CHAWLA: ... that they were able to levy on taxes.

HARRIS: ... we had read somewhere that the Taliban had actually banned the growing of poppies. Did that actually happen at all at any point?

CHAWLA: Yes, it did. Between -- they banned it last year in the planting season last year, and they were able to reduce -- between last year and this year, they were able to reduce opium poppy production by 95 percent.

So last year, Afghanistan produced about 3,300 tons of opium, which was 70 percent of world production. This year, a report that we will release shortly will show that they reduced that 3,300 tons to just 200 tons ... CHAWLA: ... which is a 95 percent decline.

HARRIS: That's clear proof that they are actually in control of the production then, if those numbers actually do hold up.

But let me ask you about if there's been any -- has there been any evidence of any, I guess, reduction of the supply on the world's markets in the wake of -- while these attacks have been going on? We had heard reports, as well, coming from the Pentagon that actually targeting these poppy fields was to be considered and was perhaps a plan of action.

Do we know that that's happened -- that there's been any effect on the world market?

CHAWLA: Well, there are two issues here: first, the question of targeting poppy fields. That doesn't make sense at the moment, because this right now is the growing season. The poppy will be planted between now and the end of the year, and will be harvested in the spring and summer of next year.

On the question of world markets and how they have behaved. So far in the major markets of Afghan opium which is Western Europe, there has been no observable effect on the market. Prices are stable, abuse levels are stable, seizures are stable and there is no substantial change.

Now, given the fact that there was a 95 percent decline in Afghanistan opium production, one could assume that there would have been a shortage in the market, and it's clearly a case in which there were stocks accumulated from the bumper harvest, which are coming into the market now.

We have evidence that the opium stocks are small, but heroin stocks are much larger, because heroin prices have remained stable along the trafficking chain. Opium prices skyrocketed and then plummeted after September 11.

So the fact of any kind of large-scale supply push on the West European market, at the moment, there is no evidence of.

HARRIS: That's interesting.

Let me ask you something else, because I know many people would be hearing these numbers and hearing the fact that the Taliban is actually linked to these drugs sales and actually growing these poppies here. And they've got to be wondering whether or not there is any Osama bin Laden link there as well.

I read a report this morning in the "New York Times" about honey shops being used throughout the Middle East actually -- that actually are linked or actually owned by Osama bin Laden that are actually selling some of these drugs.

Do you know that to be the case, and whether or not any of this money from these drug sales are going back to Osama bin Laden at any point?

CHAWLA: There's -- I have absolutely no evidence to document this one way or the other. But it seems as though one part of, as I told you before, the main source of taxation of poppy cultivation is an agricultural tax on farmers, which is 10 percent. The additional 20 percent is levied on opium markets, which are wholesale markets all over the country. And that is a very different shifting situation on which it's very hard to establish a clear pattern.

HARRIS: Let me ask you one final question here, because this is the one question that, perhaps, comes to most of us.

Do you know -- and maybe you may not even be the right person to ask this question of -- but do you know how it is that the Taliban, a so-called very religious group -- a religious-based group, can actually justify making such money off of drug sales and selling opium and heroin?

CHAWLA: I think as a matter of agricultural taxation, it is not difficult to do. In terms of the religious motives were the ones that were used within the country -- within Afghanistan to explain the reasons for imposing the ban. And purely from a drug control point of view, the ban was successful in taking 60 percent of the opium off world markets.

And if you can reduce opium supplies by 60 percent --and opium, as you know, is the basis for making heroin -- and if you can reduce heroin supplies, potentially, by 60 percent, that, from a drug control point of view, is very successful. And that was the justification used to impose the ban.

The rest of the trade after the level of production that enters the market, this is much harder to say, but as I told you, this year the amounts are very small indeed.

HARRIS: Mr. Sandeep Chawla, thank you very much for your time this morning and for your insights -- we surely do appreciate it. Thank you very much.

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