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Afghanistan jails 11 officials over drugs charges

KABUL (Reuters) - Under pressure to combat endemic corruption and the rich trade in illicit drugs, Afghanistan announced on Monday it had jailed 11 government officials including a senior policeman for links with the narcotics trade.

Afghanistan has long been the producer of about 90 percent of the world’s opium, a thick paste harvested from poppies to produce heroin. U.S. and Afghan officials worry that profits from the industry are used to fuel Afghanistan’s raging insurgency.

Corruption and weak governance are also seen as threats to Afghanistan’s stability and will likely weigh heavily on deliberations at a NATO summit next month and when U.S. President Barack Obama reviews his Afghanistan war strategy next month.

Afghanistan ranked 176th, ahead of only Somalia, in Transparency International’s corruption index issued last month.

Releasing its latest quarterly figures, the Afghan Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF), formed specifically to deal with the narcotics trade, said it had jailed 155 people, among them 11 government officials, in the past three months.

The most senior of the 11 was a police general in charge of several provinces in Afghanistan’s northwest bordering Turkmenistan and Iran, CJTF spokesman Khalil Ul-Rahman Mutawakil told a news conference in Kabul.

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The general, identified only as Molhem, was jailed for 10 years over links to the drugs trade. Other officials were given sentences of up to 18 years and heavy fines, another CJTF official said.

“No doubt that those people who have not been arrested in this case and are involved will be prosecuted if evidence and proof are obtained against them,” Mutawakil said.

Last year, the CJTF tried nearly 600 people, including several dozen government officials, among them an army general, on drugs charges, he said.

Kabul has been under pressure from Western allies fighting the resurgent Taliban to crack down on the drugs trade, which nets the Taliban millions of dollars a year.

Last week, U.S. and Russian officials trumpeted a joint counter-narcotics raid with Afghan forces in eastern Nangarhar province that destroyed four drug laboratories and almost a metric ton of heroin.

The unprecedented raid was hailed as the result of efforts to improve ties between the United States and Russia, which has a huge drug problem and may be seeking to increase its influence in Afghanistan.

However, Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the raid as a violation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and demanded an explanation. Russian involvement in Afghanistan is still a sensitive issue. Soviet forces occupied the country for a decade up to 1989.

Editing by Paul Tait and Alex Richardson