March 27, 2009 / 2:10 PM / 9 years ago

World powers want to help Afghan war on drugs

MOSCOW (Reuters) - World powers called for “sustained international support” on Friday for Afghanistan’s fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the European Union, the United States, Russia and China joined regional states in making the commitment at a conference in Moscow.

Participants said they wanted “to strengthen Afghan security institutions to effectively combat the scourge of terrorism and production and trafficking of narcotics.”

In a separate statement, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a grouping of Central Asian states dominated by Russia and China, pledged to cooperate with international bodies including NATO on common issues around Afghanistan.

“We stress the need to strengthen international and regional cooperation to counter the threat of narcotics,” the SCO said. “We call for stopping attempts to spread terrorist ideology.”

The SCO and the Afghan government proposed to step up the training of drug agencies, combat the laundering of drug money, improve border controls and carry out joint operations.

Russia is the world’s biggest heroin consumer and has been alarmed by a surge in trafficking of the opiate through Central Asia and across its territory. Twelve tonnes of pure heroin, enough for around 3 billion single doses, arrive there each year from Afghanistan, according to Russia’s drug enforcement agency.

“SERIOUS THREAT”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered to boost cooperation with regional powers and U.S.-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, where insurgent violence is at its highest since the militant Taliban movement was ousted in late 2001.

“Afghanistan’s narcotics traffic has turned into a serious threat for the security of Central Asian countries and the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said. “Russia is ready for active joint steps aimed at normalizing the situation in this country.”

Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin said the West should do more to target drug money that funded the Taliban and al Qaeda.

While against the expansion of U.S. military interests in Central Asia, the Kremlin says that in Afghanistan it wants to expand cooperation with U.S. President Barack Obama, who on Friday unveiled a new Afghan strategy designed to beat al Qaeda.

The United States called the talks a “positive forum” for cooperation on Afghanistan. But Washington is also wary, after Kyrgyzstan announced last month -- straight after securing $2 billion in Russian aid -- that it would shut the last remaining U.S. base in Central Asia.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, pulling out a decade later after losing thousands of troops fighting mostly Western-backed Afghan guerrillas, many of whom later turned against the United States.

Russia says it will not send troops to Afghanistan but is ready to discuss additional supply routes for U.S.-led forces, help strengthen Afghanistan’s army and supply intelligence.

Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said Iran was ready to cooperate on drugs, telling Reuters: “We need to have a solution where the regional countries should play the main role in addressing the problems in Afghanistan.”

Additional reporting by Oleg Shchedrov and Dmitry Solovyov; Writing by Michael Stott; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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