Afghan province begins push to discourage poppy cultivation

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Date tree plantation rapidly replacing poppy harvest in Afghanistan. The hot weather and terrain of Helmand province resembles that of the Middle East making it viable for date tree plantation. (Helmand Governor's Office/Javeriah Abbasi)
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Date tree plantation rapidly replacing poppy harvest in Afghanistan. The hot weather and terrain of Helmand province resembles that of the Middle East making it viable for date tree plantation. (Helmand Governor's Office/Javeriah Abbasi)
Updated 28 July 2018
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Afghan province begins push to discourage poppy cultivation

  • According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan last year produced 9,000 tons of opium
  • Most of the income from the multi-billion-dollar trade ends up in the pockets of dealers and the mafia

KABUL: Helmand has long been the major narcotics-producing province in Afghanistan due to protracted war and chronic poverty.
Most of the income from the multi-billion-dollar trade ends up in the pockets of dealers and the mafia, rather than helping poor communities and farmers economically.
So authorities and locals have begun a drive to replace opium poppies with trees such as pistachio, citrus and date, which have markets at home and in the region.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan last year produced 9,000 tons of opium, which is derived from poppies and turned into heroin.
Thousands of pistachio and date trees have been distributed for free to farmers in districts where poppies are grown, to persuade them to stop cultivating the latter, local officials said.
“Date harvests have been higher than expected. That’s good news for the people, market and growers,” Ali Shah Mazlomyar, a former adviser to Helmand’s governor, told Arab News.
Some trees have produced 15-20 kg of dates, which will encourage famers to abandon poppy cultivation, he said.
Helmand’s hot climate and terrain, which are similar to the Middle East, have played a role in encouraging farmers to grow dates, said Ahmad Shah Khairi, head of the province’s agriculture department.
“In the near future, we’ll be asking Arab countries to help us with date trees,” he told Arab News.
“We can encourage farmers to swap poppies with these trees, as we have a good market nationally, regionally and internationally for dates, citrus and pistachio.”
Mazlomyar said the UAE has already donated date trees to Helmand. In the long run, authorities expect that with more date and citrus trees, Afghanistan will stop being reliant on imports from Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East.
Previous government and US-led efforts to ban poppy cultivation failed. Each year drug production has risen in Afghanistan, though the Taliban drastically decreased poppy cultivation in its last year in power.


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.