TEHRAN, 22 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Tehran has announced the launch of 10 new military checkpoints along the Afghan-Iranian border in Afghanistan's western Herat province as part of its anti-drug trafficking drive.
State-run radio reported that the governor-general of Iran's northeastern Khorasan province, near the border, Hasan Seyyed Rasuli, said during a ceremony in Eslam Qala that another 15 checkpoints would also be set up.
The move is part of a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) bilateral initiative called Strengthening Afghanistan Iran Drug Control Border Cooperation (SAID) that aims to establish 25 checkpoints along the border in Afghan provinces - 15 in Herat, three in Farah and seven in Nimroz. The Islamic Republic of Iran has earmarked US $2 million for the programme.
This is the first scheme of its kind to use Afghans as border guards. Until now only Iranians have been patrolling the porous mountain passes between the two countries. According to rough estimates by Iranian drug control authorities, about 50 per cent of the total opiate production of Afghanistan streams through Iran.
SAID will be an international effort, highlighting the international community's dedication to fighting the war against drugs. It is estimated that most of the drugs travelling through Iran are destined for Europe. Members of a German-trained Afghan police force - yet to be launched - will be selected as border guards and will then attend an Anglo-Iranian training course in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad.
"The point of these checkpoints is to deliver the know-how and capability to the Afghan side, so they can start anti-narcotic activity," Kaveh Moradi, the UNODC drug supply reduction officer in Iran, told IRIN.
"We don't believe it will totally alleviate the situation, but the first step is to train Afghans and to have Afghan nationals involved."
The checkpoints will be located at strategic points along the border - close to important entry points but also close to access roads into Iran, enabling Afghan guards to reach the Iranian side for assistance.
More than 43 mt of drugs have been seized over the past 10 months, and experts estimate that this represents only about 15 percent of the total amount sent over the border via Iran. Only this week, Pakistani authorities seized 980 kilos (2,160 pounds) of hashish bound for Iran via Afghanistan.
"It's difficult to say what's coming through, and we have to rely on the latest seizures, but one thing we can say is that the level of opium is concerning. We estimate that about 3,600 metric tonnes of opium will be harvested in the next few weeks," Moradi said.
Iran has spent millions of dollars digging deep trenches along its 936 km eastern border with Afghanistan, the top drugs producer in the region, and the 909 km frontier with Pakistan, another favourite drugs smuggling route. The checkpoints will provide a further line of defence.
If the scheme is successful, more border checkpoints are planned, but Moradi thinks it will take at least three months to judge its success and see if it has an impact on drug trafficking through the country.
The project, which has not yet been fully finalised, is awaiting approval from UNODC headquarters in Vienna and is also in need of donors. Only then can it be fully implemented. A major concern is that there will not be enough Afghans trained to patrol the checkpoints.
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