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Minister praises anti-drug strategy

AFGHANISTAN'S counternarcotics minister said yesterday that his country's drug policy is "perfect," a day after the United States changed course and announced it would no longer support efforts to eradicate opium poppy plants.

General Khodaidad, who like many Afghans goes by one name, said that Afghanistan has achieved "a lot of success" with its anti-drug policy - which relies heavily on manual eradication of poppy fields, monetary incentives and public relations campaigns to persuade farmers not to plant poppies.

Afghan counternarcotics police have for years used tractors or hand tools to plow under or chop down poppy plants - which yield opium, the main ingredient in heroin - but they often came under attack and dozens have been killed by militants.

Because the country plants so much poppy, the Taliban and other militants were still believed to have reaped tens of millions of dollars in yearly profits. Eradication "might destroy some acreage, but it didn't reduce the amount of money the Taliban got by one dollar," Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said on Saturday in Rome, on the sidelines of a Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting.

A recent United Nations survey showed eradication's mixed results. Out of 23 villages where Afghan officials had eradicated poppies in 2008, 11 of those villages still planted poppy for this year.

Khodaidad said the Afghan government was waiting to see details of the new US strategy. He said officials would work with their American counterparts.

"Whatever program or strategy would be to the benefit of Afghanistan, we welcome it," Khodaidad said.

Afghanistan cultivates 93 percent of the world's heroin-producing crop.


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