Afghanistan parliament approves new drugs minister

afghanistanKABUL – Afghanistan’s parliament approved Saturday a new minister to lead the fight against an opium and heroin industry that is at historic highs and funding a growing Taliban insurgency.

The appointment, part of a reshuffle which also saw the replacement of the transport minister and three provincial governors, comes as the US State Department said in a report Friday more Afghans than ever are growing opium.

The post of counternarcotics minister has been vacant for seven months. Parliament voted in as minister an army general named only as Khodaidad who had been serving as acting minister, a government spokesman said.

There has been a surge in Afghanistan’s opium output, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the world supply of the drug used to make heroin.

A US State Department report released Friday said more than 14 percent of Afghans were involved in poppy production in 2007, up from 12.6 percent the previous year.

“Narcotics production in Afghanistan hit historic highs in 2007 for the second straight year,” it said.

Parliament also approved the replacement of the governor of the heart of the country’s opium and heroin production, Helmand province, where Taliban hold a handful of districts.

President Hamid Karzai on Saturday awarded the outgoing governor Assadullah Wafa one of the country’s highest medals for “outstanding” service in efforts to promote peace and security, his office said.
The national assembly parliament also voted in Karzai’s nomination of businessman Hamidullah Qaderi to replace Nehmatullah Ehsan Jawid as transport minister.

Jawid was dismissed in part because of problems with the corruption-plagued national carrier, Ariana Airlines, one official said on condition of anonymity.

The governors of the central provinces of Laghman and Ghazni, where 23 South Korean hostages were held by Taliban for weeks and two killed, were also replaced.

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