KABUL - Afghanistan's counternarcotics minister said Sunday 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.
Gen. Khodaidad, who like many Afghans goes by one name, said that Afghanistan has achieved "a lot of success" with its anti-drug strategy - 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 U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Saturday in Rome, on the sidelines of a Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting.
A recent U.N. survey showed eradication's mixed results. Out of 23 villages where Afghan officials had eradicated poppies in 2008, 11 of those villages - 48 per cent - still planted poppy for 2009.
Khodaidad said the Afghan government was waiting to see details of the new U.S. strategy and that officials would work with their American counterparts on it.
"Whatever program or strategy would be to the benefit of Afghanistan, we welcome it," Khodaidad said. He added later: "We are happy with our policy ... so I'm not seeing any pause or what do you call it, deficiency, in our strategy. Our strategy's perfect. Our strategy's good."
Afghanistan is the world's leading source of opium, cultivating 93 per cent of the world's heroin-producing crop. While opium cultivation dropped 19 per cent last year, it remains popular in Afghanistan's southern provinces where the Taliban is strongest and last year earned insurgents an estimated $50 million to $70 million, according to the U.N. drug office.
According to a recent U.N. report, opium eradication reached a high in 2003, after the Taliban were ousted from power, with more than 21,000 hectares (51,900 acres) destroyed. In 2008, only 5,480 hectares (13,500 acres) were cut down, compared with 19,047 hectares (47,000 acres) in 2007.
In a change of strategy by international troops, U.S. and NATO forces in recent months have begun attacking drug labs and opium storage sites in an effort to deprive the Taliban of drug profits.
The new U.S. policy calls for assisting farmers who abandon poppy cultivation.
Holbrooke told G-8 ministers that Washington was increasing its funding for agricultural assistance from tens of millions of dollars a year to hundreds of millions of dollars, said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy, the current G-8 president.
In eastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, a suicide car bomber attacked a police vehicle in Nangarhar province on Sunday, killing a child nearby and wounding nine people, including four policemen, said Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, the spokesman for the provincial governor.
The bomber struck the vehicle in Behsud district, Abdulzai said.
The resurgent Taliban regularly use suicide bombers against Afghan and foreign troops, but most of the victims in such attacks are civilians.