Afghanistan Parliament Approves New Drugs Minister
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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Afghan president replaces governor of Helmand
Reuters - Sunday, March 2 09:37 am
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has replaced the governor of the southern province of Helmand, a state newspaper said on Sunday, the official whose complaint led to the expulsion of two senior European diplomats late last year.
Afghanistan's expulsion of the acting head of the EU mission Michael Semple and U.N. political officer Mervyn Patterson in December led to a diplomatic row with international community, particularly Britain which has some 7,000 troops in Helmand.
Asadullah Wafa, then governor of Helmand, had complained to President Hamid Karzai that Irishman Semple and Briton Patterson had been negotiating with the Taliban in his province without his knowledge and had plans to pay off militant leaders.
Karzai then expelled the pair. The president later further heightened tensions with Britain, by complaining he had been wrong to listen to British advice to remove a previous governor of Helmand accused by London of cruelty and involvement in the flourishing drugs trade, which is centred in Helmand.
British actions in Helmand, one of Afghanistan's most dangerous regions, had made matters worse, Karzai said.
Karzai later insisted he had been misquoted, but the expulsion of the two diplomats and the president's criticism of Britain's role in Helmand marked a low point in relations between London and Kabul.
The president awarded Wafa a medal for his services at a ceremony on Saturday and appointed him head of the complaints department at the presidential palace, the Anis newspaper said.
In his place, Karzai appointed Gulab Mangal as governor of Helmand, a man seen as a capable administrator, but one without local ties to the volatile and tribally divided province, which diplomats said might limit his influence there.
Sometimes tense relations between Karzai who is slowly gearing up for elections next year and Western governments with troops in Afghanistan may harm efforts to combat the resurgent Taliban who have vowed to renew a campaign of suicide attacks this year to oust the Afghan government and foreign troops.
(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
Source: ANC News
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