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Afghan President Urges 'Holy War' on Drugs

At the opening of a two-day national conference on illegal drugs, President Hamid Karzai likened opium cultivation to the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.

He said that just as Afghans had waged a holy struggle against the Soviets, they should now do the same against the drug trade.

In the past year, the United Nations estimates that opium cultivation has jumped 64-percent, representing about two-thirds of Afghanistan's economy.

Mr. Karzai described the raising of opium poppies, used to make the illegal drug heroin, as a dishonor to Afghanistan and a threat to its independence.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad also attended the opening of the conference, promising 780-million dollars to educate Afghan farmers and help them switch to other crops.

Addressing the gathering in the local language, Dari, the ambassador said Afghanistan needs the help of the international community if it is to successfully deal with the drug problem.

What was lacking on the first day of the conference were details on the Afghan government's plan to roll back the production of opium and other illicit crops, such as marijuana.

The government is widely expected to present a package of anti-drug programs in the near future, and news reports say Mr. Karzai may create a separate cabinet ministry to deal with the issue.

The Karzai administration has come out in favor of crop substitution and strong law enforcement. But it has rejected suggestions that it spray herbicide on poppy fields, citing possible health consequences for those living nearby the fields.