KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search) plans to address tribal leaders Thursday on the need to eliminate this war-ravaged country's booming drug trade, an aide said.
Karzai was sworn in Tuesday as Afghanistan's first popularly elected leader. Vice President Dick Cheney (search), the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban three years ago, was among the 600 guests.
It "was one of the most historical days for Afghanistan and it's people," presidential spokesman Khaleeq Ahmad said Wednesday.
Karzai has not yet announced his Cabinet but was working on it, Ahmad said. He said the government was also busy arranging a counter-narcotics conference.
Hundreds of elders were expected to gather in the capital on Thursday to discuss plans for an American-sponsored crackdown on narcotics, underlining the issue's priority.
Afghan and U.S. officials have only recently begun to heed U.N. warnings that the skyrocketing cultivation of opium poppies is producing drug gangs that could soon have an unshakable grip on the country.
In his inaugural speech, Karzai listed the fight against narcotics second to the need to bring security to a country still plagued by insurgents, and warned of a dangerous nexus between terrorism and drug trafficking.
"The relationship between terrorism and narcotics ... are a source of continued concern," he said. "A decisive victory over terrorism requires serious and continued cooperation at regional and international levels."
Karzai has yet to formally announce the details of his new anti-drug policy, but Western officials working on the plans say it will include stepped-up destruction of opium poppy crops and hundreds of millions of dollars to help farmers switch to legal alternatives.
Britain and the United States are also training Afghan forces to smash labs that process opium into heroin — Afghanistan is already the world's top supplier — and to arrest top smugglers for trial in special courts to be established within months.
Karzai is also expected to establish a new ministry to take charge of the effort, though it remains unclear who will head it. Aides say he will announce his new Cabinet within a week.
Karzai was selected, with strong U.S. support, as Afghanistan's interim leader after an American bombing campaign drove the Taliban (search) from power for harboring Usama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Guided by a U.N.-sponsored peace plan, the country has adopted a new constitution and is slowly rebuilding. The Oct. 9 election, in which Karzai won an overwhelming victory, was a landmark in that effort.