A convoy carrying Afghan President Hamid Karzai's vice presidential running-mate came under attack yesterday in northeastern Afghanistan, the presidential palace and other officials said. It was the third attack on Karzai's supporters ahead of landmark weekend elections.
The vice presidential hopeful, Ahmed Zia Massood, was not injured, said Khalik Ahmed, a spokesman at the palace. But Badakhshan Governor Said Ikramudin Masumi was among those injured. Mutaleb Beg, a local police official, said one person was killed and four others injured.
The convoy was apparently attacked by a roadside bomb or mine, presumably set off by remote control as it passed along a road near Faisabad, the capital of the province, Ahmed said.
The area is not considered a haven for Taliban rebels and had been relatively peaceful in the past. It is, however, a center of Afghanistan's booming opium and heroin trade, with poppy fields dotting the landscape.
Ahmed would not comment on who might be behind the attack, but said they would not succeed in derailing Saturday's vote. He said the governor's injuries were minor.
Ahmed Zia Massood is the brother of slain Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massood. Karzai selected him as a running-mate over current Vice President and Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim, a Tajik faction leader.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government, supported by the US and UK, is to mount an all-out push over the next six months against officials and warlords involved in the drugs trade, according to Afghan and western officials involved in counternarcotics.
It will pit the Afghan government, supported by the US and other NATO forces, against the private armies of warlords who still control much of the country.
Mirwais Yassini, head of counter-narcotics for the transitional Afghan government, said: "The 10-year strategy [75 percent reduction in five years and complete eradication in 10] is too long. You go after the high-value targets and we will do that within the next six months."
The targets would include corrupt ministers and governors in the existing government. Yassini said there could be no political reform or security in Afghanistan without tackling them.
The push comes after US impatience with Britain, which is the lead government on drugs control in the NATO-led force occupying Afghanistan, for failing to reduce drug production over the last three years.
A UN report out at the end of the month or early November will show an increase in land under poppy cultivation rising from 80,000 hectares last year to more than 100,000 this year. Three-quarters of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan and is worth billions.
Production last year was 3,600 tonnes, with Afghan farmers receiving US$100 a kilo.
According to the officials, the drive will see the new president, to be elected on Saturday but widely expected to be a confirmation of the transitional president, Hamid Karzai, begin by cleaning out of his cabinet those ministers involved in the drug trade and the warlords and governors either running the drugs trade in their provinces or collecting "taxes" from traffickers.
Many of them have private armies, but the Afghan army and anti-narcotics units will be supported on the ground and in the air by US and NATO forces.