Bluish clouds billowed from the 30-ton pile when Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali ignited the hundreds of bags of drugs in front of a crowd of journalists:
The ceremony is just one of many across Afghanistan commemorating the United Nations' International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. It was on 26 June 1987 that the a UN declaration was adopted against drug abuse and trafficking at an international conference.
Afghanistan, as the world's largest producer of illegal drugs, has been harshly criticized for the failure of the government to end opium farming. According to UN estimates, about 90 percent of the world's illegal opium and heroin is supplied by Afghan drug lords.
At today's drug-burning ceremony near Kabul, Interior Minister Jalali recognized that without stronger enforcement efforts, Afghanistan risks deteriorating into a narco-state just four years after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime:
"I am really happy that we are burning a large amount of drugs here while marking the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking. This is a symbolic moment in the fight against narcotics," Jalali said.
Jalali emphasized that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government is firmly committed brining an end to illegal opium-poppy cultivation, heroin production, and drug smuggling.
"All the drug traffickers must remember that our judicial system and our police have already collected evidence against them. They will be soon brought to justice," Jalali said.
The United States, Britain, and other countries are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to help Kabul's antidrug campaign.
The funds are being used to train police units to search out and destroy drug laboratories, arrest smugglers, and destroy opium crops. Funds also are committed to help Afghan farmers rebuild the infrastructure they need to grow legal crops like fruits and vegetables.
But last week, Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi told AP that some provincial governors and police chiefs are suspected of being involved in the illegal drugs trade. He said none are being investigated because of what he called "a lack of evidence." Qaderi declined to name those suspected.
President Karzai predicted during a visit to the United States last month that the drug-eradication programs would cause a 20 to 30 percent reduction in the amount of opium being grown in Afghanistan this year compared to last year.
But Qaderi says he thinks strong rains after years of drought could lead to another record-size opium crop in Afghanistan.
The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Rosalind Marsden, says today's drug burning is highly symbolic of positive steps being taken by officials in Kabul:
"This stockpile is a testament to the commitment of President Karzai and the government of Afghanistan to ending the drugs trade in this country," she said.
General Mohammad Daoud, the deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, says seven other stockpiles of illegal drugs -- weighing a total of about 32 tons -- also were destroyed today in other provinces. Altogether, today's massive bonfires of opium, heroin, hashish, and other drugs in Afghanistan totaled more than 60 tons.