State Dept. seeks advisor on Afghan poppy campaign

WASHINGTON: The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement is looking for a new advisor as its increases work on its Poppy Elimination Program (PEP) in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON: The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement is looking for a new advisor as its increases work on its Poppy Elimination Program (PEP) in Afghanistan.

The goal of the outreach program, noted Susan Pittman, the senior public affairs advisor for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, is to persuade farmers to grow legal crops other than poppies by communicating, among other things, that poppy cultivation is illegal, that such crops if discovered by the government will be destroyed, and that outside economic investment will not occur in local communities where laws are flouted.

"The program started last year, but it's really just getting off the ground now," Pittman said. "You're basically starting in Afghanistan with a country that been involved in cultivation of poppies for decades and it takes time to change people's behavior."

Afghanistan is estimated to produce more than 90% of the world's heroin, which is derived from poppies.

Overseeing a $20-million annual outreach program focusing on seven Afghan provinces where the illicit cultivation of poppies is particularly extensive, the advisor will serve from January 2007 to December 2007 and replace the current PEP advisor, whose term in office ends soon.

Communications will target clinics, teachers, mullahs, and other community leaders, and include distribution of pamphlets and other informational materials; meetings; development of DARE-like programs to educate kids about the dangers of drugs; and other activities. In addition, the program also advises provincial officials on communicating with local media.

The advisor is based at the American Embassy in Kabul and works with other public information officers at the State Department, US Defense Department, and the US Agency for International Development. Pittman declined to identify the current advisor for security reasons, but said that persons serving in such demanding, "immersive" positions tend to stay in such posts for no more than a year.

The program also includes monitoring of government eradication efforts and is part of a larger, $700-million-annual project by the US to develop rule of law and create a national, civilian police presence in Afghanistan.

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