- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The State Department wants to convince “U.S. domestic audiences as well as the international community” that Afghanistan has an effective anti-drug strategy and, given time, can “reduce and contain” that country’s role as the world’s leading source of opium and heroin.

The public relations plan comes at a time Afghanistan has re-emerged as the world’s leader in opium products, supplying 87 percent of the world’s poppy supply, and that drug-eradication programs set up after U.S.-led coalition forces toppled the Taliban regime in 2001 have had only a limited impact on poppy production.

A nine-page “Strategic Communications Plan” targets members of Congress, religious leaders in this country, the U.S. and international business communities, foreign political leaders, state elected officials, think tanks, newspapers and TV outlets in theUnited States and overseas, and university officials and students.

“All of us recognize that security in Afghanistan ultimately affects the stability of the countries surrounding it and eventually the international community as a whole,” the plan says. “The strategy is based on the well-established premise that criminal enterprise in Afghanistan, left unchecked, undermines all worthy goals the country has set up for itself so its people may prosper and live in a peaceful society.”

While acknowledging that “appropriate funding” for the plan has yet to be located, it calls for U.S. and foreign journalists to be taken on eradication missions, the distribution of “professionally designed” press kits with fact sheets “that can last for several months,” regular press bulletins “assuming poppy eradication goes well,” and “on call experts” to travel around the United States and abroad to “deliver the Afghanistan messages on Afghanistan.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in January he would reduce opium poppy cultivation by 20 percent this year. But despite efforts to eradicate poppy fields, orders to the destroy clandestine laboratories and offers of incentives to Afghan farmers to plant new crops, the United Nations warned in a March 6 report that Afghan farmers were planting more poppy this year than in 2005. The same report noted that the Afghan opium crop increased by 21 percent last year over 2004.

According to the State Department plan, journalists in Afghanistan would go on eradication missions “to foster awareness that without effective narcotics control,” the country’s social, economic, political and cultural objectives “are threatened and cannot be properly implemented.”

The plan seeks to demonstrate that Afghanistan has “an integrated and coherent counter-narcotics strategy,” adding that embassy officials overseas “can look for appropriate venues to speak on drug control progress in Afghanistan.”

The department also would seek U.S. and European journalists for stories on eradication efforts in Afghanistan, targeting “leading regional U.S. media from major cities, Fox News, ‘60 Minutes’ and similar European outlets.” It also would hold on-the-record discussions in Washington on Afghan counter-narcotics efforts and sponsor events in the U.S. and Europe for senior Afghan officials to talk about those efforts.

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