During 2008, Afghanistan surprised the world by reducing opium poppy cultivation by almost 20 percent. At a ceremony in Kabul last month, U.S. Charge D' Affairs Christopher Dell congratulated Afghanistan's Ministry of Counter Narcotics, other Afghan government ministries, and the Director for Local Government for their efforts to stop Afghanistan's illicit drug traffic.
"Eighteen provinces were poppy free," said Mr. Dell, "Another 9 provinces had only a very small amount of poppy. Narcotics cultivation was mainly confined to 5 provinces in the south, where insecurity makes it difficult for the government to use law enforcement against narcotics," he said.
Charge D'Affairs Dell noted that the Ministry of Counter Narcotics' work with governors was vital to this success.
Governor Gul Agha Sherzai of Nangarhar is a striking example of how effective a governor can be. Thanks to his efforts, Nangarhar, Afghanistan's second largest poppy producer in 2007, became poppy free in 2008. In recognition of this accomplishment, Nangarhar received $10 million from the Good Performers Initiative, a program funded by the U.S. and Britain that provides development assistance to communities leading the fight against poppy in Afghanistan.
Also in 2008, the Ministry of Defense and the Afghan National Police undertook a joint poppy eradication operation. "This could not have happened either, without the support of Governor [Khuweja} Abubaker in Kapisa," said Mr. Dell. "That operation opened the door for a partnership between Afghan security forces in future counter narcotics security operations," he said.
Governor Gulab Mangal's "Food Zone" initiative in Helmand province is another promising development. Governor Mangal is targeting a 26,000 hectare area with a multi-season campaign of public awareness, alternative livelihood, law enforcement and eradication as a package aimed at eliminating poppy. "We hope this initiative will offer a model for eliminating poppy in areas of great insecurity," he said.
Charge D'Affairs Dell announced the transfer of nearly $12.2 million of Good Performers Initiative awards to the Ministry of Counter Narcotics. This money will be transferred to the government of Afghanistan for implantation in cooperation with the provinces. The U.S. will continue to support the government of Afghanistan in its efforts to end the tyranny of Afghan drug traffickers.