In the era of globalization, where actions on the other side of the globe impact economic and security conditions here at home, our nation needs new generations of Americans who have an interest in and understanding of foreign cultures and our interconnectedness with these other nations. What our nation needs are more people like Ranjeet Singh.
Singh, 33, was awarded a National Security Education Program Graduate Fellowship in 1999, which she used to research Indo-Pakistan relations, travel to the region, study Hindi, and write her thesis on the Kashmir conflict. Her knowledge of the region, and in particular Afghanistan’s ethnic groups, geography, culture and economy have made her the State Department’s recognized expert in formulating U.S. policy to deal with the challenge of opium poppy cultivation and narcotics trafficking in that country.
Her job is one of the most difficult and critical in all of Afghanistan.
For the past decade, opium poppy has been Afghanistan’s largest and most valuable cash crop. Since Operation Enduring Freedom toppled the Taliban in 2002, Afghanistan has re-emerged as the world’s leading supplier of illicit opium, morphine and heroin, producing an estimated 75 percent of the world-wide supply of heroin.
The International Monetary Fund also estimates that the opium trade makes up roughly 50 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, with approximately $1 billion going annually to growers and $1.3 billion going to traffickers. Profits from this drug trade are being used to support Taliban remnants, al-Qaeda and other terrorist elements.
As the United States planned its reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, Singh pushed strongly for a strong response to the problem of opium poppy production. Clearly, the United States cannot allow this drug trade to continue to flourish. But the critical role that it plays to Afghanistan’s economy makes cracking down on this criminal activity more complicated than most U.S. counter-drug initiatives, and it requires not only a law enforcement, but a diplomatic response. That is exactly the type of response that Singh has helped to develop.
Since September 2001, Singh has worked with U.S. government agencies, non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and the United Kingdom to develop and implement millions of dollars of assistance programs in the areas of narcotics law enforcement, alternative development, drug demand reduction and anti-drug public affairs. These programs have aimed to help Afghan farmers grow and market alternative crops, win public support for a ban on opium poppy cultivation, and to open a treatment center for addicts.
With the enormous obstacles posed by eradicating a crop that makes up half of a nation’s GDP, it is unclear how quickly her efforts will be able to succeed. But there is no question that Ranjeet Singh is a rising star within our government, and for our nation to succeed in this and other international challenges to come, we will need to help of Singh and as many patriot Americans like her as possible.