December 3, 2022

Taliban begins the eradication of poppy fields in Afghanistan

Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – A Marine with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, greets local children working in a poppy field near the base. Photo taken in 2011.
Source – ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office from Kabul, Afghanistan, Public Domain

Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers are making good on an edict issued in April, banning the cultivation of poppies, aiming to wipe out the country’s massive production of opium and heroin.

Those violating the ban “will be arrested and tried according to Sharia laws in relevant courts,” the Taliban deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, Mullah Abdul Haq Akhund, told the Associated Press.

Akhund also said the Taliban were in touch with other governments and non-governmental organizations to work out alternative crops for farmers.

Ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said the eradication campaign will take place across the country. “We are committed to bringing poppy cultivation to zero,” he said.

The ban comes as Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed, cut off from international funding in the wake of the Taliban takeover nine months ago. The departure of U.S.-led foreign troops fueled an economic and humanitarian crisis that left many destitute Afghans dependent on the narcotics trade for survival.

Additionally, most of the population is struggling to afford food, and the country has been suffering from its worst drought in years.

Noor Mohammed, who owns one poppy field in Washir that was torn apart by Taliban tractors, said his plot of land is small and lacks water, so he can’t survive by growing less profitable crops, reports CBS News.

“If we are not allowed to cultivate this crop, we will not earn anything,” he said of his poppies.

Taliban’s changing priorities

The Taliban banned poppy growing in 2000 as they sought international legitimacy, but faced a popular backlash and later mostly changed their stance, according to experts.

The Taliban then encouraged the illicit drug business and Afghanistan eventually controlled more than 80 percent of global opium and heroin supplies.

“We’ve stood by on the sidelines and, unfortunately, allowed the Taliban to become probably the largest funded non-designated terrorist organization on the globe,” said a U.S. official with knowledge of Afghanistan’s drug trade.

Three of the last four years have seen some of Afghanistan’s highest levels of opium production, according to the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, poppy cultivation soared 37 percent last year, it reported in May.

The banning of poppy cultivation will end up depriving the Taliban of about $40 million annually, predominantly from levies on opium production, heroin labs, and drug shipments, according to some experts, while others say the figure is much higher.

And it is still thought that the Taliban learned a lesson from their ban on poppy growing in 2000, said Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown, when they backed down on their ban.

So what is the Taliban trying to do in Afghanistan today? They are faced with growing poverty and drought, as well as economic devastation.