The Taliban have vowed to reduce Afghanistan’s opium trade, according to a report by the WSJ.
This is incredibly suspect, as the movement’s primary bankrolling comes from poppy growing and opium production.
The Islamic group’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid vowed to crack down on the production of narcotics, saying “nobody can be involved” in the heroin trade.
Taliban leaders have been telling farmers in the southern province of Kandahar to stop cultivating opium poppies, according to the WSJ report.
Farmers are unhappy but have no choice but to comply should the Taliban begin to enforce the ban, the outlet cites a Kandahar grower as saying.
“We can’t oppose the Taliban’s decision. They are the government,” said the farmer.
He added that the Taliban has assured people that they would have an “alternative crop,” such as saffron, to grow.
Saffron, however, is not nearly as lucrative as producing as producing narcotics.
The ban on a crop that has traditionally been a crucial part of the local economy has resulted in prices of raw opium skyrocketing across the country.
Local farmers in poppy-growing regions like Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Helman provinces said raw opium prices have tripled, from about $70 to about $200 per kilogram. In the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the price of opium has doubled, according to locals.
The poppy-planting season is due start in about a month.
“If the Taliban prohibit the cultivation of poppy, people will die from starvation, especially when international aid stops. We still hope they will let us grow poppies. Nothing can compensate for the income we get from growing poppies,” a poppy farmer in the Chora district of Uruzgan was quoted as saying.
Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of opium, with its share in the global market standing at over 80%.
Poppy cultivation offers the rural population in the war-torn country a much-needed lifeline. In 2017, annual opium production was valued at $1.4 billion, or 7.4 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, according to the UN.
The Taliban have used taxes on the drug business to bankroll they endeavors for a while. After seizing the country’s capital Kabul, the issue of the narcotics trade surfaced amid the Taliban’s new plans for governance.
“We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community, we will not have any narcotics produced. From now on, nobody’s going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling,” Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters in Kabul at an August 18th press conference.
Before 2001, when the US invaded, Taliban had banned opium production. Production was down by 90%.
The Taliban eventually ceased to mete out punishment for cultivating drugs, cracking down only on use of drugs.
After 2001, during the two decades of deployment of Western forces in the country, the US spent some $9 billion in a crackdown on the drug trade. US efforts included paying farmers to destroy their poppies, funding Afghan eradication teams, and urging people to grow saffron, pistachios, or pomegranates instead.
This, however, pushed many of the local population to join the Taliban’s ranks.
The ban on the opium growing is a risky move, as the country is in an economic crisis, and a precarious one at that.
The US froze Afghanistan’s central bank assets and foreign aid, as well as the local currency – the afghani is reeling, on the brink of collapse.
Stopping the drug production and trade could be used as a bargaining chip to receive funds, and have resources released to be used by the Taliban government.