Opium ban in Afghanistan: the Taliban hope for international recognition

Status: 04/18/2022 2:24 p.m.

Opium cultivation has long been the main source of income for the Taliban. Now they want to punish him. The regime hopes this will gain international recognition – but the plight of many farmers is likely to get worse.

By Sibylle Licht, ARD Studio New Delhi

Abdul Rahman is bringing opium crops into the fields near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. For decades, the region has been a growth area for opium, from which heroin is made. “If the Taliban now bans opium cultivation, then they have to help us change. And the world has to help us too,” he says.

Mohamad Taj’s family has also been growing opium for 28 years. Now that should be over: the Taliban have banned opium cultivation. Taj has 25 family members to support, his land is rented. Opium cultivation was his main source of income.

In early April, the Taliban government announced that crops must be destroyed immediately. Anyone who does not comply will be sanctioned. But since then, nothing has happened in the fields near Kandahar. “If we can’t keep harvesting, then we have a problem,” says farmer Rahman. “After 20 years of civil war, everyone is in debt. How are we supposed to feed our children?”

Afghan farmers harvest opium poppy.

Image: AP

The cultivation ban should bring recognition

Opium cultivation was the Taliban’s main source of income during the civil war. They control the drug trade and tax it. Officially, they never commented on it. International observers assume they took in around US$20 million in 2020 alone. From 2015 to 2020, 80% of the world’s opium production came from Afghanistan, the country was the global market leader. The Taliban had already banned opium cultivation under pain of punishment when they ruled Afghanistan between 2000 and 2001.

What does the renewed ban mean? Ajai Sahni is executive director of the New Delhi Institute for Conflict Management, which collects data on drug culture and trafficking in South Asia. “The purpose of the Taliban’s opium ban is to gain recognition from the international community. This is very important for the Taliban because it allows money to flow,” he explains. .

So far, international aid has not gone to the Taliban, but directly to Afghans through UN organizations. The Taliban were trying to get some kind of compensation from the international community by banning the cultivation of opium, Sahni says – in the sense of: “Look, the cultivation of opium represents a very large part of the income of our farmers .If they destroy the crop, they must be compensated in some way.” The expert believes that such an argument could meet with the approval of donor countries.

Reinforcing the overabundance of synthetic drugs?

Abdul Haq Akhondzada is the Taliban’s deputy interior minister and head of drug policy. in the ARD interview he notes that although the cultivation ban has been issued, it does not need to be implemented immediately. “Farmers have many problems. We said that this year’s opium harvest will not be affected. Only then will the cultivation be banned.”

He openly admits the objective of the Taliban government: “We want you to help us, because everyone knows that our country is in great difficulty. It has known wars for 40 years.” Opium cultivation was a way for Afghans to feed their families. “The whole world must help us. It must be on our side,” says Abdul Haq Akhondzada.

Opium cultivation and trade was a very important source of income for the Taliban as an insurgent group, says expert Ajayi Sahni from New Delhi. For the Taliban administration, this source of income is now drying up. The drug trade is controlled by warlords, small local groups and criminal organizations across the Pakistani border.

He assesses the effects of the opium ban on European markets as follows: “If the availability of heroin in Europe decreases, there will be a shift towards other drugs, particularly synthetic ones.

At the same time, another conflict region is developing as the new main producer of opium: Myanmar. There, the area would be expanded – because there is no longer any government that has enough influence to prevent it.

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