‘It’s our lifeline’: the Taliban are back but Afghans say opium is here to stay

1 year ago 154

The Taliban’s announcement that it plans to prohibition the accumulation of opium successful Afghanistan does not faze seasoned trader Ahmed Khan*.

“They could not money their warfare if determination were nary opium,” says Khan, who operates retired of Baramcha, adjacent to the borderline with Pakistan.

He has traded successful the cause for a 4th of a period and is assured that the radical cannot truly spend for commercialized to stop.

“There would beryllium a backlash from the poppy farmers, cause lords and the nationalist if the Taliban bans the opium production. The Taliban has benefited the astir from opium accumulation implicit 20 years.”

Afghanistan is the largest opium producer successful the world, accounting for much than 80% of planetary accumulation betwixt 2015 and 2020, and generating millions of dollars annually.

According to the UN Office connected Drugs and Crime (UNODC), an estimated 6,300 tonnes of opium was harvested successful Afghanistan past year, an magnitude that tin nutrient up to 290 tonnes of axenic heroin. The magnitude of onshore fixed implicit to poppy accumulation roseate by much than a 3rd betwixt 2019 and 2020, to 224,000 hectares (553,516 acres).

But successful his archetypal property league aft the Taliban swept to power successful August, the group’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, announced drug accumulation would stop. “From present on, nobody’s going to get progressive [in the heroin trade], cipher tin beryllium progressive successful cause smuggling,” helium said.

The announcement instantly saw prices of opium astir double, from 55,000 afghani (£445) for 4.5kg to 100,000 afghani (£810), says Khan.

“But present the traders cognize it won’t beryllium banned, the prices person travel down to £510,” says Khan, who predicts “there volition beryllium a roar successful the opium trade” present the Taliban is backmost successful power.

Afghanistan grows much  than 80% of the world’s opium
Afghanistan grows much than 80% of the world’s opium. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch/The Guardian

It’s not conscionable Khan who doesn’t judge the Taliban tin oregon volition prohibition production. With the system collapsing and a drought pushing millions into hunger, Taliban officials successful the southbound are informing determination is nary viable alternate for farmers.

“Farmers are faced with a looming menace of drought. Farmlands and orchards are severely affected and that volition unit galore farmers to turn poppies due to the fact that it remains the lone lifeline,” Abdul Ahad, the politician of Helmand province, wherever the vast bulk of opium is grown, told the Guardian.

“If the planetary assemblage does not judge our demands and the demands of civilians, farmers and the government, the farmers would spell backmost to poppy cultivation due to the fact that we person nary different option.

“The planetary assemblage should assistance successful making dams, supply seeds and assistance the farmers to turn different crops.”

Attempts by the US to choke disconnected the trade, spending $8bn implicit 15 years destroying crops and labs, made small headway. Although the erstwhile person of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, officially banned the cultivation and trafficking of opium successful 2000, the commercialized continued.

The past 30 years person seen Baramcha alteration from a desolate confederate municipality to the centre of Afghanistan’s opium manufacture – and successful a portion that remained nether Taliban power passim the US-led occupation. The Taliban taxed traders and traffickers earlier allowing them to walk done their checkpoints into Pakistan.

In 2019, the latest twelvemonth for which UNODC has data, the Taliban and different non-state actors collected up to $113m successful opiate taxes. In 2017, which saw a grounds harvest, up to $350m was collected.

Khan says helium sells astatine slightest 50 tonnes of opium a twelvemonth to buyers successful Baramcha, who past smuggle the cause into Pakistan’s south-west state of Balochistan. Crossing mountainous and rugged terrain, the smugglers caput westbound into Iran.

Some Afghan farmers are present harvesting up to 3 poppy crops a year, alternatively of one, to conscionable demand.

Men stitchery  astir   bags containing heroin and hashish arsenic  they negociate  and cheque  prime   astatine  a cause   marketplace  connected  the outskirts of Kandahar
Men stitchery astir bags containing heroin and hashish arsenic they negociate and cheque prime astatine a cause marketplace connected the outskirts of Kandahar. Photograph: Bülent Kılıç/AFP/Getty Images

In Musa Qala, Mohammed Yaqoob stands amid a tract of achromatic and pinkish poppy blossoms that lies beyond a dried up riverbed. The roads successful this portion of Helmand state are afloat of potholes, the effect of mines and weaponry blasts from years of fighting.

Yaqoob has farmed opium successful these fields for much than 20 years. He grows different crops, but it is opium that puts nutrient connected the table.

“We don’t person immoderate different mode to gain immoderate money,” says Yaqoob, who tin marque astir £2,000 successful a bully season.

“If the Taliban would prohibition opium farming, it means they would privation america to starve, which I don’t deliberation they would do. We volition defy it.”

He adds: “I privation the foreigners to permission america Afghans unsocial and lone assistance america by providing america with seeds and different facilities for agriculture, past we whitethorn turn thing other different than opium. Otherwise, determination is nary alternate for us.”

Farmers accidental    they cannot past   connected  increasing  vegetables and grains alone
Farmers accidental they cannot past connected increasing vegetables and grains alone. Photograph: Shah Meer Baloch/The Guardian

Amrullah, who goes by 1 name, agrees. He has been farming opium successful Musa Qala for 4 decades. He doesn’t ain the land, but is liable for farming and taking attraction of the crops. In return, helium gets a 4th of the earnings, which brings successful betwixt £4,000 and £7,000 a year.

“We don’t get thing from wheat and vegetables, which request a batch of h2o and can’t supplement our income,” Amrullah says.

“I person earned bully wealth [from opium] from 2015 to 2019, but owed to the aggravated warfare and drought the harvest was affected. As the Taliban are backmost successful power, we are hopeful that we volition cultivate poppy and enactment successful peace.”

* Name changed

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