Monday, 27 September, 2021

Growth of Afghan opium trade may undermine Taliban pledge to kick the habit

  • Sun Online Desk
  • 31st August, 2021 08:09:38 PM
  • Print news


The last time the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the poppy fields flourished. In 1999, three years after the group established its Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the country’s total production of raw opium was estimated to have hit nearly 4,600 metric tons — more than double the amount for the year before.

Almost a quarter century later, Afghanistan continues to be the world’s top opium producer. But since the Taliban assumed power in Kabul earlier this month, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has repeatedly told international media the Taliban would not allow the production of opium or other narcotics within its state.

“Afghanistan will not be a country of cultivation of opium anymore,” Mujahid said during a news conference on Aug. 17, two days after the group seized the Afghan capital.

That may not be an easy task. Afghanistan accounted for 85 percent of the opium produced worldwide last year, far outdoing rival producers such as Myanmar and Mexico, according to United Nations data. The country has also been accused of playing a major role in the global supply of cannabis and methamphetamines.

Despite its austere version of Islamic theology and strict enforcement of religious rules, the Taliban has long had a symbiotic relationship with the trade in opium, which can be processed chemically to produce narcotics such as heroin. In the 1990s, the group allowed the opium trade even as it banned hashish and cigarettes as haram (forbidden) for Muslims.

The group’s religious justification? Heroin largely affected non-Muslims outside of Afghanistan.

It was a “gymnastic” interpretation of Islamic law, said Haroun Rahimi, a legal scholar at the American University of Afghanistan. But the group needed the support of smugglers and farmers, as well as funding, which it could get by taxing opium production.

The Taliban banned opium production in 2000 under Western pressure. However, after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, production flourished again in Taliban-held areas. Despite U.S.-backed eradication efforts estimated to cost $9 billion, production peaked at an estimated 9,000 tons in 2017.

Source: The Washington Post