• Taliban Move to Ban Opium Production in Afghanistan

    From (David P.)@21:1/5 to All on Mon Sep 6 14:18:51 2021
    Taliban Move to Ban Opium Production in Afghanistan
    By Rasmussen, Saar & Marson, 8/28/21, Wall St. Journal

    With Afghanistan’s rutted roads, poor storage infrastructure
    & few export outlets, poppies are one of the few cash crops
    available to local farmers. Saffron—which used to be a key
    element of U.S. counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan—is
    another, but it's nowhere near as lucrative or as easy to sell.

    “If the Taliban prohibit the cultivation of poppy, people
    will die from starvation, esp. when int'l aid stops,” a
    poppy farmer in the Chora district of Uruzgan said in a
    phone interview. “We still hope they will let us grow
    poppies. Nothing can compensate for the income we get
    from growing poppies.”

    When the Taliban were in power before the 2001 U.S. invasion,
    they also initially banned opium production, but later
    punished only the consumption of drugs, not their culti-
    vation & trading. The Taliban did, however, dramatically
    crack down on opium cultivation in 2000, when they sought
    int'l acceptance for their regime.

    That prohibition drove down production by 90%, said Vanda
    Felhab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Inst. who
    follows Afghanistan. Yet, it came at a huge political
    cost for the group.

    By the spring of 2001, Afghan farmers were flouting the
    ban because they couldn’t cope, Felhab-Brown said. That
    move to curb opium crops, she added, turned into a key
    reason why “no one was lining up on the side of the
    Taliban during the U.S. invasion.”

    After 2001, the U.S. spent some $9 billion over 20 years
    trying to prevent Afghanistan from supplying the world
    with heroin, to no avail. Led mostly by the State Dept &
    the DEA, the U.S. efforts included paying farmers to
    destroy their poppies, a policy that ignited a poppy-
    growing fever among others trying to cash in.

    The U.S. also funded Afghan eradication teams that turned
    impoverished farmers’ crops into mulch, enraging communities.

    Washington gave up on eradication by 2010, partly because
    the effort pushed large parts of the rural population to
    join the Taliban. The U.S. Agency for Int'l Development
    worked to persuade Afghan farmers to grow saffron,
    pistachios or pomegranates instead. But export oppor-
    tunities for those products were scarce.

    Last year, Afghan farmers grew poppies on land 4 times
    the size of what they did in 2002.

    A new Taliban opium prohibition would be a political risk
    for the group. It could win them a degree of gratitude
    from foreign govts, particularly in Europe, Russia &
    Iran, the main markets for Afghan heroin.

    Unlike the 90s, when the Taliban had to contend with
    powerful, foreign-backed Northern Alliance militias that
    retained control of the country’s northeast, the Islamist
    movement today doesn’t face any serious military challenge
    to its rule. It does, however, need to contend with
    potential discontent caused by the country’s economic crisis.

    With a U.S. freeze on central-bank assets & billions of
    dollars in foreign aid drying up, the new Taliban
    authorities in Kabul are hard pressed to stave off
    economic collapse. Prices of basic commodities like cooking
    oil have already surged, while imports are growing scarce.

    As an insurgent movement, the Taliban profited heavily
    from the opium trade in the past two decades, acc. to
    Western govts & the UN. They established shadow govts
    across the country, building a parallel economy that was
    sustained in large part by the trafficking of drugs &
    smuggling of fuel & consumer goods.

    It isn’t just opium & its derivatives anymore. Afghan has
    also seen the emergence of a large-scale meth production.
    In one district, Bakwa, in the SW province of Farah,
    crystal-meth production has become a cottage industry,
    acc. to David Mansfield, an independent socio-economist
    & Afghan expert.

    His team of researchers documented over 300 suspected labs
    there that can produce annually crystal meth worth some
    $240 million. Approx. $4 million of that amount went to
    the Taliban, primarily thru taxes, Mansfield estimated.

    Iranian authorities seized 17 tons of meth from Mar 2019-
    Mar 2020, & another 10 tons from Mar 2020-Nov 2020, the
    vast majority of which came from Afghan, acc. to Alexander
    Soderholm, an independent consultant researching illicit
    drug flows thru Iran at the London School of Economics.

    At the highest levels of the Taliban leadership, officials
    appeared to see the drug trade as a vital undertaking.
    During peace talks with the U.S. in 2020, Taliban
    negotiators asked for the release of Hajji Bashar
    Noorzai, a drug kingpin imprisoned in the U.S., which the
    now-toppled Afghan govt said was an attempt to boost the
    insurgents’ drug-smuggling capabilities.

    “He has no other skill,” said Khalid Mohid, who served as
    spokesman for the Afghan Counter Narcotics Justice Ctr,
    a counternarc investigative & prosecuting body of the
    deposed Afghan republic. Noorzai, sentenced by a U.S.
    federal judge in 2009 to life imprisonment on heroin
    trafficking charges, remains behind bars.


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