Taliban Announces Cruel Poppy Ban During Afghan Harvest Season

April 8, 2022

What’s that time-worn saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Drug prohibition is the essence of this.

During the height of Afghanistan’s poppy harvesting season, the ruling Taliban just announced a ban on poppy cultivation.

At a news conference in Kabul, Haibatullah Akhunzada, the group’s supreme leader stated: “All Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country… If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law.”

”Announcing a ban” is simply adding threats to what already exists.

It has never been legal to grow poppies in Afghanistan’s modern history. Opium production, from cultivation to heroin labs to its sale and use, has always been prohibited. So ”announcing a ban” is simply adding threats to what already exists but can never be completely enforced.

Afghanistan continues to be the world’s largest producer of opium. Its harvest accounts for more than 80 percent of the world’s supply, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Poppy production accounts for up to 11 percent of the country’s economy. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans depend on the crop to live, and as one farmer said, “Other crops are just not profitable.”

Taliban leadership know this. Back in 2000 when they were in power, they attempted to enforce a ban on poppy cultivation and faced a massive backlash from farmers in Helmand and Kandahar, two provinces where the industry is strongest.

After a year, eradication efforts were mostly abandoned. A major reason was that the taxes levied all along the poppy production chain fund governing authorities across the country. No alternative crop can fill that gap.

Banning a crop that is a lifeline to so many during an unprecedented economic free-fall can’t end well.

David Mansfield, an expert in the drug trade in Afghanistan, believes the new ban attempt will fail for similar reasons, and that the timing makes this even more likely.

 

Banning a crop that is a lifeline to so many during an unprecedented economic free-fall can’t end well. The Biden administration has frozen 7 billion in Afghan assets and foreign aid has been drastically cut. As a result, it’s estimated that a staggering 95 percent of people don’t have enough to eat and more than half the population are at risk of starvation. “Without immediate action, we face a starvation and malnutrition crisis in Afghanistan,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “People are already selling their children and their body parts in order to feed their families.”

In the midst of a dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, poppy prohibition is sheer cruelty, makes no sense and will only lead to more death. 

 


 

Photograph of food vendor on the streets of Kabul by Helen Redmond

Helen Redmond

Helen is the senior editor of Filter. She has written about nicotine, mental health and drug policy for publications including Al Jazeera, AlterNet, Harper’s and The Influence. As an LCSW, she works with drug users in medical and community mental health settings. An expert on tobacco harm reduction, she provides training and consultation on mental health, nicotine use and THR, and in 2016 organized the first Tobacco Harm Reduction Conference in the US. Helen is also a documentary filmmaker.

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