There have been numerous reports concerning the Taliban government’s implementation of a ban on opium poppy and heroin production in Afghanistan in 2000, as well as the subsequent resumption in growth of the illicit substances after their regime was overthrown in 2001. In 2004, the U.N. officials estimated that Afghanistan production of opium poppy accounted for 87% of the global illicit opium (Gannon, 2000). Heroin is produced from opium, which is manufactured from opium poppy. The consolidation of authority of the Taliban government in the 1990s led to a significant production of opium poppy and narcotic production in Afghanistan, something which the Taliban officers used to persuade military opponents in order to recruit them in their team, promising them favorable cultivation policies. The Afghanistan production of raw opium exceeded 4500 MT in 1999, resulting in a mounting international pressure being put on the Taliban government to ban illicit substance production in Afghanistan. The pressure was from states all over the world whose populations suffer from the use the illicit drugs being produced by the country (Gannon, 2000).
As a result, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader, liaised with the UN in 2000 to stamp out the production of heroin in Afghanistan, declaring that poppy production was un-Islamic; a move that was seen as the most successful anti-drug campaign in the whole world. The ban was implemented by the following techniques; the threat of penalty, abolition of continuous poppy cultivation, close local supervision, as well as punishment of transgressors in the public. The Taliban government mandated the local agency groups to ensure that the ban is implemented among local farmers of opium poppy. Consequently, opium poppy cultivation in regions controlled by the Taliban government reduced was by 99% (Gannon, 2000). The effectiveness of the ban was mainly evident in Helmand Province, the main area of poppy production in Afghanistan, which did not produce any poppy in 2001. In general, opium production decreased to 185 MT, due to continued opium production in regions controlled by the Northern Alliance forces. The Taliban policy was highly applauded by the U.S. government, and delegates from the international community, being seen as a great move in the fight against terrorism and drug abuse (Bearak, 2001). This paper discusses the history of the Taliban policies regarding poppy fields and heroin production, and how they have changed throughout the years; how the Taliban got introduced to these illicit substances and why they are interested in them; to whom they are selling the illicit substance, and the effects of the illicit substances (Gannon, 2000).
The Rise of the Taliban
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to civil war, which massively destroyed the Afghan infrastructure. Their withdrawal in 1989 left a communist government that was so unstable to that eventually collapsed three years later, after being faced with intense pressure from the Mujahidin guerrillas. The Mujahidin too failed to create a stable government, as different warlords struggled to control different areas of Afghanistan (Rubin, 1999). Consequently, the Afghan economy declined and became more and more unstable and unpopular. Several years later, the Taliban emerged to take advantage of the political void that was available in Afghan. The group consisted of the students who were displaced by war from southern Afghanistan, together with others from Pakistan. They named their group, “The Islamic movement of Taliban of Afghanistan”. Relying on their Islam teachings, the group promised to end the war between the Afghan government and Mujahidin, and restore peace (Rubin, 1999). The Taliban popularity increased as they defended the local community from the Mujahidin warlords. It is reported that Taliban faithfully helped in rescuing kidnapped teenage girls by attacking the warlords. Every victory over Mujahidin increased the trust the villagers had in the Taliban commanders, and consequently, their numbers increased following numerous new people joining their army. Their increased numbers contributed to the consolidation of their army, giving them a means to further their conquest.
In 1994, they took control of southern Afghanistan, two year later they advanced towards the north of the country and took control of Kabul (Rubin, 1999). Once Kabul was under their control, the Taliban started giving ancient declarations, such as prohibiting girls from going to school, as well as compelling men to pray five times daily. These acts drew the attention of the global media, who focused on how they interpreted the Islamic religion. The western community was outraged by the way the Taliban government treated women; they were also anxious about the Taliban links with terrorist groups from Pakistan and Arab. In 1997, the Taliban army had under their control the last major city of Afghanistan. However, they met resistance when trying to solidify the Northern Afghanistan, which was being ruled by the Northern Alliance army under the rule of Mujahidin commander, Ahmad Shah Masud. In 2001 nearly 95% of Afghanistan was being ruled by the Taliban, while the rest was under the Northern Alliance’s command. In 2001 the Taliban government was overthrown by the U.S. government and its allied forces, following the 9/11 bombings at the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001(Rubin, 1999). Following the collapse of the Taliban rule, poppy farming increased extensively in Afghanistan.
A majority of people, who witnessed the Taliban movement when it was started, said that the group had good intentions for Afghanistan initially; in fact they made a promise to eradicate opium trade. However, the need for finances and political power overrode their initial intentions, and they quickly dropped their commitments. Though they claimed that their ascent to power was because of Allah’s grace, it did not seem so. From the beginning the Taliban appeared to depend on the financial support of drug traders and smugglers. The Taliban fueled the opium poppy and narcotic production during their era. Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, the Mujahidin warlords, they collected tax, and made huge profits from the production of the illicit substances. The 1999 peak production (4500 MT) of raw opium led to the international community putting pressure on the Taliban government to eradicate cultivation of illicit substances in Afghan, due to its adverse effects on the users. In an attempt to persuade the International community and to gain recognition of their government, and for the UN to lift sanctions on them, the Taliban responded by imposing a ban that saw opium poppy production being reduced by 99% in the regions under their control (Rubin, 1999).
Implementation of the Taliban Policy Regarding Poppy Fields and Heroin Production.
In 2000, Mullah Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, declared a religious decree (a fatwa) affirming that the production of poppies and heroin was against the basic Islamic tradition. With political favor from the international community and personal reputation of Omar as the Taliban supreme leader there was high motivation for implementing the ban. Consequently, monitoring groups called Shuras were created. They were composed of the chief of police, spiritual leaders, and tribal leaders. The responsibility of the Shuras was to convey information about the religious decree and its enforcement among local farmers, asking them not to grow poppy in the next planting season. With the local knowledge of how poppy is cultivated, as well as its farmers, the Shuras were better placed for their jobs, and sure enough they became the chief enforcers of the ban by October 2000. Any slackening in the enforcement led to the Shuras being punished by the Taliban officials in the same manner as the real culprits. Inspired by the Taliban threats the Shuras abided by their responsibilities with swift, making them more efficient in their work and sometimes brutal with the local farmers. The extensive pro-active implementation of the ban was attributed to the Shuras’ local knowledge of poppy production and the farmers, with whom they had contacts, in addition their accountability.
A majority of farmers, who violated the ban, were compelled to destroy their own poppy fields, after which they were jailed for two years or more, alongside the different corporal punishment forms such as public beating, whipping (Komarow, 2001). The Taliban were also fond of publicly executing violators, as well as dismembering them. In addition, other violators of the ban had their faces blackened, after which they were instantly taken to jail awaiting complete destruction of their poppy harvests (Bearak, 2001). Other policies included parading violators on the streets with their faces blackened, while they were carrying numerous heavy sacks of heroin or dressed in poppy. All these happened as the local communities were informed of the fatwa violation via a megaphone. The violators of the ban on poppy cultivation, who were caught by senior-position Taliban officials or village enders, were forcefully shaved by the village elders on their heads, and together, walked through the streets , to create awareness to the local communities about the penalties of violating the ban, and also to encourage them to comply. Though there is no specific record showing the acts of punishments employed by the Taliban officials on the violators of the ban, the success of the ban on poppy and heroin cultivation has largely been attributed to the utilization or threat of punishment (Bearak, 2001).
The ban on opium and heroin production may have been seen as one of the most significant successes in the war against narcotics. However following the ban, a humanitarian crisis was created which left numerous poppy farmers with no income, and consequently, farmers became heavily indebted from loans. In addition, the price of opium at the border of Afghanistan also shot to $350-$450 per kilo, from the previous cost of $28 a kilo of raw opium (Bearak, 2001). Western delegates on a mission to find out the amount of drug piles being held by the Taliban authorities reported reduced business levels in major opium markets such as Ghani Khel, Sangin etc., but they were not able to find where the drugs were being held. They also noticed that the Taliban were not arresting drug traffickers, and they did not seize any drug stocks (Bearak, 2001).
There were reports by the U.S. officials that the Taliban were still collecting tax from poppy refineries; the tax had of course increased, following the shooting market price of raw opium brought about by the ban. Though the heroin purity levels decreased in the market, heroin street price however remained constant, implying that there was no shortage. Sources from numerous Afghan officials cited that Taliban commanders had bought significant amounts of poppy prior to their ban. In an interview an anonymous drug smuggler based in Quetta said that the drug business in Afghanistan was good; the Taliban movement bought opium at a very low cost, and sold them very highly (Bearak, 2001).
How the Taliban Are Benefiting From the Poppy and Heroin Trade In Afghanistan
The rebirth of the Taliban movement, especially in the southern part of Afghanistan has been directly linked to the poppy industry (Salopek, 2001). Even though the movement might have enforced stringent policies against the cultivation and trade of opium poppy and heroin during their regime, the Taliban are currently using the opium trade as a source of finance, as well as an opportunity to gain the loyalty of the Afghan people, mainly the poor people from rural Afghanistan, who are displeased with NATO, and the U.S. According to the ex-governor of Helmand province, Mr. Muhammad Daud, the Taliban movement has an association with drug smugglers. They protect drug lords and mount attacks in order to sustain the booming poppy trade, and keep away the U.S. government (Salopek, 2001). Approximately 70% of the income earned by the Taliban emanated from the sale of poppy, as well as protection money. According to the Kabul Police Anti-Criminal Branch, the situation is worsening, as Taliban and their allies have gone beyond just imposing tax on opium trade; they are now operating heroin labs, offering protection to heroin shipments, as well as organizing poppy harvests in regions under their control (Salopek, 2001).
The opium industry has also helped the Taliban movement to acquire extra power in Afghanistan. According to the United States Secretary of State for Narcotics and Law Enforcement, Ann Patterson, the Taliban commanders are persuading the local farmers to grow more opium; they are also defending drug traffickers and drug routes. The constant violence in the southern part of Afghanistan has been attributed to drug trade. According to reports from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Taliban have been distributing leaflets commanding farmers in Afghanistan to cultivate poppy (Salopek, 2001). In addition, it has been reported that they pay a monthly amount of $200 to Afghan males to help them fight troops from the U.S. and NATO. Compare this to the mere $70 monthly pay of an Afghanistan police officer. The joining of the al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters by the Afghan rebels, who are opposed to the government of Karzai, as well as NATO and U.S. forces, have further complicated the state of security in Afghanistan (Salopek, 2001). It has been reported that the increasing number of the Afghan insurgents have a close link to the extensive cultivation of opium as those who are opposed to the Afghan government control the opium money to finance the revolution. President Karzai of Afghanistan sums up the drug issue saying that, the issue of drugs is what will determine the future of Afghanistan. Failure of the state means falling back under the control of terrorists (Salopek, 2001).
The Impact of Poppy and Heroin Trade around the World
Reports from the European Union stated that Afghanistan has been the chief supplier of heroin to European countries for over ten years. The main land route through which heroin gets into Europe is the Balkan route via Turkey; another route leaves North Afghanistan via Central Asia, and then to Russia. The revival of extensive production of heroin and poppy cultivation in the post-Taliban Afghanistan has led to an addiction outbreak in Russia, with approximately 30,000 lives being lost yearly, especially the young people. As at 2009 there were 2.5 million heroin addicts within Russia. Apart from addiction, opium production has significantly changed the lives of several Afghan people. Opium has created wealth among people especially the youth, who are now having control over their own money (Salopek, 2001). Consequently, the youth have declined to show respect to their elders due to their newly found wealth. Relationships in general have also changed drastically due to the shift in the leadership roles. People are now more individualistic and there is less trust and cooperation among people.