Most of the news about the Taliban in Afghanistan these days (when anyone bothers reporting about it) involves the ongoing suppression of women’s rights or the disappearance of people who formerly worked with the previous government. But the Taliban terrorists have more items on their agenda than just that. They are currently going around the more remote provinces and tearing up the poppy fields where farmers sell their crops to fuel the international illegal drug trafficking trade. There are certainly many who will encourage this type of enforcement as a way to stem the flow of heroin around the globe. But for the farmers who make their living by growing these crops, their only source of income in an already collapsed economy is being plowed under along with the flowers. (Associated Press)
Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have begun a campaign to eradicate poppy cultivation, aiming to wipe out the country’s massive production of opium and heroin, even as farmers fear their livelihoods will be ruined at a time of growing poverty.
On a recent day in Washir district in southern Helmand province, armed Taliban fighters stood guard as a tractor tore up a field of poppies. The field’s owner stood nearby, watching.
The Taliban, who took power in Afghanistan more than nine months ago, issued an edict in early April banning poppy cultivation throughout the country.
Afghanistan has long been the biggest producer of opium in the world. Al Queda actively encouraged the poppy farmers because they made a lot of money from the opium market even as the Americans tried to curb production. But with Al Qaeda busy fighting with the Taliban and Sharia law forbidding the practice, the farmers are pretty much left without a livelihood after their crops are plowed under.
It’s not just the farmers that will be taking a hit from this. In the outer provinces, positions as day laborers on the poppy farms are some of the only paying jobs that many people have been able to find. The economy of Afghanistan is almost entirely collapsed, with unemployment running off the chart and an estimated 500,000 jobs lost since the Taliban takeover. A Taliban spokesperson announced this week that anyone found growing opium will be arrested and imprisoned, so most of the farmers will likely just close down their operations.
It’s easy to see how we might have conflicted feelings about this news. On the one hand, we can use all the help we can get in combatting the global opium trade. But at the same time, we’re watching the Taliban’s mismanagement of the country drive more and more people into poverty and starvation. A truly functional government that cared about its citizens would establish assistance for the farmers so they could transition over to other legal crops while abandoning the poppy trade. The country could certainly use all the food it can produce.
The Taliban still has yet to be recognized by any other country or international body as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. (Although Turkey has called for such recognition. Go figure.) But this situation will not hold forever. The Taliban spent twenty years waiting for the United States to pull out of the country so they could retake power They will no doubt be able to hold out and wait for international recognition. They’re obviously very good at waiting.