The leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has recently issued contradictory decisions regarding the cultivation and smuggling of drugs, which were considered an illegal source for the movement before it came to power, despite its successive claims of prohibiting it, while international reports indicate a significant increase in opium production after the Taliban came to power.
At the end of November 2022, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued its annual report, in which it indicated that the Taliban movement in Afghanistan attaches great importance to poppy and opium cultivation. The report noted that the proportion of drug cultivation has increased by a third since the Taliban came to power, as Afghanistan is the largest opium-producing country in the world.
The report stated that the prices of opium, which is the main source of heroin, increased in Afghanistan during the last year as a result of the apparent ban on its cultivation by the movement, whose decisions in this regard are contradictory. Despite the prohibition of its cultivation in some areas, the movement gives customs exemptions for smuggling it abroad and allows its cultivation in other regions.
From ban to support
The Afghan Taliban issued a package of decisions under the pretext of clearing the country of opium cultivation, and although the Ministry of Interior is carrying out campaigns to destroy many fields in some southern provinces, especially Kandahar, this is not applied sufficiently in all provinces.
Deputy Interior Minister Mullah Abdul Haq Akhund announced in early March that the ministry carried out about 3,700 anti-drug operations and arrested 4,659 drug dealers during the year 2022, in addition to destroying about 1,147 hectares of land cultivated with poppies.
However, local reports confirmed that Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada issued other decisions contradicting this ban. Local newspapers reported that the Taliban leader issued a decision before the start of the holy month of Ramadan that includes customs exemptions for smuggling and cultivating drugs in some provinces.
Local newspapers quoted sources in Nimroz that the Taliban gave opium smugglers in this province ten months to sell their opium and smuggle it from Afghanistan.
The newspapers said that the Taliban also exempted drug smugglers in Nimroz from paying taxes and customs fees.
The Taliban imposed a tax of 600 Afghani on every kilogram of opium and allowed it to be smuggled out of the country across the borders of this province.
Taliban between two fires
Dr. Mohamed El-Sayed, a researcher specializing in Asian affairs, said in exclusive statements to the Reference that the Taliban cannot easily dispense with this forbidden trade in light of the difficult economic conditions it suffers from, which explains the secret of the contradictions in its procedures, between pursuing farmers in some provinces while allowing some of them to grow and trade in other provinces.
Sayed pointed out that opium cultivation has been one of the most important sources of income in Afghanistan, not only under the Taliban rule, but it has been for many years, as Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world. He explained that there is no doubt that the Taliban seriously intends to get rid of this trade, but it stands between two fires, namely its need for financial resources and its desire to apply its approach to the prohibition of drugs.
He stressed that the elimination of opium cultivation in Afghanistan is not easy and will take time.