The Taliban walks between hypocrisy and holiness while trying to figure out how to profit from poppies and not damage its local economy. Image via the NY Times.
Off-grid solar panels that provide electricity to water pumps in lost and forlorn areas in Afghanistan have led to an opium bounty. The solar pumps that are stand alone and not connected to an official electricity supply have allowed Afghans to dig deeper. The idea started around 2014 and bumper crops have appeared since.
In response the Taliban which both profits and denounces opium when it suits them, have started dismantling solar arrays so opium crops dry out.
Still, more and more Afghans are investing several hundred dollars a year for seeds and equipment hoping to make a ballpark $5000 profit. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Afghanistan produced 83 percent of the world’s opium from 2015 to 2020. In short, if you use heroin, you fund terror.
The solar-powered electric pumps also allow farmers to grow all manners of crops such as wheat, pomegranates and garden plots in a critical time when dozens of millions of Afghans face extreme food insecurity.
While the various Afghan governments over the years have pledged to stamp out opium production and drug trafficking they are unable to forgo the billions of dollars of profits. Opium feeds and fuels the Taliban:
“We’ve stood by on the sidelines and, unfortunately, allowed the Taliban to become probably the largest funded non-designated terrorist organization on the globe,” said a US official with knowledge of Afghanistan’s drug trade.
“The US and international partners have continued to pull out and not addressed poppy cultivation,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “What you’re going to find is that it has exploded.”
Now after 20 years and the Taliban back in power they announced April 3 that poppy cultivation is outlawed and violators will be punished under Shariah law.
The Taliban had enforced an effective ban on poppy cultivation in 2001, just before a US-led international military intervention toppled the regime. From 2002 to 2021, the US government spent almost $9 billion on counternarcotics as it fought Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
Taliban bans opium production for their benefit
The opium business earned Afghanistan about $1.8 billion to $2.7 billion last year, according to the United Nations with sales accounting for up to 14% of its GDP.
According to a European Union-funded research project by David Mansfield opium farmers now rely on at least 67,000 solar powered water reservoirs. He has studied illegal economies and rural livelihoods in Afghanistan for the last two decades.
“It’s too bad for Afghans because poppy is the wealth of the Afghan people,” Shah Agha, 35, a poppy farmer from the Zari District of Kandahar, told the NY Times in a recent article.
“I think they banned it for their own benefit because most of the smugglers and Taliban commanders have tons of opium, and they might want to increase the prices,” Mr. Agha added.
Vice reported from the field about a month ago and noticed that despite the ban, it was harvest as usual.
With pictures in the Vice article of kids playing with bags of opium in the fields it’s easy to imagine the toll of addiction in Afghanistan in all ages abd walks of life. And it’s not only there.:Iran also faces drug addiction from illicit drugs such as heroin.