KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – For years, opium has been such a monster that it can’t kill it. One Afghan government after another has promised to stop the production and trafficking of opium, just to prove that it will fail to resist billions of dollars in illicit profits.
The Taliban government of the 1990s finally succeeded. Reduce opium poppy cultivation.. But after the US-led invasion in 2001, Opium taxes and smuggling Helped the Taliban fuel their 20-year insurgency.
Now, with the return of the Taliban to power, rebel-turned-politicians are once again struggling to eradicate opium poppy and the accompanying drug problem. The Taliban announced poppy cultivation on April 3. illegalViolators will be punished under Sharia law.
But with poppy farmers shifting to green energy, eradicating opium will be more difficult than ever.
Water pumps are cheap and highly efficient Solar Panel Rapidly declining deserts are capable of drilling deep into reservoirs. Solar panels have helped create. Full crop of opium Year after year, poppy growers in southern Afghanistan began planting them around 2014.
Now, solar energy is a clear feature of southern Afghan life. In mud huts, small solar panels, electric bulbs and solar-powered pumps irrigate cash crops such as wheat and pomegranates, as well as farmers’ vegetable plots.
The solar array is central to ensuring Afghanistan’s position as a world leader in opium. Afghanistan created. 83% of the world’s opium From 2015 to 2020, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Despite the war and persistent drought, opium poppy cultivation has increased in Afghanistan 224,000 hectares in 2020 From 123,000 hectares in 2009, the United Nations reported.
The previous US-backed government had spent 8. 8.6 billion on poppy eradication, but senior Afghan officials are adamant. Participating in the opium trade, Building beautiful “Popsy Palaces” in the capital Kabul and buying magnificent villas in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Government of 2018 Inspector General’s report It concluded that the campaign had “no lasting effect.”
Reporting from Afghanistan
The Taliban, for its part, has denounced opium as anti-Islamic, as the poppy crop in Afghanistan retains drug addicts. Europe and the Middle EastAlso a large number inside Afghanistan. But given their deep ties to opium trafficking during the insurgency, Taliban leaders are drawing a fine line between hypocrisy and sanctity.
Extensive crackdowns will exacerbate Afghanistan’s already post-war catastrophic economic devastation and oppose the Taliban’s core circle among Pashtun farmers, poor families who rely on crops for food. The elimination will require not only seizing the farmers’ solar panels, but also confronting the Taliban commanders involved in the trade – at a time when the movement is facing internal dissatisfaction with the drying up of money.
Almost earned from the opium trade $ 1.8 billion to $ 2.7 billion Last year, the United Nations estimated. Opium sales provided. 9 to 14% of Afghanistan’s GDP, Compared to 9% provided by legal exports of goods and services.
Opium cultivation and opium exports Very important for the Afghan economy. Overall, and any implementation of sanctions would have far-reaching consequences, “the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent research group, wrote in a report last month.
Opium growers now rely on at least 67,000 solar-powered water reservoirs in Afghanistan’s southwestern desert, funded by the European Union. Research plan Through David Mansfield, a consultant who has studied illegal economies and rural livelihoods in Afghanistan for two decades.
Panels replacing more expensive and less reliable diesel to run water pumps have helped turn the desert green. Of The first uninhabited desert population According to Dr. Mansfield’s research, areas of Kandahar, Helmand and Nimroz provinces have reached at least 1.4 million people in recent years as solar-powered pumps have helped spread arable land.
“For many opium farmers, there is now plenty of water,” he said. “No one thinks it’s worth it.”
The Taliban have targeted some solar-powered pumps. On May 13, the governor of Helmand Province, adjacent to Kandahar Province in the Opium Strip, ordered police to confiscate panels and pumps so that the newly planted poppies would die in dry fields.
“Do not destroy the fields, but dry the fields,” Governor Maulvi Talib Akhund said in a statement. “We are committed to fulfilling the opium order,” he added.
The ban on opium comes amid devastating levels of hunger, poverty and drought. The United Nations estimates that 23 million Afghanis They suffer from severe food shortages. Once again, the economy thrives on Western aid. Collapsed Freezing Afghan government funds under sanctions and abroad.
“This is very bad for Afghans because poppy is the wealth of the Afghan people,” said Shah Agha, a 35-year-old poppy farmer in Kandahar’s Zari district.
After investing about ً 500 in seeds, fertilizer, labor and other expenses, Mr Agha said he hoped to make about ً 5,000 after selling 20 kilograms of opium, which he would harvest this spring. Expected.
The ban on opium was faced collectively by southern farmers this spring, many of whom were harvesting their spring crops. Opium prices rose almost immediately, with many farmers saying they had risen from about ً 180 per kilogram to 60 60 per kilogram.
“I think they banned it for their own benefit because most smugglers and Taliban commanders have tons of opium, and they probably want to raise prices,” Mr Agha said.
This spring, Taliban forces failed or failed to launch a rapid elimination campaign. Taliban patrols casually passed through the poppy fields where the spring crop was being harvested. Workers attached to rows of bright solar panels use curved knives to scrape off sticky opium paste from poppy bulbs.
The government has indicated that it will allow the spring harvest as it is already underway. But the Taliban have vowed to crack down on farmers who try to cultivate any new crop.
As the United States has done during its long presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban have suggested shifting to alternative crops such as wheat, pomegranate, cumin and almonds. But even if poppy cultivation is stopped, alternative crops will be in jeopardy as desert water resources are rapidly depleting.
Dr Mansfield said determining how long the reservoirs could continue to supply water was an unknown area because no one was able to conduct a rigorous scientific study of desert groundwater.
Amir Jan Armani, 45, who said he hopes to earn about ً 4,000 from harvesting 45 kilograms of opium in Kandahar province this spring, said that since the advent of solar panels, the water level has risen sharply. I have seen a decrease.
Mr Armani said that when farmers used diesel-powered pumps, the groundwater level would drop by about three meters a year. But since the advent of solar panels, they have sometimes sunk up to nine meters a year. He said his well was 30 meters deep, but his neighbor’s well across the river was 60 meters deep.
“We have to keep digging our wells deeper and deeper,” Mr Armani said.
He and other farmers have saved money by not paying taxes on opium planted by the Taliban in previous years this spring. Noor Ahmad Saeed, the Taliban’s information director in Kandahar, said no such tax had been imposed this year.
Many farmers in Arghandab, a district in Kandahar, have pomegranates. Cut down the pomegranate trees Killed by drought or fighting. Instead, they planted poppies.
Even when prices are high, many poppy growers say they earn only $ 2 a day for each family member. They are at the very bottom of the drug trafficking system, with profits rising sharply from farmers to bachelor menus to processing labs to large cross-border smugglers.
Ehsanullah Shakir, a 31-year-old opium smuggler in Helmand Province, said the Taliban’s implementation of the ban this year has been uneven so far. He said that some farmers had planted almonds, cumin or basil after harvesting their spring poppy, but others ignored the ban and planted poppy for another crop. And in many areas, opium markets continue to operate as usual, Mr. Shakir said.
Farmers whose previous poppy fields were plowed by the previous government may send their sons for military or police officer jobs – or in a group of unskilled jobs provided by the United States and NATO. But those options are gone, and unemployment has risen under the Taliban.
In Kandahar’s Maiwand District, Naik Nazar, 41, installed a new water pump on the edge of his poppy field. He said he started growing poppies five years ago because they earned more than the wheat he grew.
Mr Nazar spoke on condition of anonymity because it was not a matter of choice. For him, it was either a poppy plant or starvation.
“At the moment, growing poppy is the only option to survive,” he said.
Timur Shah Assisted in reporting from Kandahar.