“All compatriots are informed from the date of the issuance of this decree, poppy cultivation is absolutely prohibited in the whole country and no one can try to cultivate the plant.” With this decree, the Taliban banned the growth of poppies, thus threatening 80 percent of the word’s opium supply. If farmers harvest the crop they “will be dealt with according to Islamic Law.”
Already facing collapse from a severe drought, withdrawal of foreign aid, and the departure of Americans troops, the Afghan economy takes another severe hit. The opium trade brings in, or I should now say brought in, about $2-billion US a year. As a former U.S. State Department adviser on Afghanistan observed, “Illicit narcotics are the country’s largest industry except for war.”
The ban comes during opium harvesting season in southern Afghanistan, and a ban will be brutal on farmers. Poppy has served them well. It is a hardy crop in a land of generally poor agricultural land and inadequate infrastructure to serve more perishable crops. And, of particular importance, it is highly labour-intensive, providing jobs to hundreds of thousands of workers. Opium has probably done more to reduce poverty than any other crop.
That the Taliban would ban it came as a surprise. They tried during their last stint in government and not only failed, but their effort cost them support and was credited with the dramatic number of defections after the Americans invaded. Now they are testing their rural constituency once again.
The U.S. spent more than $8-billion dollars over 15 years attempting to eradicate the poppy only to add one more failure to their many others. Their efforts no doubt contributed to the loss of hearts and minds.
Now the Taliban will give it another try. Their turn to lose hearts and minds.