Afghan drug trafficking continues under the Taliban
While the Taliban have insisted they will ban the production of narcotics, large seizures in the region indicate that the trade has not been missing a beat.
After taking power in Afghanistan in mid-August, the Taliban insisted on banning the production, trafficking and use of illicit drugs. “We will have no production of narcotics,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at his first press conference in Kabul.
But opium cultivation has continued and significant drug seizures in countries in the region suggest the trade is alive and well. It’s “business as usual,” said David Mansfield, an independent researcher on illicit economies.
Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, accounting for 85% of the world total in 2020. It also produces significant amounts of cannabis and increasingly manufactures methamphetamine using the local ephedra plant.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported last week, opium production in Afghanistan increased by 8 percent in 2021, although the area under poppy crops declined.
The report also warned that the drug trade could be further boosted by the collapse of the Afghan economy: “The current contraction in licit economic opportunities makes households even more vulnerable to illicit activities.
The withdrawal of foreign aid combined with drought, sanctions and Covid-19 have sharply worsened the country’s humanitarian crisis, with more than half of the population facing acute food insecurity this winter, according to the World Food Program .
In these desperate circumstances, farmers have no choice but to grow opium, which requires less water than legal crops and can still be trafficked out of the country even though borders are closed.
Manufacturing is would have In progress in the main poppy-producing provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, with traders operating openly. Prices have returned to normal after a brief increase following the Taliban takeover in August, Mansfield told TRT World.
Despite his promise to ban drugs, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid recently announced that the Taliban had no plan to eradicate poppy cultivation. “Our people are going through an economic crisis, and preventing people from their only means of income is not a good idea,” he said.
Trafficking continues along various long established smuggling routes: the “Balkan Route”, through Iran and Turkey; the “Northern Route”, through Central Asia and Russia; and the “Southern Route”, through Pakistan and the Indian Ocean to Africa
In Tajikistan, around 500 kg of narcotics were intercepted in October, one of the biggest amounts in recent years. Russian Foreign Ministry says that “drug threats” were “still an urgent problem for us” saying “the situation has not changed”.
Taliban allegedly set up anti-trafficking program force in Badakhshan province near the Tajik border. This is probably an attempt “to appease Russia and China,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, director of the Initiative on Nonstate Armed Actors at the Brookings Institution.
The Taliban are keen to strengthen ties with Moscow and Beijing, both of which have expressed concern over drug trafficking from Afghanistan, although China receives more of its supplies from the Golden Triangle.
Elsewhere, along the “Balkan Route”, drug seizures are exploding. Iran reported on November 17 that it had intercepted more than 3 tonnes of opium, methamphetamine and hashish in the southeastern town of Zahedan.
The road through Pakistan and southeast Iran is one of the main highways for narcotics leaving Afghanistan, according to Mansfield. Iranian intelligence recently announced that he had recovered more than 25 tons of drugs in Zahedan since March.
In Turkey, police recently seized over 700 tonnes of narcotics from the east and south-east, followed by almost half a ton of heroin near the Iranian border earlier this month. Azerbaijan intercepted a similar amount coming from Iran.
In September, Indian authorities in Gujarat discovered nearly 3 tonnes of heroin which had been smuggled from Afghanistan and transported through the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Subsequent heroin shipments came from Chabahar, in Iran, and Pakistan.
In the fall, the international maritime forces intercepted two large drug shipments in the Indian Ocean. In recent years, joint shipments of Afghan heroin and methamphetamine have passed through Pakistan or Iran and by sea to Africa.
An immobile object?
Pakistan is one of the main transit routes and consumer markets for Afghan drugs – trade appears to be running smoothly. At the end of October, Peshawar police seized 80 kg of methamphetamine, supposedly the the biggest transport in the history of the province.
Azlan Aslam, an official with the Department of Excise, Taxation and Narcotics Control in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told TRT World that trafficking has remained unchanged since the Taliban came to power. “I think the situation is [the] the same, ”he said.
Heroin, methamphetamine and hashish are entering the country from Afghanistan, although new border infrastructure is making smuggling more difficult, according to Azlan. Pakistan is said to have almost completed a fence along the border.
But “a huge amount of drugs reached the coastal belt of Balochistan and Karachi,” he added, saying the capacity of law enforcement in Balochistan province was weaker than in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Azlan doubts the Taliban will be able to control drug trafficking. “They can’t stop it,” he told TRT World. Many Afghans depend on drugs for their livelihood and lack economic alternatives.
Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesman for the Taliban, did not respond to TRT World’s request for comment.
It is possible that some of the drugs seized in recent months were exported from Afghanistan before the Taliban took power. According to Vanda Felbab-Brown, “the lags in trade can be significant”.
But drug control does not appear to be a priority for the new regime. Countries in the region often emphasize narcotics in their statements on Afghanistan, but the Taliban generally avoids publicly mentioning the problem when visiting abroad.
However, as smuggling continues, the Taliban have cracked down on domestic drug use. Drug addicts have been rounded up, beaten or sprayed with water and forced into treatment centers.
This is a repeat of the 1990s, when the Taliban “tolerated production and trafficking” but “could be very harsh on users,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown. Academics with ties to the Taliban defended the cultivation of opium because the drugs were mainly used by non-Muslims.
“In the 90s, the Taliban banned the cultivation of hashish but allowed opium, arguing that the former was mainly consumed by Afghans / Muslims and the latter by foreigners / infidels,” said Haroun Rahimi, assistant professor law at the American University of Afghanistan.
“From the point of view of fiqh such ad hoc distinctions are not justifiable, ”Rahimi told TRT World. The Taliban are “motivated by practical considerations (before and now) to accommodate the opium trade and cultivation,” he said.
The Taliban finally banned opium in 2000-1 after several failed attempts. But the ban angered Afghan farmers and was already disappearing by the time the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
In 2020, the Taliban banned the cultivation of cannabis in the territory under their control, although the ban was not enforced in major cannabis-producing areas of Kandahar and other provinces, according to a recent report. report speak Afghan Analyst Network.
SIGAR, in his latest report, raised doubts about the Taliban’s ability to ban drugs, saying that “any attempt by the Taliban to curb the drug trade in Afghanistan could undermine public support for his regime.”
While the Taliban are sometimes portrayed as a drug cartel, the movement earns far less from narcotics than from the trade in legal goods, new study finds to study by David Mansfield.
The drug ban would therefore not cripple the Taliban financially, but it could alienate large numbers of poor Afghan farmers and spur resistance against the nascent regime.
Source: TRT World