Afghanistan Struggles with Rising Drug Addiction Amidst Challenges in Combating Poppy Cultivation


Photo: @AADIL

By Ilhamuddin Afghan

Health officials in Afghanistan have reported a concerning rise in the number of drug addicts in the country. They attribute the rise in addiction to a variety of problems, including easy access to drugs, high unemployment rates, and a lack of family care and support.

Both during the republic and the early Taliban rule, there have been prior attempts to address the issue of addiction. Addicts were discovered throughout the cities, and after being identified, they were sent to treatment centers. Although this method was well-liked, it is widely believed that it did not eliminate the root of addiction.

The manager of an anonymous health center in Kabul expressed his thoughts on drug addicts. Although he stressed that the efforts would be ineffective unless the drug supply was addressed, he acknowledged that arresting drug addicts was a good first step. He made a point of highlighting how important it is to get rid of drug dealers in order to break the cycle of addiction.

The details some addicts provided the author helped make clear how simple it was to obtain drugs. The fact that both older and younger people participated in the skilled distribution of drugs was brought up by several drug addicts. In some places, the distribution process even involved using kids, which made it simpler for addicts to get easy access to drugs.

Taliban officials claim that they have attacked drug distribution and sales networks in Kabul and other major cities. According to reports, more than 5,000 people have been arrested for drug sales, distribution, and smuggling. According to the deputy of the Taliban government in charge of the drug war, drug addicts receiving treatment in hospitals provided vital information that helped uncover, identify, and destroy these networks.

Since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan in August 2021, there are more poppy fields. According to a UNODC report published in November of last year, poppy cultivation has increased by 32% since the Taliban’s return. This is despite the Taliban’s decree making it illegal to grow poppies in the country.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesperson, declared that growing poppy is completely prohibited throughout the country. The decree covered all drug classes, including alcohol, heroin, tablets, and hashish. However, the UNODC report claims that even after this ban, Afghanistan saw an increase in poppy cultivation and drug manufacturing, which resulted in a 7% increase in global heroin production.

It is evident that the drug problem in Afghanistan is complex and deeply enshrined in the system. Despite the ban, poppy fields and drug production have increased, which highlights the need for more comprehensive measures. The top priorities should be destroying drug supply chains, eliminating drug traffickers, and assisting addicts in receiving support and treatment. The cooperation and support of the international community are crucial to effectively combat drug addiction in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, poppy cultivation is a significant source of income, and the prevalence of powerful individuals and drug traffickers in this sector calls into question the effectiveness of the Taliban’s ban on the activity. State-supported entities based in Pakistan control the whole supply chain of drug trafficking from the cultivation emanating from Afghanistan. A significant portion of the proceeds generated from drug trafficking is shared by these powerful Pakistani individuals with the Pakistan State establishment including Army. This organized criminal drug syndicate would never allow the Taliban to enforce any ban on their main source of drugs. 

This is one of the main reasons as to why poppy cultivation has grown in Afghanistan despite its ban by the Taliban. This growth is specifically seen in Helmand province. The southern Afghan province is renowned for its poppy farming. In order to execute the ban, Taliban forces were dispatched to destroy spring-planted poppy fields that had not yet reached the harvest stage. However, in reality, nothing happened. Reports suggest that neither the general public nor farmers have been significantly impacted by the ban on poppy cultivation. 

The ban on poppy cultivation has other unintended consequences. For instance, the price of tobacco increased from $70 to $210 per kilo in the southern province of Afghanistan after the ban went into effect. According to Shah Wali, a farmer from the Eastern Nangahar Shinwar District, the ban on growing poppies has increased the cost of opium. Farmers in Helmand, the region of Afghanistan known for producing the most opium, express doubt about the Taliban government’s ability to enforce the ban.

According to Zarin Khan, a former from Helmand, 95 percent of farmers do not own the land. Smugglers or wealthy individuals provide them with land and funding on the condition that they grow poppies. The farmers feel compelled to grow poppies because they don’t see any other viable options. The Taliban, who currently control most of Afghanistan, must adhere to a number of requirements before being recognized by the international community, one of which is to outlaw the growing of poppies.

The Taliban’s positive initiative to combat drug addiction in Afghanistan is acknowledged by the United States, but it emphasizes the necessity of successful implementation of the ban. Some business experts believe that by adhering to the terms of the Doha Agreement, which the Taliban and the U.S. administration signed in February 2020, the Taliban will be able to gain the support of both the United States and the rest of the world.

Afghanistan’s citizens, especially farmers, have suffered greatly as a result of long-lasting droughts, natural disasters, climate change, and unfavorable economic conditions. Mali Khan, a farmer from the Shinwar region of Nangarhar in the east, argues for his high income from growing poppies compared to other crops. Further, revenue from narcotic drug cultivation has been traditionally an important source of revenue for the Taliban even during the period of its first rule. This has not changed now. Even if the Taliban wants to change, the powerful drug traffickers based in Pakistan would block any such initiative. Given this situation, it is unlikely that the Taliban will be able to implement any effective measures to counter the drug problem in Afghanistan. There is an urgent need for the international community and Global powers to put pressure on Pakistan to take action against the traffickers based in their country. Many experts in Afghanistan believe that the drug problem cannot be resolved until a comprehensive solution covering both the supply side and demand side of the drug problem is worked out and implemented in letter and spirit.   

*Mr. Afghan chooses a pseudonym. He is a local journalist based in Eastern Afghanistan. 

Note: The contents of the article are of sole responsibility of the author. Afghan Diaspora Network will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in the article.

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