Taliban financing undermined by new Afghan drug initiatives

By Najibullah

An Afghan poppy farmer works on his crop in Helmand Province in an undated photo. [Najibullah]

An Afghan poppy farmer works on his crop in Helmand Province in an undated photo. [Najibullah]

KABUL -- The Afghan government over the past several months has been stepping up its efforts on multiple fronts to fight drug production and trafficking across the country.

In the past seven months, the Counter Narcotics Police have conducted 1,354 operations nationwide, made more than 1,500 arrests, and destroyed 42 drug labs, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said at a November 17 news conference in Kabul.

Narcotics always have been a key source of funding for Afghan militants; the poppy crop alone is worth about US $3 billion (200.1 billion AFN) per year according to a 2015 UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimate.

The Taliban are responsible for 70% of cultivation and trafficking of narcotics in Afghanistan, Sediqqi said.

Most cultivation of opium poppies takes place in troubled areas with a militant presence.

The Taliban force farmers to grow poppies and then take most of the profits under a religious pretext, one farmer, Muhammad Omar of Helmand Province, told Salaam Times.

Saffron replacement

Along with the military option, the Afghan government is encouraging farmers to grow saffron, Hanif Daneshyar, a Counter Narcotics Ministry spokesman, told Salaam Times.

Cultivation of the precious spice has been rising in Afghanistan since 2002. The product has won international acclaim, with the Brussels-based International Taste and Quality Institute ranking it the world's best saffron three years in a row.

"Afghanistan has a suitable climate for cultivating saffron, cotton and other crops," Abdulaziz, a farmer from Kabul Province, told Salaam Times. "If farmers grow those crops the way they're supposed to grow them, they will produce three times more than their counterparts in other countries do."

Farmers free of intimidation from the Taliban and drug traffickers will be able to earn substantial incomes by growing legal crops, Abdulaziz said.

The government will provide "the necessary help so that farmers can produce practical and effective crops suited to the climate and market needs of their region", Daneshyar said.

World trade beckons

The Afghan government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with another Asian country concerning the marketing and sale of saffron, Mosafer Qoqandi, a Commerce Ministry spokesman, told Salaam Times.

"We haven't stopped there," Qoqandi said, noting that Afghanistan, as a brand-new member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), "will be able to export saffron and other products to more than 100 countries".

The WTO admitted Afghanistan in July.

The country now produces about 3.5 tonnes of saffron per year and wants to raise that figure to 14 tonnes in four years, according to the business news site Wadsam. A kilogramme of saffron can fetch about US $2,000 (133,379 AFN) in international markets.

Do you like this article?

0 Comment

Comment Policy * Denotes required field 1500 / 1500