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Department Seal Fact Sheet
The Taliban And The Afghan Drug Trade
Released by the Bureau of South Asian Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

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  • The United Nations Security Council Resolution introduced on December 7, 2000, calls on all parties in Afghanistan to observe the existing international conventions to work for the elimination of illicit cultivation of opium poppy. Further, the resolution includes a measure to ban the export to Afghanistan of a precursor chemical, acetic anhydride, which is used to manufacture heroin.
  • The international community agrees that these further measures are necessary because Afghan territory under Taliban control is now the largest producer in the world of illicit opium, which is refined into heroin. Narcotics-related income strengthens the Taliban's capacity to provide support for international terrorism.
  • The Taliban benefit directly from poppy cultivation by imposing a tax on the opium crop, and they also profit indirectly from its processing and trafficking.
  • The Taliban's support for, or acquiescence to, poppy cultivation and narcotics manufacture and trade has further exacerbated the humanitarian crisis of the Afghan people. The explosion of poppy cultivation under the Taliban has reduced agricultural land available for food crops at the very time that Afghanistan is suffering the worst drought in a generation.
  • In recent years, the Taliban have announced several bans on poppy cultivation, but there has been little evidence that these bans are credible.
Massive Poppy Cultivation Harms The Afghan People

  • Afghanistan's opium crop of 3,656 metric tons accounted for 72 percent of the world's illicit opium in 2000.
  • Since 1997 over 96 percent of the opium-poppy crop has been cultivated in Taliban-controlled areas.
  • Opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan continues to increase, in spite of a devastating drought and decrees from the Taliban leadership banning poppy cultivation.
  • Poppy is cultivated at the expense of wheat and other food crops, desperately needed by the people of Afghanistan, and is planted on the best available land with productive soils, irrigation, and fertilizer, not on previously uncultivated or marginal lands.
The Explosion Of Poppy Cultivation Under The Taliban

  • In 1992-93, Afghanistan's poppy cultivation stood at about 20,000 hectares, mostly in Nangarhar province, which is located between Pakistan's North West Frontier province and Kabul in Afghanistan.
  • Poppy then began to invade Helmand province where it has increased 800 percent since 1993.
  • Helmand borders on Qandahar province, the Taliban's power base, and harbors traditional smuggling routes to Pakistan and Iran.
  • Helmand also contains the HAVA irrigation system built by the United States Agency for International Development in the 1950's. This irrigated area has been modern Afghanistan's breadbasket.
  • Massive poppy cultivation in Helmand has developed since the Taliban took control of the area, and with the full knowledge of Taliban authorities.
  • The irrigation system minimizes the effects of drought and supports high-yielding opium poppy from year to year.
  • Poppy cultivation overall for Afghanistan has climbed from 41,720 hectares in 1998 to 64,510 hectares in 2000, mainly as a result of increases in Helmand. Taliban-controlled Helmand province alone now accounts for 39 percent of the world's illicit opium.
Taliban's Bans on Poppy Cultivation Lack Credibility
  • The United States funded a non-governmental organization to improve this irrigation system for alternative crops in 1998 and 1999 in a failed effort to test the Taliban leadership's sincerity on narcotics control.
  • The Taliban decreed a ban on opium in August 1997 and in 1999 ordered a one-third decrease in poppy cultivation. No positive results were reported from either action.
  • On July 28, 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Omar issued a ban on the cultivation and trafficking of opium and repeated this ban in October, ordering the Taliban to plow up fields planted to poppy. The international community will monitor these developments closely.
  • There have been media reports that the Taliban have arrested some farmers in Nangarhar province for sowing poppy (but not in Helmand). Even so, credible reports from counter-narcotics officials in neighboring states report that drugs from Afghanistan are "bursting" across their borders.
  • The Afghan drug trade is deeply entrenched globally. After two years of bumper crops, opium stocks are likely to be at record levels.
  • According to the UNDCP, farmgate prices for fresh opium declined from about $40/kg in 1999 to $30/kg in 2000, a significant drop in price, further indicating increasing cultivation of opium, despite UNDCP claims that production fell in 2000.
  • Under the Taliban, the international community has not been able to employ the appropriate monitoring means required to verify the Taliban's claims of enforcement action against drugs.
  • In one example in April 2000, the Taliban publicly plowed under some poppy crops in the presence of media observers. However, the size of the crop destroyed was greatly exaggerated and may have already been harvested. Independent experts have not verified the Taliban's claims.
  • The Taliban admit to imposing the same ushr, a 10 percent tax, on poppy as they impose on other agricultural crops. This tax can be paid in cash or kind. This is clear evidence that Taliban officials have to handle opium and, from the viewpoint of farmers, is a green light to cultivate an illicit crop.
  • The media have reported sizeable narcotics processing complexes in Helmand, and open opium markets in Nangarhar. Both exist in full view of Taliban authorities.

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