U.N. drug control officers said the Taliban religious militia has
nearly wiped out opium production in Afghanistan -- once the world's
largest producer -- since banning poppy cultivation last summer.
A 12-member team from the U.N. Drug Control Program spent two weeks
searching most of the nation's largest opium-producing areas and found so
few poppies that they do not expect any opium to come out of Afghanistan
"We are not just guessing. We have seen the proof in the fields," said
Bernard Frahi, regional director for the U.N. program in Afghanistan and
Pakistan. He laid out photographs of vast tracts of land cultivated with
wheat alongside pictures of the same fields taken a year earlier -- a sea
of blood-red poppies.
A State Department official said Thursday all the information the
United States has received so far indicates the poppy crop had decreased,
but he did not believe it was eliminated.
Last year, Afghanistan produced nearly 4,000 tons of opium, about 75
percent of the world's supply, U.N. officials said. Opium -- the milky
substance drained from the poppy plant -- is converted into heroin and
sold in Europe and North America. The 1999 output was a world record for
opium production, the United Nations said -- more than all other countries
combined, including the "Golden Triangle," where the borders of Thailand,
Laos and Myanmar meet.
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme leader, banned poppy
growing before the November planting season and augmented it with a
religious edict making it contrary to the tenets of Islam.
The Taliban, which has imposed a strict brand of Islam in the 95
percent of Afghanistan it controls, has set fire to heroin laboratories
and jailed farmers until they agreed to destroy their poppy crops.
The U.N. surveyors, who completed their search this week, crisscrossed
Helmand, Kandahar, Urzgan and Nangarhar provinces and parts of two others
-- areas responsible for 86 percent of the opium produced in Afghanistan
last year, Frahi said in an interview Wednesday. They covered 80 percent
of the land in those provinces that last year had been awash in poppies.
This year they found poppies growing on barely an acre here and there,
Frahi said. The rest -- about 175,000 acres -- was clean.
"We have to look at the situation with careful optimism," said Sandro
Tucci of the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna,
He said indications are that no poppies were planted this season and
that, as a result, there hasn't been any production of opium -- but that
officials would keep checking.
The State Department counternarcotics official said the department
would make its own estimate of the poppy crop. Information received so far
suggests there will be a decrease, but how much is not yet clear, he said,
speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We do not think by any stretch of the imagination that poppy
cultivation in Afghanistan has been eliminated. But we, like the rest of
the world, welcome positive news."
The Drug Enforcement Administration declined to comment.
No U.S. government official can enter Afghanistan because of security
concerns stemming from the presence of suspected terrorist Osama bin
Poppies are harvested in March and April, which is why the survey was
done now. Tucci said it would have been impossible for the poppies to have
been harvested already.
The areas searched by the U.N. surveyors are the most fertile lands
under Taliban control. Other areas, though they are somewhat fertile, have
not traditionally been poppy growing areas and farmers are struggling to
raise any crops at all because of severe drought. The rest of the land
held by the Taliban is mountainous or desert, where poppies could not
Karim Rahimi, the U.N. drug control liaison in Jalalabad, capital of
Nangarhar province, said farmers were growing wheat or onions in fields
where they once grew poppies.
"It is amazing, really, when you see the fields that last year were
filled with poppies and this year there is wheat," he said.
The Taliban enforced the ban by threatening to arrest village elders
and mullahs who allowed poppies to be grown. Taliban soldiers patrolled in
trucks armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers. About 1,000 people
in Nangarhar who tried to defy the ban were arrested and jailed until they
agreed to destroy their crops.
Signs throughout Nangarhar warn against drug production and use, some
calling it an "illicit phenomenon." Another reads: "Be drug free, be
Last year, poppies grew on 12,600 acres of land in Nangarhar province.
According to the U.N. survey, poppies were planted on only 17 acres there
this season and all were destroyed by the Taliban.
"The Taliban have done their work very seriously,"
But the ban has badly hurt farmers in one of the world's poorest
countries, shattered by two decades of war and devastated by drought.
Ahmed Rehman, who shares less than three acres in Nangarhar with his
three brothers, said the opium he produced last year on part of the land
brought him $1,100.
This year, he says, he will be lucky to get $300 for the onions and
cattle feed he planted on the entire parcel.
"Life is very bad for me this year," he said. "Last year I was able to
buy meat and wheat and now this year there is nothing."
But Rehman said he never considered defying the ban.
"The Taliban were patrolling all the time. Of course I was afraid. I
did not want to go to jail and lose my freedom and my dignity," he said,
gesturing with dirt-caked hands.
Shams-ul-Haq Sayed, an officer of the Taliban drug control office in
Jalalabad, said farmers need international aid.
"This year was the most important for us because growing poppies was
part of their culture, and the first years are always the most difficult,"
Tucci said discussions are under way on how to help the farmers.
Western diplomats in Pakistan have suggested the Taliban is simply
trying to drive up the price of opium they have stockpiled. The State
Department official also said Afghanistan could do more by destroying drug
stockpiles and heroin labs and arresting producers and traffickers.
Frahi dismissed that as "nonsense" and said it is drug traffickers and
shopkeepers who have stockpiles. Two pounds of opium worth $35 last year
are now worth as much as $360, he said.
Mullah Amir Mohammed Haqqani, the Taliban's top drug official in
Nangarhar, said the ban would remain regardless of whether the Taliban
received aid or international recognition.
"It is our decree that there will be no poppy cultivation. It is banned
forever in this country," he said. "Whether we get assistance or not,
poppy growing will never be allowed again in our country.
JALALABAD, Afghanistan February 15,
American narcotics experts
concluded that the taliban wiped out the world's largest opium crop
UNITED NATIONS, May 18 The first American
narcotics experts to go to Afghanistan under Taliban rule have
concluded that the movement's ban on opium-poppy cultivation appears to
have wiped out the world's largest crop in less than a year, officials
The American findings confirm earlier reports from the United Nations drug
control program that Afghanistan, which supplied about three-quarters of
the world's opium and most of the heroin reaching Europe, had ended poppy
planting in one season.
But the eradication of poppies has come at a terrible cost to farming
families, and experts say it will not be known until the fall planting
season begins whether the Taliban can continue to enforce it.
"It appears that the ban has taken effect," said Steven Casteel, assistant
administrator for intelligence at the Drug Enforcement Administration in
The findings came in part from a Pakistan-based agent of the
administration who was one of the two Americans on the team just returned
from eight days in the poppy-growing areas of Afghanistan.
New York Times - 20 May 2001