poppy growers in Afghanistan facing growing hardship
From: d.sautter [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Samstag, 16. Juni 2001 03:53 By STEVEN GUTKIN Associated Press Writer
With a religious decree and some serious
resolve, the ruling Taliban militia has virtually eradicated
opium-producing poppy flowers from Afghan soil. But the drug-fighting
victory has had dark consequences for the region's farmers.
In less than a year, the Taliban dramatically changed Afghanistan's status
as the world's largest producer of opium, the sticky sap used to make
A skeptical international community is beginning to acknowledge the
success, while at the same time expressing concern about the possible
stockpiling of opium. But the Taliban -- the fiercely fundamentalist
Islamic militia that controls 95 percent of Afghanistan -- are angered by
what they see as a major global brush-off in the face of their anti-opium
Parched fields and dry weeds across what used to be Afghanistan's
flourishing poppy heartland are testaments to the opium eradication's
great cost: tens of thousands of farmers have been stripped of a
livelihood in a nation already wracked by civil war and the worst drought
in three decades.
"I planted cotton and corn but the drought has burned it all," said
Shah, a 54-year-old former poppy farmer in Shawali, a sandy village in
eastern Afghanistan where hunger has already driven out most of the
Since the Taliban outlawed poppy cultivation last July, calling it a
violation of Islam, programs for planting alternative crops have failed.
Once-booming poppy villages like Shawali have fallen on hard times, with
abandoned houses, hungry people and soil bereft of life.
The lack of foreign help for desperate former poppy farmers has strained
relations between the Taliban and the international aid community. It may
also help explain some of the militia's recent mischief, including the
destruction of ancient Buddha statues and an order to force Hindus to wear
yellow labels on their shirts to distinguish them from Muslims.
Arif Ayub, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, said the Taliban's
supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was enraged when the United Nations
slapped additional sanctions on the regime last January to punish it for
alleged sponsorship of terrorism -- and then failed to give it credit for
Ayub said a Pakistani delegation was sent to Afghanistan last March to try
to persuade the Taliban not to blow up the Buddha statues but that
delegates were unable to make their case because Omar "would only talk
about U.N. sanctions and poppy."
The Pakistani ambassador said he believes the Taliban have concluded that
cooperating with the West on any issue is futile.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has honored its responsibility to the
world," said Amir Mohammed Hakaune, the top anti-drug official in eastern
Afghanistan. "If tragedy comes to our farmers, the blame goes not to us
but to the international community."
The truth is the world has begun to take notice of the Taliban's drug war
successes, despite accusations that the militia is still sitting on large
stockpiles of opium -- charges the Taliban deny.
When Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a $43 million humanitarian
aid package for Afghanistan last month, he mentioned the plight of the
poppy farmers and called the poppy ban "a decision by the Taliban that we
Verifying the anti-opium campaign took many months because of a time lag
in harvests and difficulties in getting access to crops inside
More than three quarters of the world's opium was produced in Afghanistan
only a year ago, when the country exported nearly 4,000 tons -- more than
all the other poppy-producing nations combined.
The Taliban used a combination of religious persuasion, grassroots
organization and police coercion to eradicate poppy. They set fire to
heroin laboratories and jailed some farmers, but most former poppy growers
obeyed the Taliban's religious edict against poppy without questioning it.
"It is the decision of shariah (Islamic law) and of God. We have to go
along with it," said former poppy grower Sher Mohammed.
The Taliban's Hakaune said he estimates that half of the former poppy
farmers in three eastern provinces he oversees have become refugees.
Alternative crops such as corn, wheat, carrots, cotton, onions and
tomatoes have failed because of drought, insufficient irrigation and a
shortage of seeds, he said.
In Shawali, malnourished children shoo away flies and idle old men stare
at dead fields that once blossomed with crimson-red poppy flowers. In some
villages, former poppy growers have begun trading their young daughters to
clear debts or drastically reducing the prices traditionally paid to give
away daughters in marriage.
Mohammed Rachmani, a 26-year-old farmer in the eastern province of
Nangarhar, said the poppy fiasco was just another example of global
politics wreaking havoc with the welfare of the Afghan people -- a
situation he said has characterized Afghanistan's history since the Soviet
invasion in 1979.
"We accept the poppy ban because we know heroin is bad for humanity,"
said. "But the government and the world don't care if we live or if we
Trying to get donor nations within the United Nations to help Afghan
farmers switch to legal crops "is an uphill battle," said Stephanie
Bunker, the Pakistan-based spokeswoman for the United Nation's Afghanistan
But she said those nations are beginning to get the message that "this ban
is legitimate and that people are in dire need of assistance."
Three Taliban officials interviewed on the poppy issue each said that crop
substitution was not their responsibility because the militia had already
done its share.
U.N. officials have accused Taliban of sacrificing the people's welfare
for higher priorities, most notably the civil war against a northern-based
alliance and the mission to install "pure" Islam in Afghanistan.
Shah Mahmood Mangal, spokesman for the Taliban's High Commission for Drug
Control, said the ban on poppy is here to stay.
"We will continue to struggle against this drug not because of
expectations of help from the outside world," he said. "We do it
because of our pride as Afghans."