Afghanistan   Gebiete      

Former poppy growers in Afghanistan facing growing hardship

From: d.sautter [mailto:d.sautter@usa.net] Sent: Samstag, 16. Juni 2001 03:53  By STEVEN GUTKIN Associated Press Writer 



SHAWALI, Afghanistan (AP)


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 heroin. 

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 feat. 

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 Khan 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 residents.

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 eradicating poppy.

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 welcome."

Verifying the anti-opium campaign took many months because of a time lag in harvests and difficulties in getting access to crops inside Afghanistan.

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," he said. "But the government and the world don't care if we live or if we die."

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 office.

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."