Taliban chief orders ‘strict’ ban on opium poppy cultivation

The ban comes as the Taliban tries to assuage international concerns regarding drug control in the impoverished South Asian country.

The Taliban has issued a decree banning the cultivation of opium poppy, as the group tries to assuage international concerns regarding drug control in the impoverished South Asian country.

“As per the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that from now on, cultivation of poppy has been strictly prohibited across the country,” the group’s supreme leader Haibatullah Akhunzada said on Sunday.

“If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be destroyed immediately and the violator will be treated according to the Sharia law,” he added at a news conference in the capital, Kabul. The order said the production, use or transport of other narcotics was also banned.

Drug control has been one major demand of the international community to the Taliban, which took over the country in August and is seeking formal international recognition in order to wind back sanctions that are severely hampering banking, business and development.

The group banned poppy growing towards the end of their last rule in 2000 as they sought international legitimacy, but faced a popular backlash and later mostly changed its stance, according to experts.

Following the decree, Afghanistan’s acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi urged the international community to cooperate with the country in the treatment of drug addicts and to help farmers diversify their business, local agency TOLOnews reported.

Poppy cultivation is a key revenue source for many impoverished farmers in the country which has seen relative peace since the US-led foreign forces withdrew after 20 years of war and occupation.

Afghanistan’s opium production – which the United Nations (UN) estimated was worth $1.4bn at its height in 2017 – has increased in recent months, farmers and Taliban members told Reuters news agency.

By bringing faster and higher returns than legal crops such as wheat, opium poppy cultivation became for farmers in the country’s southeast a way to survive amid a dire economic situation.

Afghanistan’s economy is in free fall as the country is facing a dire humanitarian crisis with some 23 million people struggling with acute food shortages, according to the UN.

On Thursday, UN chief Antonio Guterres said some Afghans have resorted to “selling their children and their body parts” to get money for food.

Taliban sources told Reuters they were anticipating tough resistance from some elements within the group against the ban on poppy and that there had been a surge in the number of farmers cultivating poppy in recent months.

A farmer in Helmand who spoke on condition of anonymity said in recent weeks prices of poppy had already more than doubled on rumours the Taliban would ban its cultivation. But he added that he needed to grow poppy to support his family.

“Other crops are just not profitable,” he said.

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