President Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs” in America in 1971, and it continued for more than 50 years, hardly making a difference in the opium trade in Afghanistan.

More than 80% of the world’s opium is produced in the country, yet even the American invasion in 2001 had little effect on the flow of drugs out of the country.

But the Taliban are now succeeding where the global narcotics enforcement community has fallen short.

The group’s religious leaders issued a decree forbidding poppy planting throughout Afghanistan in April of last year. Experts regard the ban as “the most successful counter-narcotics effort in human history” more than a year after it was implemented.

The effect has been very noticeable on the ground. As Taliban enforcers roam from field to farm burning crops and punishing violators, it is claimed that Afghan poppy output has decreased by 80% in the past year.

According to estimates based on satellite data, cultivation in Helmand province, which formerly generated almost four-fifths of Afghanistan’s poppy crop and served as the focal point of British operations in the nation from 2001 to 2015, decreased to just 2,500 acres this year from 320,000 the year before.

Experts are now stating that if the production of poppies is still prohibited, there would be severe and unanticipated effects that extend well beyond Afghanistan’s borders.

That incident demonstrated that a supply disruption may take some time to become felt on a global scale. According to analysts, it would take another year to 18 months for stored stocks along the trafficking route out of Afghanistan to be depleted since opium is extremely simple to store.

Following the last ban on production, international opium prices surged and, in the UK, the purity of heroin sold on the streets fell from 55 to 34 per cent.

“Back then the ban was fairly short-lived,” said Mr Shapiro. “But the poppy trail is so long from Afghanistan to the UK, that you never know how much heroin is in transit at any one time. The actual ban didn’t really impact supply.”

The ban clearly seems to be permanent—at least in religious sense.

The Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, issued an order in April 2022 that said, “All Afghans are informed that poppy cultivation has been strictly prohibited going forward throughout the country.”

“They won’t grow poppies on their property. Any poppies that are planted on his property will be removed, and the offender will be prosecuted.

The ban’s economics, though, don’t make any sense.

Dr. David Mansfield, author of “A State Built on Sand: How Opium Undermined Afghanistan,” estimated the ban has eliminated the equivalent of 450,000 full-time jobs in agriculture in a recent briefing to the UK parliament. This is a significant blow to an economy still suffering from drought, conflict, and cuts to development programmes.

Between 9 and 14% of the nation’s GDP in 2021 came solely from the Afghan opium economy, which also includes internal use and exports.

The Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crimes senior analyst who recently visited Afghanistan stated the situation there is “quite complicated” but begged to remain anonymous out of concern for his relationships there.

We need to study and thoroughly evaluate the claim that the Taliban is consistently upholding the decree, the expert added. “We must exercise some scepticism. They cannot disturb local communities because of the intricate political economy.

The analyst’s theory was supported by local Afghans, who believed the ban had been implemented to gain diplomatic recognition from the West. One tribal elder from Helmand’s Nad-e Ali area, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, claimed that the Taliban’s prohibition on poppies was not a result of a decision made in accordance with Sharia.

Others, though, are certain that the prohibition is unassailable—at least for the time being. According to the quantity of drugs removed from the market, the crackdown has so far been “the most successful counter-narcotics effort in human history,” according to Crisis Group specialist Graeme Smith.

Farmers sell off assets

A farmer in the Nawazd district named Mohammadullah asserted: “The Taliban are unquestionably carrying out the directives of their masters. They have kept an eye on the properties of everyone who planted even a small amount of opium. They locked up some farmers and ruined their land.

Men like Mohammadullah may leave Afghanistan in pursuit of better chances if they are stripped of their money. According to Dr. Mansfield, there have already been indications of “distress sales” by farmers who lack backup poppy stockpiles.

He informed MPs earlier this month that the family’s gold, the wife’s dowry, and some land were being sold. Additionally, there is outmigration. Leaving the nation will be one of the practical coping mechanisms in the absence of poppies for a lengthy period.

Although it is still too soon to predict how the global market will react to the ban, there are some early signs of what could come next.

The quantity of land used to produce opium poppies increased by 33% to 40,100 hectares in 2022, the first full growing season following the junta’s takeover, while output nearly doubled to 795 metric tonnes, according to a UN assessment released in January.

The opium surge in Myanmar, according to Crisis Group specialist Tom Kean, was not caused by the drought in Afghanistan, but it may ultimately feed it.

“It is starting from a long way back whether Myanmar will become the world’s biggest producer,” said Mr. Kean. But it may happen if the prohibition is as stringent as it was in 2000–2001.

More broadly, when international stocks are depleted and new players are encouraged to enter the market, the long-term application of the prohibition would probably lead to a rise in opium prices.

In a study released this month, the UK-based nonprofit Transform Drug Policy Foundation said that opium cultivation may increase in a number of nations and areas with the right climate, including India, Turkey, and central Asia.

It was noted that it would take time to replace Afghan opium, establish the facilities for turning it into heroin, and expand the capacity of the routes used for trafficking people from other regions due to the sheer volume of new or diverted output that would be required.

According to Martin Jelsma, Programme Director for Drugs and Democracy at the Transnational Institute, a Dutch think tank, “if the stocks dry up, then there will be adjustments in the market.” However, it can be a while until trafficking channels are once again developed.

More harmful than heroin

The possibility that synthetic opioid availability would suddenly grow if the Taliban’s prohibition ultimately results in a heroin shortage is perhaps the most worrisome of all.

The UN warned that the crackdown “may lead to… [the] replacement of heroin or opium at the user level by other substances, some of which may be even more harmful than heroin or opium (such as fentanyl and its analogues)” in a warning from 2022.

Fentanyl would be a tempting substitute for organised criminal organisations since it is simple to create in improvised laboratories and 50 times more powerful than heroin. One kilogramme of the drug would be far easier to smuggle into a market than 50 kilogrammes of heroin, yet would yield the same amount of money.

Paul Griffiths, scientific director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, notes that the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s addiction wave has mostly subsided and that markets are currently seeing a decline in demand for heroin.

In light of this, the Taliban’s prohibition may encourage criminal organisations to create other underground markets by driving them away from the drug altogether.

According to Mr. Griffiths, the “heroin drought” of 2001 and the response of the European market, which imports 95% of its opium from Afghanistan, provide some examples of what can occur.

Then, “profound changes in the opioid-using market which persisted over time, particularly in the Baltic states,” he said, occurred. Fentanyl has supplanted heroin as the drug of preference for opioid abusers in places like Estonia. This still holds true today.

According to Mr. Griffiths, “we know from prior experience that this disruption can change the equilibrium of the drug market and that once new products have established themselves, they can endure over time.” “Therefore, the spread of synthetic opioids poses a potential threat.”

The superior health care systems and harm reduction programmes in Western Europe ought to protect the region from the unexpected availability of fentanyl, but this could not be the case in the east of the continent where such infrastructure is “non-existent,” according to Mr. Jelsma.

The former Soviet Union countries present a greater risk, he continued.

However, Mr. Jelsma concurs with many other experts that it is hard to predict with any degree of accuracy what will happen during the next two years. However, should the Taliban’s prohibition stand, he warns that there may be grave repercussions “for which we will need to be prepared”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *