What Taliban Rule Means for Afghanistan’s Drug Trade

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Hashish and opium have fueled war in Afghanistan since the ‘80s, when the CIA-backed Mujahideen rebels turned to the drug trade to fund their insurgency against the Soviet forces then occupying the country. In 1989, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, and in 1992 a new government was established by Mujahideen warlords who continued to protect their drug empires, while also fighting each other. In 1994, the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban militia was born, pledging to restore order, portraying the warlords as corrupt drug dealers. After taking power in 1996, the Taliban made a great show of destroying opium and cannabis crops—for which it received praise and aid from the UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC). After Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. invaded, backing the Mujahideen who were fighting the Taliban—and, again, funding their insurgency with opium and hash. But after the Taliban were driven from power in November 2001, the tables were turned.  The new U.S.-backed Afghan government was now under pressure to eradicate—while the Taliban found the drug trade an irresistible means of funding their new insurgency. That trade has boomed as the Taliban has pursued their offensive this year. A Taliban Narco-State? On Aug. 14, a day before the Taliban took Kabul, the international financial website MoneyControl headlined: “A new narco-state is blossoming in Afghanistan under the Taliban.”According to the UNODC’s 2020 Afghanistan Opium Survey, the area under poppy cultivation expanded from 163,000 hectares to 224,000 hectares that year. This was overwhelmingly in areas under Taliban control. In 2018, the UNODC estimated that the country’s opiate economy was “worth between 6 and 11 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP and it exceeded the value of the country’s officially recorded licit exports of goods and services.”  As the capital Kabul fell to the insurgents this past weekend, a Reuters report reminded us: “Afghanistan’s illegal drug trade a boon for Taliban.” It recalled the $8…

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