Pubdate: Tue, 25 Sep 2001
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Luke Harding (Islamabad)


Edict Reverses Policy That Wiped Out Crop

In a dramatic and little-noticed reversal of policy, the Taliban have told 
farmers in Afghanistan that they are free to start planting poppy seeds 
again if the Americans decide to launch a military attack.

Drug enforcement agencies last night confirmed that they expect to see a 
massive resumption of opium cultivation inside Afghanistan, previously the 
world's biggest supplier of heroin, in the next few weeks.

The Taliban virtually eradicated Afghanistan's opium crop last season after 
an edict by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader.

In July last year he said that growing opium was "un-Islamic" and warned 
that anyone caught planting seeds would be severely punished.

Taliban soldiers enforced the ruling two summers ago and made thousands of 
villagers across Afghanistan plough up their fields. Earlier this year UN 
observers agreed that Afghanistan's opium crop had been completely wiped out.

Last night Bernard Frahi, the head of the UN's drugs control programme 
(UNDCP) in Islamabad, confirmed that the price of opium had suddenly 
plunged. Existing opium stockpiles had fallen in value because of the 
prospect of new cultivation. "Our sources tell us the price has decreased," 
he said.

Farmers were also ready to exploit the fact that no new post-Taliban 
administration was likely to be in place in Kabul before next spring. "All 
the ingredients for illicit cultivation are there: war, continuing poverty 
and a breakdown in law and order. We could see a huge resumption in 
cultivation," Mr Frahi said.

The farmers are expected to begin planting poppy seeds in the next few 
weeks. The traditional planting season is from mid-October to late November 
or early December.

Although opium grows across Afghanistan, the main area of cultivation has 
been the fertile Helmand valley in the south, and around Jalalabad in the east.

Opium has flourished in Afghanistan since the time of Alexander the Great, 
when it was used as medicine. But under the Taliban production increased 
spectacularly, to the point where Afghanistan supplied 80% of Europe's 
heroin. In the year before Mullah Omar's edict, some 82,000 hectares of 
land were planted with poppy.

Last night one Afghan trader, who had just fled from Afghanistan, said the 
price of opium per kilo had now fallen from 50,000 Pakistani rupees (UKP 
525) to 10,000 rupees (UKP 105). Everybody was trying to offload existing 
stocks, he said.

"Almost all Afghans will be cultivating poppy as it was their only cash 
crop. They can't cultivate other crops as the soil is fit only for poppy 
cultivation," he claimed.

Mullah Omar's now defunct ruling caused deep resentment among impoverished 
Afghans in rural areas, who were forced last year to plant wheat instead.

Previously, farmers with a few acres of land were able to make up to UKP 
350 in a good season from growing opium, a small fortune in a country where 
the average monthly salary is only UKP 3. The crop is known locally as hashar.

"We don't have anything," Rashid, a farmer in the village of Hadda in 
eastern Afghanistan, lamented in March. "All the young people have gone to 
Pakistan. Ninety percent of this area used to be cultivated with poppy. How 
much money can you make from wheat?"

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the Taliban's foreign affairs spokesman, complained 
earlier this year that the international community had not rewarded 
Afghanistan for wiping out opium - an "epic task", he said. "The response 
to this tremendous achievement was unexpected. They imposed more and more 
sanctions on us," he added.

With Afghanistan's borders now officially closed it is not clear how any 
new crop will be shipped out of the country after harvesting early next year.

Most observers, however, believe dealers will make use of existing 
smuggling routes, via Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan's lawless northern 
neighbours, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

The UNDCP last night said it had lost touch with its local staff inside 
Afghanistan following the Taliban's edict to hang anyone found using a 
satellite phone.

Taliban officials in Islamabad were unable to confirm that Mullah Omar's 
edict had been abandoned.
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