Pubdate: Mon,  8 Oct 2001
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Michael Sheridan
Note: Additional reporting by Ghulam Hasnain.


The Taliban are selling off stocks of opium stored in mosques amid a surge 
in exports of narcotics from Afghanistan and a collapse in prices since the 
attacks on America.

Businessmen in Kabul and international officials in Pakistan say there is 
panic selling by dealers holding stockpiles of opium and hashish. The 
Taliban have released hoards collected from farmers as an Islamic tax of 
10% on agricultural output, businessmen interviewed by telephone in Kabul said.

And mullahs are liquidating their drug stocks for cash to pay for arms, 
wages and food supplies in anticipation of American military action, they said.

The upheaval in the drug trade will have a direct effect on Britain, where 
95% of the heroin sold on the streets is refined from opium that originated 
in Afghanistan.

Proof of huge falls in price can be found just outside Peshawar, where 
heaps of opium cakes are openly on sale in Bara, a frontier market area 
teeming with heavily armed Afridi tribesmen, beyond the tenuous reach of 
Pakistani law and order.

"Soon after [the attacks] there was a lot of chaos in Afghanistan and a lot 
of people began selling their stock and so much, much more is coming out 
and the price has fallen," said Arshad Khan, 42, one of the dealers.

Since September 11, the price quoted by Khan for one kilogram of higher 
quality opium has fallen from 47,000 Pakistani rupees (506 pounds sterling) 
to 28,000 rupees (302 pounds sterling).   Prices for lower quality material 
have slumped as low as 6,000 rupees (65 pounds sterling) a kilo.

Khan's cakes of semi-resinous opium gum, some moulded into the shape of a 
heart, were stacked in piles for inspection.   Prospective buyers were 
offered a small stool to sit on while they smelt and kneaded the light 
green cakes.   Others inhaled samples of hashish heated on a charcoal burner.

It is only five weeks since Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's supreme 
leader, renewed a religious decree forbidding the cultivation of opium poppies.

His edict was supposed to be the climax to an agreement between the United 
Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) and the Taliban that virtually 
eradicated poppies from Afghanistan over the past year.

After the terrorist attacks, this agreement began to unravel and farmers 
who had kept stocks of opium gum from the previous harvest began selling 
them.   The next month is the best time for planting poppies and many 
farmers have started sowing already.

The farmers are obliged to pay the 10% tax on all their produce and have 
traditionally paid in kind.   The Taliban insist they can not abolish the 
tax, since it is decreed by Sharia law.

In practice, the clerics retained opium paid over to them and did not sell 
it.   That arrangement has now broken down and the moderate faction that 
was instrumental in negotiating the poppy ban has lost ground.

Most of the opium sales by clerics and local leaders are in the provinces 
of Nangarhar, opposite Pakistan's northwest frontier, and Helmand, 
bordering the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.   The two provinces account 
for more than 70% of Afghanistan's traditional poppy production.

Washington has long been concerned at the Afghan nexus between drugs, 
terrorism and intelligence gathering.   Wendy Chamberlin, the new US 
ambassador to Islamabad, has a background in such issues and she will now 
be co-ordinating US efforts to prove that Usama Bin Ladin's al-Qa'ida makes 
huge profits from the drug trade.

But Pakistani officials admit they face an impossible task in enforcing the 
law in border areas.   Most of the tribes have said they will wage a holy 
war if the West attacks Afghanistan.   A clampdown on drug-dealing is the 
last thing Pakistan wishes to risk.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens