Pubdate: Sun, 25 Nov 2001
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Chris Tomlinson


Taliban Had Banned Lucrative Drug Crop

SORKHUD, Afghanistan - Gul Haidar smiled as he sifted some seeds through 
his fingers, happy he had planted the one crop that should ensure his 
family's welfare next year - opium poppies.

In pencil-thin, spiraling furrows dug with a homemade oxen-pulled plow, 
Haidar has sown the tiny, pale specks that will yield flowers in four 
months. When the petals fall, buyers will come for the seed pods and its 
opium resin.

The Pashto-speaking farmer expects to triple what he had made from the 
winter wheat he had planted the last three seasons.

With the Taliban no longer around to enforce a three-year ban on 
poppy-growing, hundreds of farmers near the eastern city of Jalalabad have 
resumed planting what they call "narcotic."

"We don't have much water, so with narcotic we make more money to offset 
the problem of the drought," Haidar said. "If you water twice a year, 
narcotic will do very well, but with wheat, you have to water nine times."

The 75-year-old Haidar, who lives in a mud house, has rented his 750 acres 
from a wealthy Afghan for the past half-century.

Before the Taliban ban, he almost exclusively grew poppies. During the past 
three years, he switched to wheat rather than risk imprisonment. But Haidar 
had stashed a bag of poppy seeds - and brought them out when the Taliban 
fled Jalalabad this month, in time for planting season.

Afghanistan was once the world's largest opium producer, enough to supply 
75 percent of the world's heroin, according to the U.N. Drug Control Program.

Farmers produced 3,611 tons from the 1999 planting. But after a ruthless 
Taliban crackdown, the crop in 2000 dropped to 204 tons, the agency said in 

Most of the opium is exported and is rarely used locally.

The U.N. drug program spent years working with the Taliban and aid agencies 
to discourage poppy growing and encourage wheat production. But farmers 
outside Jalalabad said they never saw any of the aid money that was 
funneled through the Taliban.

"The Westerners, when they want to help us, they should put the aid in our 
hands, not give it to the leaders," said Mujahed, a 42-year-old farmer who 
uses only one name, adding that he would stop growing poppies if given an 

But Kasim, a 65-year-old white-bearded farmer, was less sympathetic.

"Our life is really very difficult, because we can't grow wheat and still 
survive," he said. "We need to grow narcotic, even if it is not fair to the 
rest of the world."
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