HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Taliban Rulers Get No Thanks For Ending
Pubdate: Thu, 05 Apr 2001
Source: Guardian Weekly, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Publications 2001
Author: Luke Harding, in Haddah


The mud-walled village of Hadda in southeastern Afghanistan used to 
consider itself lucky. Its farmers had two lucrative sources of income: 
Buddhist relics that could be dug out in darkness from the ancient shrines 
that littered thevalley and its jagged white mountains, and opium, a crop 
that every April transformed the landscape into a sea of green and red.

But this year things are different. In a development that has gone 
unnoticed and unrewarded by the international community, Afghanistan's 
fundamentalist Taliban rulers have ended the massive opium trade - a move 
that has plunged Hadda's farmers into despondency and debt.

Western sources in Kabul last weekend confirmed that poppy production in 
Afghanistan had virtually ceased. This follows an edict issued last year by 
the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, declaring opium to be 

The first Hadda's farmers knew of the edict was when soldiers turned up. 
"The Taliban came here and saw there were poppies. They hit some of the 
people and told them they would be taken to prison and tortured if they 
planted more seeds," said Abdul Rashid. "Then the elders of the village 
talked to them and told the Taliban we would destroy the poppies ourselves. 
It took us four days. We used a tractor and cows to plough up the fields."

In neighbouring villages around the town of Jalalabad, and in the fertile 
Helmand valley, which used to produce half of the country's opium, it is 
the same. Driving through southern Afghanistan last week, I saw no evidence 
of poppy cultivation.

Hashar , as the crop is known locally, has been grown in Afghanistan for 
centuries. But under the Taliban production had increased spectacularly - 
to the point where Afghanistan became the world's largest opium producer. 
Last year it produced 75% of the world's heroin. Now the poppies have been 
replaced by fields of lush - but profitless - wheat.

The ban has caused massive hardship to ordinary Afghans, who have suffered 
war, drought and Soviet occupation. "I used to have one-and-a-half acres 
planted with poppy. Now we have nothing," farmer Hussain Gul said. "I have 
to feed a family of 14."

"I blame the Americans because they promised they would help us," Khan 
Afzal said. "But they didn't." In Hadda last year's crop was destroyed by 
hail. But the previous year Afzal and other smallholders made around $500 
each, a fortune in Afghanistan where the average monthly salary is $4.30. 
Since the ban, the price of a kilo of opium has soared from 3,000 Pakistani 
rupees ($50) to 40,000 ($670), sources say.

To date this has had no discernible effect on the international heroin 
market, thanks to massive stockpiles in countries such as Pakistan, Iran 
and Turkey where the raw opium is refined. Intelligence experts from 
Britain and the United States believe the fall in production could lead to 
a worldwide shortage and price rise, although production in countries such 
as Burma and Colombia is likely to increase to satisfy demand.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the Taliban's foreign affairs spokesman, said last weekend 
that his Islamic government had completely eradicated poppy cultivation. 
"It was an epic task," he said. "[But] the response to this tremendous 
achievement from the international community was unexpected. They imposed 
more and more sanctions on us."

Late last year Mullah Omar seemed to have finally agreed to Western demands 
to end opium pro duction. He had hoped for concessions in return, including 
diplomatic recognition. Instead, the United Nations imposed further 
sanctions in January because of Afghanistan's refusal to extradite the 
alleged Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden. In response Mullah Omar destroyed 
Afghanistan's two giant Buddhas.

Sceptics have questioned whether the Taliban has eradicated poppy 
cultivation. But the evidence suggests they have. "The prices have 
increased dramatically," one informed UN source in Kabul admitted last week.

Hadda's farmers are now praying for a change in policy - or a change in 
government. Even the trade in Buddhist statues has dried up because, 
according to Rashid, they have all been ransacked. "We are miserable," he 
said. "We have nothing. We have been forgotten by the world."
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