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Why did the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (1996-2001), despite claiming to be an Islamic state, fail to ban opium production? Can it solely be explained in terms of economical difficulties like not having an alternative source of income? Were there any serious attempts to ban opium before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion? If there were, why didn't such measures succeed?

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  • "Emirate" = Taliban? (at least in a simple understanding?)
    – James K
    Jan 4, 2020 at 20:27
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    Islam doesn't forbid supplying drugs to non-believers. By the same logic Jews were allowed to run banks in the Medieval times while usury was forbidden for Christians. Jan 4, 2020 at 22:26
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    @JonathanReez Actually, I am far from a specialist but many Muslims do believe that making money from the production or commerce of wine and more generally profiting from anything that's haram is prohibited. It's easy to find sources online repeating this interpretation.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 5, 2020 at 0:14
  • @JonathanReez You are absolutely wrong by saying that "Islam allows supplying drugs to disbelievers". Supplying drugs to whomsoever is strictly forbidden! Sunni Muslims are more devout to God than Jews are! See this
    – user36339
    Jan 5, 2020 at 7:34
  • In the title "Why did the Emirate of Afghanistan fail to ban opium production?" the verb "fail" tendentiously implies that prohibition, (and its consequent drug wars and creation of de facto black market monopolies), is wise. Suggested revision: s/fail to/not/.
    – agc
    Jan 8, 2020 at 6:05

4 Answers 4

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I was born and raised in Afghanistan, and I remember when Taliban was in power. I was a 12 years old kid, and in our village, people would grow poppies and sell the opium to the smugglers. However, people were not allowed to smoke it, as it was forbidden. The Taliban said that it's also a kind of jihad against non believers, because the heroin will go to Europe and US, and they will get addicted and die. Now in 2020, there are over 3 million junkies, and 90% of opium comes from Afghanistan.

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  • I don't mean to disrespect you. Obviously your first hand experience is useful insight for us. But to make this answer better you should add some statistics, citations etc. Jan 6, 2020 at 8:06
  • @Navid2132 Thank you very much Navid! I am from Uzbekistan. Selling drugs to whomsoever is strictly forbidden in Islam. See the fatwa.
    – user36339
    Jan 6, 2020 at 19:42
  • @Navid2132 Taliban's such decision is very abhorrent.
    – user36339
    Jan 6, 2020 at 19:49
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    A minority of Christians concur somewhat with the Taliban... from a 2017 column by Dr. Heath Lambert, which originally appeared in the print edition of the Florida Baptist Witness.: "We must submit to God’s Word, and the Bible is clear that addiction is a moral failing. It is a sin against the living God for which people will be judged."
    – agc
    Jan 8, 2020 at 6:44
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Actually, they seem to have tried to ban its production circa year 2000, according to one academic paper:

From late 2000 and the year that followed, the Taliban enforced a ban on poppy farming via threats, forced eradication, and public punishment of transgressors. The result was a 99% reduction in the area of opium poppy farming in Taliban-controlled areas. The evaluation uses multiple comparison areas: the non-Taliban area of Afghanistan, neighbouring countries, the non-contiguous comparison area of Myanmar (Burma), and, the rest of the world. Alternative possible causes of the reduction such as drought, migration or changes in global opium markets are reviewed and excluded. It is concluded that the reduction in Afghan poppy cultivation was due to the enforcement action by the Taliban. Globally, the net result of the intervention produced an estimated 35% reduction in poppy cultivation and a 65% reduction in the potential illicit heroin supply from harvests in 2001. Though Afghan poppy growing returned to previous levels after the fall of the Taliban government, this may have been the most effective drug control action of modern times.

But according to US government sources the action had little effect on global supply of heroin.

[Asa] Hutchinson [head of the Drug Enforcement Administration] said the ban on poppy cultivation resulted in a steep drop in opium production -- from 4,000 metric tons last year to 74 metric tons in 2001. Yet despite this decrease, and despite the Taliban's claims that heroin labs have been destroyed, the indications are that the trade continues on a large scale.

"The DEA has seen no decrease in availability and no increase in prices of southwest Asian heroin in the United States and in Europe," he said. "This indicates that significant amounts of opiates still remain available."

U.S. officials have said the Taliban has benefited directly from this trade, through taxes on farmers who grow poppies as well as drug traffickers. Officials said the drug has sometimes been accepted as payment for taxes, and that the Taliban holds large stockpiles of the product.

Officials estimate that some $40 million to $50 million have flowed into Afghan government coffers annually in revenues from the drug trade, and some believe that number might be higher.

William Bach, a State Department official in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said the Taliban has used drug proceeds to purchase weapons and help finance its ongoing war. Despite the regime's call last year for a ban on poppy growing, Bach said record seizures of the drug this year in neighboring countries show that "the flow of opiates out of Afghanistan has not abated."

But the aforementioned academic paper does provide some insight in what led to the Taliban acting on it, which seems to have been a combination of internal and external factors:

The description of events given to the authors by a UN official suggests that UNODC diplomats were able to exploit three key levers to encourage the Taliban to seek to reduce poppy cultivation. First, the Taliban were facing increasing international political pressure and United Nations sanctions. In this context, UNODC established initial trust and influence with the Taliban who gained some positive recognition in return. This “foot-in-the-door” tactic included the offer of some UNODC financial resources. Second, it is possible that UNODC officials were able to play upon the hard-line anti-drugs position inherent to the fundamentalist teachings of the Taliban. The religious doctrine provided justification for enforcement which might otherwise have proven unpopular among subsistence farmers, traders and other beneficiaries. Third, after the initial progress had been made, UNODC officials were subsequently able to play upon Taliban pride which was wounded when the one-third reduction in poppy target announced by Mullah Omar in 1999 was not achieved. If this diplomatic combination of carrots and sticks was responsible for inducing the forced eradication and total elimination of poppy that followed, then UNODC could arguably claim it as one of the most significant negotiated drug control efforts to date. During mid-2000, the Taliban informed UNODC officials that they would take “significant” steps towards the total elimination of opium poppy in Afghanistan.

Other factors were at work during this period. In 1997 the then head of UNDCP, Pino Arlacchi, brokered a deal with the Taliban. In return for the elimination of opium poppy, the UN would provide $25 million per year for 10 years in development assistance to Taliban areas. Arlacchi’s pronouncements were controversial because many countries either did not formally recognise the Taliban government and/or opposed working with the Taliban due to their poor human right’s record, though the US government backed the deal soon after its announcement (Fish, 1998; Smith, 1997). Although some development projects were begun in Afghanistan, they were terminated in 2000 due to lack of financing from the UN as well as continuing extensive poppy cultivation (Schulenberg, 2000, p. 15; Wrep, 2000). The impact upon subsequent Taliban decisions is unclear. In the face of a reneged ‘deal’ it might have been anticipated that the Taliban had little incentive to reduce opium poppy cultivation, but the evidence from the subsequent anti-poppy effort suggests that other factors were more important.

In July 2000, Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar announced a fatwa or religious decree stating that poppy cultivation and opium production violated fundamental Islamic tradition. Any lack of respect for such a decree would reflect upon the religious leadership of Mullah Omar and the strength of Taliban rule. With personal reputation and international political favour at stake, there was a sharp incentive for implementation throughout the Taliban chain of command.

A more recent (EU-sponsored) paper presents a more nuanced view on the past Taliban efforts in this respect:

It has to be remembered just how protracted a process the Taliban ban was; this was no overnight proclamation; it required the right conditions and circumstances to be aligned before it could be imposed effectively. It is particularly important to note that by July 2000, when an effective ban on opium cultivation was imposed, the Taliban had issued statements prohibiting opium on no less than five separate occasions and not one of them had been heeded.

The first Taliban statement prohibiting opium poppy was in late 1994 and has been viewed as a demonstration of the Taliban’s capacity to dramatically impact opium poppy cultivation, even in the early years of their rule. The reality is that the Taliban did not impose a ban on opium poppy cultivation in 1994 only to rescind it 1996. The 1994 ban was a statement of intent, no more; and the rise in cultivation in 1996 attributed to the Taliban lifting the ban did not occur. In fact, much of the discussion of this initial prohibition is built on a misunderstanding of the estimates of opium poppy cultivation and their veracity at the time. [...]

After the “ban” of 1994 there were four further statements by the Taliban prohibiting opium: one in November 1996, a further statement in September 1997, followed by a clarification a month later, and then a call by Mullah Mohammed Omar for a one-third reduction in cultivation in September of 1999. Each of these so called bans stand in stark contrast to the effective prohibition imposed by the Taliban in 2000/01; this was more than just a statement of intent. Between 2000 and 2001 cultivation fell from 82,000 to 8,000 hectares, a move that was extolled by the UN and donors alike. But beneath these headlines lay a much more protracted political process that says much about the Taliban’s authority over Afghanistan at the time and how it had the diffuse nature of political power in rural areas, even at the zenith of the Taliban’s rule.

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In 2000 things were different from these earlier efforts to ban opium by the Taliban. Most importantly, the ban was imposed at a time when wheat prices had almost doubled and opium prices were at an all-time low. In 2000 Afghanistan was experiencing a protracted drought and the Government of Pakistan (GoP) had banned the movement of wheat flour from the Punjab to what was then North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) for a further season in the spring of 2000 in an attempt to limit smuggling to Afghanistan. Consequently, farmers in Afghanistan were increasingly concerned about their food security and whether wheat would be available to purchase with diminished proceeds from their opium crop. Under these circumstances – as we have seen time and time again – farmers switch from opium poppy to wheat, fearful that they will not be able to buy wheat in the local market and feed their families. Opium prices were as low as US$30 per kilogram in June 2000 and combined with a drought that was having a significant impact on yields, farmers were increasingly conscious of the risks of planting an input intensive crop like opium poppy, when they would need higher incomes with which to purchase ever more expensive wheat flour.

By this stage [year 2000] the Taliban had gained traction in the countryside, consolidating their position in many of the villages areas where opium poppy was grown. They started by negotiating with some of the more influential and powerful tribes, those who might offer resistance to a ban on opium production if they were not in agreement and could influence other tribes to comply if they were seen to adhere to it. In the east the Shinwari were instrumental. A relatively cohesive tribe that dominate five strategic districts in the southern part of Nangarhar bordering Pakistan and heavily involved in cultivation and trade. The elders were alleged to have received payments to support the ban, and been provided unfettered access to a high profile mission of western donors sent to review the ban and its effects, where the Shinwaris solicited projects directly. In the southern region, elders from the district of Nad e Ali, in Helmand – a district that often cultivated up to a quarter of the country’s entire opium crop in given year - were also given access to Mullah Mohammed Omar to make their opposition known and solicit support.

With potential powerful opponents neutralised or coopted the Taliban then undertook a strategic campaign of crop destruction. Initially they targeted some of the higher valleys just after the crop had been planted. These where areas where the elders and tribes were already on side; where in the past there had been resistance to prohibition efforts. Targeting these particular areas served as a demonstration effect, convincing farmers in lower lying areas that the Taliban were serious in their plan to ban opium poppy, and encouraged the rural population not to plant opium poppy in the first place. By striking early in the growing season farmers had not expended considerable time and resources on their opium crop only to see it destroyed; they also had the opportunity to plant something else prior to the onset of winter. This strategy served to manage the risk of widespread dissent; something the Taliban were keen to avoid as it could undermine the image they had projected – particularly to the outside world - of having complete control of the countryside.

[...] The kind of resistance that was seen in the upper parts of Achin during the spring of 2001 could easily have turned to a more widespread rural rebellion that would have challenged the image of sovereignty that the Taliban looked to project both internationally and domestically. In fact, in April 2001 there were already reports that Hajji Qadir was moving weapons across the border into eastern Afghanistan, and the potential for dissent in other parts of the country was extremely high.

So, to attempt a summary of this, even for the Taliban banning opium with practical effect doesn't appear to have been easy. It seems it took the right economic conditions, combined with the right strategy on the ground to effect a real ban. And we're not exactly certain how sustainable the (largely successful) year 2000 production ban would have been in later years, had the Taliban managed to stay in power.

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I just noticed this question and I was immediately surprised by how uninformed (or disinformed) is the poster and how vague is the accepted answer. The Taliban did actually eradicate most of opium crops, but their result was reversed by US invasion.

It took just a quick search on the internet to find the following references:

https://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/13/world/taliban-s-eradication-of-poppies-is-convulsing-opium-market.html

http://www.unawestminster.org.uk/pdf/drugs/UNdrugsfarrell_IJDP16.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pino_Arlacchi#United_Nations_activities

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According to this article, about $416 million, which is about 25% of the budget of Taliban, comes from opium production. If they stop opium production, they will have less money to buy weapons.

Yes, it contradicts Islam. So you can conclude that for Taliban, money is more important than Islam. It's all a matter of priorities.

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