Taliban turns a blind eye as Afghanistan’s opium business thrives: Report

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Afghanistan’s opium industry is accelerating business as drought and sanctions cripple the country’s economy under Taliban rule, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

Farmers who used to grow wheat or corn are planting poppies on their land now because “a combination of drought, international sanctions and border closures has made legal crops unprofitable,” the WSJ reported.

Afghanistan is globally known for its multibillion-dollar drug industry, which accounts for 85 percent of worldwide opium production, according to United Nations figures.

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When the Taliban seized control of the country in August, the group vowed to eradicate the opium industry. But three months later, the industry is blooming.

Spokesman for the interior ministry, Qari Saeed Khosty, said on Thursday the Taliban aim to prevent “the growth and trade of narcotics”.

However, the WSJ reported that a Taliban intelligence official simply demanded that foreign journalists at an opium market leave.

A Taliban governor of one of the districts told the WSJ that the government couldn’t afford to deprive people of their livelihoods when the country was facing harsh US sanctions and terrible drought.

“How can we tell them to stop? Who will take care of them?” said the governor, Mullah Seif Alrahman Akhund. “If the international community recognizes our government and we receive aid and development assistance, then poppies will definitely disappear. We can take measures against it, but we don’t want our people to suffer from even deeper impoverishment.”

A farmer sowing his opium crop told the WSJ: “When the government is poorer than the population, the two won’t have time or energy to bother each other. Anyone will do whatever they want to do.”

The Taliban are struggling to govern an Afghanistan mired with an economic crisis, with prices of food and fuel rising sharply amid a shortage of cash, triggered by a halt in foreign aid and a drought.

The group has been demanding the US unfreeze its assets to ease the economic pressure on the country.

After the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan on August 15, the US froze almost $10 billion in Afghan gold, investments and foreign currency reserves.

Washington plans to use the frozen funds as means to pressure the Taliban to respect women’s rights and to govern the public in a lawful manner.

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