Since the End of U.S. Occupation, Afghanistan Has Wiped out Opium Production
The Afghanistan government has cracked down heavily on opium cultivation, reducing it by 80% this year. In Helmand province (which produces more than 60-70% of the total), poppy growing has dropped to less than 1000 Ha in 2023, a reduction surpassing any previous ban, including that of 2000-2001.
“This is a major piece of information”, the former director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Pino Arlacchi (1997-2002) told a Schiller Institute webinar on June 10, “because Afghanistan produces more than 90% of the heroin consumed in Europe, and it will have dramatic effects in the coming months on the drug market all over Europe. It confirms what I said about 2001, that the intervention by American forces had a very negative effect on opium poppy production.”
Arlacchi recalled that in 2000-2001, the UNODC successfully implemented a program under which the Taliban government banned opium production in exchange for aid to promote alternative productions. This led to an almost complete elimination of the opium fields in the country.
But then, in September 2001, “the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, and the first thing [Defense Secretary] Mr. Rumsfeld and his friends did was to make an agreement with the warlords who were controlling the drug production, in order to fight so-called terrorism in Afghanistan. It meant a green light for the production of narcotics – the Taliban were completely out of the picture at the time – and drug production skyrocketed again.”
Fast-forwarding to today: after the U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban took over in Aug. 2021, Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada issued a decree the following April prohibiting the cultivation of opium poppy. Fields where it used to grow are now devoted to cultivating grain.
David Mansfield, an expert on Afghanistan’s illicit drug trade, has studied the situation carefully. Citing satellite imagery, he confirmed that poppy cultivation has been reduced to levels not seen since 2001. “It is likely that cultivation will be less than 20% of what it was in 2022. The scale of the reduction will be unprecedented,” Mansfield said, as reported by the BBC.
On June 7 the BBC reported that its own investigation throughout Afghanistan, especially in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kandahar, and Helmand, as well as other studies of satellite images show a marked decrease in poppy cultivation. Alcis, a British firm specializing in studying satellite imagery, determined that there has been a 99% reduction of poppy growing in Helmand province.
Eliminating opium production in Afghanistan was a key aspect of the Schiller Institute’s “Ibn Sina” initiative for the reconstruction of the country, and its integration into the Belt and Road Initiative.