The Taliban announced on Sunday a ban on the cultivation of narcotics in Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium.
“In accordance with the decree of the supreme leader of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan, all Afghans are informed that henceforth poppy cultivation is strictly prohibited throughout the country,” according to an order from the supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada.
“If anyone violates the decree, the crop will be immediately destroyed and the violator will be dealt with in accordance with Sharia,” said the order, announced at an Interior Ministry press conference in Kabul.
The ordinance stated that the production, use or transportation of other narcotics was also prohibited.
Drug control has been one of the main demands of the international community of the Islamist group, which took control of the country in August and is seeking official international recognition in order to lift sanctions which seriously hamper banking activities, business and development.
The Taliban banned poppy cultivation towards the end of its last rule in 2000 as it sought international legitimacy, but faced popular backlash and then mostly changed its stance, experts say.
Opium production in Afghanistan – which the United Nations estimated at $1.4 billion at its peak in 2017 – has increased in recent months, farmers and the Taliban told Reuters.
The dire economic situation in the country has prompted people in the southeastern provinces to cultivate the illicit crop which could bring them faster and higher yields than legal crops such as wheat.
Taliban sources told Reuters they expected strong resistance from some elements of the group against the poppy ban and that there had been an increase in the number of farmers growing poppy in recent months.
A Helmand farmer who spoke on condition of anonymity said poppy prices had already more than doubled in recent weeks following rumors that the Taliban would ban its cultivation. But he added that he needed to grow poppies to support his family.
“Other crops just aren’t profitable,” he said.