Millennium Post

Who wields poppy power

The ouster of the Maoists from Chatra in Jharkhand by the police have changed lives for the residents in ways more than one. A recent study has shown, that whereas once upon a time farmers terrified of the rebel rule would only grow poppies to appease the Maoists, they have taken up the cultivation of flowers and vegetables since peace and security has returned in the area.  

The situation is strikingly similar to Afghanistan, the biggest producer of illicit opium in the world. The growth in the production of opium in Afghanistan dates back to 1978-79, when warlords looked upon it as a means to boost their income to buy more weapons. The Taliban coffers, when they rose to power, too were lined with money earned from opium production. In 1999, during Taliban rule, Afghanistan saw a bumper opium crop of 4,500 metric tonnes. However, in 2000, Taliban took a stand against the growing of opium and declared it ‘un-Islamic’. The ban was very effective. But with the Talibans out, opium cultivation made a return in Afghanistan. The present situation of uncertainty has forced many cultivators back to production of opium, a product that sells for high price. While both the Afghan government and foreign forces have tried to lure farmers away from opium cultivation, they have failed to provide them with alternatives and frustrated farmers have gone back to the production of the product for which they have assured demand.

There is more to the problem of opium cultivation in Afghanistan than meets the eye.  UN reports show that the cultivation of opium in Afghanistan grew in 2012. Poppy cultivation nationwide increased by 18 per cent between 2011 and 2012, with a similar increase in Helmand Province, the biggest opium-producing region. The government blames it on the problem of insurgency - the regions where poppy cultivation is maximum is also where the Talibans wield maximum power, and apparently the Taliban earns tax on the same. Meanwhile, the Taliban in a surprise clampdown destroyed poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan this spring. Afghanistan has been the main supplier of heroin to the western world for years. Controlling the production in Afghanistan may help check the illicit drug trade worldwide. But the sheer volume of money involved and the various layers involved may may it  a task difficult to achieve.
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