Afghanistan is the source of more than 80% of the world’s opium supply, and in recent years, much of that has been in Taliban-controlled areas
When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan earlier this year, its leadership promised to end opium poppy cultivation across the country. To back up its pledge, the Taliban leadership pointed to the prohibition on opium it imposed two decades ago when it was last in power.
The Taliban will have a long way to go to make good on its commitment. In 2020, Afghan farmers devoted their third-highest-ever acreage to opium production, and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime reports that the opium trade has grown to constitute more than 10% of the country’s economy. Much of that growth comes from lands under Taliban control. In fact, in recent years, Taliban leaders have used the opium trade as a major revenue source, imposing an informal tax on farmers, laboratories that converted the crop into heroin, and smugglers who transported the drugs.
Some analysts, like the International Crisis Group’s Ibraheem Bahiss, believe that the Taliban’s pledge on ending the opium trade in Afghanistan is merely a “bargaining chip in return for international aid.” According to the World Bank, prior to the Taliban takeover such aid accounted for 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP.