Will Drug Culture Have Any Impact on Punjab After Upheaval in Afghanistan?

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Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks at his first news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday. — Photo: AP

It is to be seen how sincere are the Taliban in their promise to curb poppy cultivation

Soroor Ahmed | Clarion India

THE world, especially the Indian sub-continent, is closely watching as to what will be the impact on the growing drug-menace after the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan, which reportedly produces 82 per cent of the world’s opium. Authorities in the western Indian state of Punjab are especially concerned as in the last few years drug-addiction has wreaked havoc in the society. The present chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, had in 2017 come to power with the promise to eradicate this menace.

Now in the run up to the 2022 Assembly election his critics, both within his Congress party and outside, are accusing him of hardly doing anything to wipe this culture out. The Captain, on his part, has been putting the ball in the Centre’s court as the narcotics are being smuggled into India from across the international border.

The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid in his first Press conference, assured the global community that like during their past rule, that is between 1996 and 2001, they would bring to an end the opium production in the country. Though there are contradictory reports in the western media about the possible Taliban involvement in the poppy cultivation in the country, especially in the southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces, it is also a fact that by the year 2000 the Taliban had brought to almost zero the opium production in Afghanistan. But the Western experts used to claim that it was just a tactical move.

Anyway after the American and NATO occupation of this land-locked country the drug culture increased in Afghanistan. One should not forget that the European imperialists have used opium and other drugs to expand their empire in the world. They even encouraged opium cultivation in the then undivided Bengal province. In the 19th century the British traders and merchants deliberately undertook a big campaign to make the Chinese ruling class opium addicts. This led to the two Opium Wars—1839-42 and 1856-60. In the first one the British Navy and Army defeated the Chinese and in the second one the joint British and French forces made the latter concede their demands.

In Latin America opium and cocaine production and smuggling to other countries of the world, in particular the United States, is a big cause of worry. The drug-cartels, right from Mexico to Brazil, have substantial control over the powers that be. These countries of Central and South America are notorious for crime and the nexus of drug-lords is spread to the United States too.

In Afghanistan, too, the drug culture started spreading after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. Gradually the drug was used as a weapon. As big money is involved in this racket different warring parties started giving concessions to poppy cultivation and thus would win over the support of the local farmers in the country which is otherwise not famous for agriculture and industrial production.

The drug menace soon crossed over to Pakistan and India. During the high time of Sikh militancy in Punjab a term ‘narco-terrorism’ came into being.

However, after the militancy was crushed in 1990s and opium production fell in Afghanistan after the first take over by Taliban, the Indian Punjab took some respite so far the drug smuggling is concerned.

But things started changing in Afghanistan where poppy cultivation once again started taking place after the US and NATO occupation. It is said that once again the new Western-backed establishment allowed or deliberately overlooked the growth of poppy and subsequent production of opium and heroin. This is obviously because the government in Kabul wanted to win the heart of more and more farmers in the country where there are few employment opportunities. All this used to happen under the nose of Western forces, which would sometimes destroy opium producing labs.

No doubt, Helmand province in the south was considered as the strongest bastion of the Western forces, possibly barring Kabul. Yet this province is famous for the poppy cultivation. Various local war-lords who were supporting the government were, in a way, given free hand so far drug smuggling is concerned.

But the US and NATO decision to gradually withdraw their troops from Afghanistan gave the Taliban an opportunity to re-group. The Western media and experts started alleging that the Taliban, who were starved of funds, too adopted the same strategy of earning money through drug-trafficking.

Now that Zabihullah Mujahid has sought international help in fighting the drug menace it is to be seen how sincere are the Taliban in fulfilling this promise.

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