Poppy Wars

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Farmers and residents in Afghanistan’s northeast staged unprecedented public protests over the weekend against a ban on opium poppy cultivation, a move met with military crackdowns by Taliban leaders, Voice of America reported.

The Taliban banned poppy cultivation in early 2022, months after they took over the entire country. Their anti-narcotics campaign contributed to a $1.3 billion loss in Afghan farmers’ income.

After Taliban forces started destroying poppy crops in Badashkan province, farmers and local residents took to the streets, with social media footage showing people chanting slogans against Taliban Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.

The rare expression of public outrage was met with a violent response from security forces. Sources told VOA that law enforcement used firearms to disperse crowds and killed two people.

Army chief Qari Fasihuddin, a native of the region who investigated the incident, warned that further demonstrations would be suppressed.

Meanwhile, angry residents said they were awaiting answers to their complaints.

Afghanistan was once the world’s largest opium poppy producer. Akhundzada’s religious decree banning the plant’s cultivation has aggravated the poverty levels in Afghanistan which have increased since the Taliban retook control three years ago.

The Taliban’s ban on opium cultivation has seen the sector contract by 90 percent, according to a recent World Bank report, costing 450,000 jobs at the farm level.

Meanwhile, Badashkan and surrounding provinces, home to Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities, were not controlled by the Taliban when the group led the country in the 1990s. Analysts said that last weekend’s protests signaled obstacles to the Taliban’s control. The Taliban is mainly made up of the country’s Pashtun majority.

The international community has not recognized the Taliban government, criticizing breaches of human rights, including restrictions on female’s access to education.

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