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Truthout - August 19, 2021

Just months before the Taliban became an enemy in the war on terror, President George W. Bush’s administration declared the fundamentalist rulers of Afghanistan an ally in the global “war on drugs.”

In early 2001, narcotics officials in the United States praised a ban on poppy cultivation instituted by the Taliban that appeared to wipe out the world’s largest crop of opium poppies in a year’s time, even as aerial images raised suspicions about large stockpiles of heroin and opium on Afghanistan’s northern border. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a $43 million gift to the Taliban that was broadly seen as a reward for banning opium cultivation even as farmers were hammered by a drought. Poppies, which produce a sap used to make opium, heroin, and other painkillers, are one of the only Afghan crops that grow well during drought. Observers feared famine would grip the countryside. Meanwhile, critics of the Taliban’s harsh laws and brutal oppression of women and girls were furious at the Bush administration for supporting the regime.

Taliban leaders declared drug production a violation of Islamic law and promised farmers international aid. Farmers complied out of faith, obedience and fear of going to prison. However, the Taliban’s motives appeared to be anything but religious. Afghanistan was increasingly seen as a pariah state on the international stage, and the Taliban craved the legitimacy that came with support of the U.S. The ban also drastically inflated the price of opium, allowing the Taliban and other traffickers to liquidate existing stockpiles at a premium.

...The drug war in Afghanistan was enmeshed within a larger nation-building project and plagued with the same corruption and cultural incompetency that ultimately doomed the $145 billion attempt at forcing the country to become a Western-style democracy. For years, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has served as the government’s watchdog and meticulously documented the unraveling of the U.S. mission in regular reports to Congress. In 2018, SIGAR reported that not a single counter-drug program undertaken by the U.S., the Afghan government or coalition allies resulted in a lasting reduction in opium production. ...
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