01 May 2012

Opium Poppy Ban of 2000: Inside Trader Con

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

Just before the July 2000 autumn planting season was to begin, Mullah Omar announced a total ban on poppy cultivation. It represented the largest single cutback in illicit drug production ever. But as with so many things in Afghanistan, the truth was murkier. Almost overnight, the price of opium at Afghanistan’s border shot up from an all-time low of about $28 per kilo to between $350 and $400. And despite the ban on growing poppy, the Taliban made no effort to seize drug stocks or arrest traffickers. On the contrary, opium bazaars continued to do a brisk business.

The poppy ban was the ultimate insider trader con. The Taliban gambled they would win millions of dollars in international aid while top leaders sold off their opium hoards at far higher prices. Just before the ban, top Taliban leaders purchased huge amounts of opium. After four years of bumper crops, stocks of Afghan heroin were high enough to supply the European market for up to four more years.

The poppy ban sparked a humanitarian disaster, from which some Afghan farmers have never recovered. Hundreds of thousands defaulted on loans or were unable to make it through the winter months without credit and fled to the Iranian and Pakistani border regions. Many sold off land and livestock, even trading their unmarried daughters to poppy merchants to settle their arrears.

On September 11, 2001, the regional price of a kilogram of opium reached an all-time high of $746.

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