It has been more than a year since the Taleban banned the cultivation of cannabis and the production and trafficking of cannabis resin, known as hashish, in areas of Afghanistan under their control. The Taleban put a great deal of effort into formulating the ban, consulting Islamic scholars and various of their commissions before issuing a decree from the Taleban Supreme Leader in March 2020. This report looks at whether and how the ban was implemented using field research conducted by AAN’s Fazal Muzhary in five districts of Ghazni and Paktika, and sample interviews with farmers and others elsewhere. The research, which took place before the Taleban captured power nationally in August 2021, provides a useful context for considering future Taleban policy on narcotics. Narcotics are important, not just because of their significance to the Afghan economy and many people’s livelihoods, but also their contentiousness – both for potential donors and an avowedly Islamic administration. A farmer working on a cannabis plantation in Panjwayi district, Kandahar on 13 October 2021 - no ban here. Photo: Javed Tanveer/AFP
The author conducted field trips to five districts in Ghazni and Paktika in March 2020 and November 2020, and made follow-up telephone interviews there and in other provinces, up to July 2021. Four of the districts which this research focuses on – Andar, Giro and Nawa in Ghazni province and Dela in Paktika, were mainly under or completely under Taleban control in 2020. The fifth district, Gilan in Ghazni, was split between Taleban and government control. By July 2021, all the government-controlled areas of these districts had fallen to the Taleban.
Highlights of the Report
- Research details the active implementation of the Taleban ban on cannabis cultivation in the southeast of Afghanistan in the 2021 growing season, with farmers seeing they had no choice but to obey the decree.
- Cannabis cultivation in the southeast is a recent phenomenon and one often pursued by farmers who had moved there to grow cannabis using solar panels to power tube wells, some on land ‘grabbed’ from the state. Some were Taleban commanders.
- Research also showed that the Taleban did not implement the ban in areas under their control in the major cannabis-cultivating provinces of Kandahar, Nangrahar and Balkh.
- To put 2020 ban on cannabis in context, the report looks back briefly at earlier attempts to prohibit narcotics in Afghanistan from 1973 onwards, with a particular focus on how the Taleban dealt with narcotics during their first emirate, in particular bans on cannabis (1999) and opium (2000).
- The report details the tremendous efforts the Taleban expended in formulating the 2020 ban: the leadership consulted Islamic scholars for a religious ruling, or fatwa, and worked through various of their commissions. It also considers the inconsistency of the arguments given by the Taleban for banning cannabis, but not opium.
- A conclusion looks at how local price falls may have helped the Taleban implement the ban in the southeast, and asks whether the ban might be maintained, extended, or quietly forgotten in 2022.
Setting the scene: greening the desert with cannabis in Paktika and Ghazni
In Nawruz 2020, the start of the Afghan new year, the author was visiting Dela district of Paktika province and found most of the desert land under cannabis cultivation. Every half a kilometre, 25 to 35 solar panels could be seen set up over a relatively-recent dug well. Next to each well was an improvised storehouse, typically a couple of rooms, covered with a tarpaulin. Just days earlier, the Taleban had issued a ban on growing cannabis, but neither farmers and other locals, nor the author, nor the wider world had yet heard of it.
The previous year’s cannabis crop was hanging from the ceilings of the storehouses and after several months had dried out completely and was ready to be threshed and sieved. This process makes a powdered cannabis resin, locally known as garda. Some farmers sell the garda to traders. Others go on to process it into resin – hashish, or locally chars – before they sell it on. Since the quality of garda deteriorates after only a couple of months, most Afghan farmers sell the complete harvest before that happens, as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) has reported.
On that same trip, the author travelled to four districts in Ghazni province, Andar, Giro, Gilan and Nawa (see map below) and found cannabis also being grown. All the districts were then mainly or completely under Taleban control (Andar, Giro and Nawa in Ghazni province and Dela in Paktika) or split between Taleban and government (Gilan). All would fall completely to the Taleban from July 2021 onwards.
News of the Taleban decree prohibiting cannabis cultivation and the production and sale of hashish first came just days after the author’s visit, on 28 March 2020, on the pro-Taleban website, Nunn.Asia.
A return trip was made to the five districts in late November 2020 to see whether and how the ban had been implemented. On that return trip, the author found that the cannabis sown in spring 2020 had been harvested, that is, the Taleban had not immediately implemented the March 2020 ban. However, he also found that the farmers who had grown cannabis the previous year had sown their fields with winter wheat. If they had wanted to grow cannabis again, they would have left those fields empty; cannabis, unlike wheat, is a spring-sown crop. Wheat had been sown in the Loya and Kuchni Chula areas of Dela, in Spin Tak and Hazrat Shah bazaar areas of Gilan, in the Kuchni Nawa area of Nawa and in the Asgharai area of Giro district. A local man, who worked mainly as a driver, said the difference from previous years was stark: if the author had visited those areas 12 months previously, he would have seen vast areas of land left empty, ready to be sown with cannabis the following spring. The author’s conclusion was that the Taleban ban on growing cannabis had been implemented and obeyed, in these districts, at least.
Cannabis cultivation is a relatively new phenomenon in Ghazni and Paktika – neither province is renowned for its hashish, unlike Balkh, Nangrahar or the province currently growing the current most expensive and best-quality cannabis, according to illicit economies expert David Mansfield, Takhar. Interviews with farmers in Ghazni and Paktika conducted in November 2020 bore out the impression of a crop recently taken up – and now banned. One farmer, for example, 65-year-old Samad Khan (name changed for his security), whom the author met in Nawa’s district town, said he had returned temporarily from the Kuchlagh area of Baluchistan in Pakistan and had been growing cannabis on 20 jeribs of land in his village (one jerib is roughly equal to 0.2 hectares). He had also opened a car repair shop. He said that cannabis cultivation in the previous years had proved more profitable than mending cars, and was not difficult. “Everyone learned how to grow cannabis from each another,” he said. For him, however, the 2020 growing season would be his last because cannabis was “definitely banned for 2021.… Its cultivation [in the future] will be impossible.” He said some people might grow it for personal use only, for which half a jerib or one jerib of land would be more than enough. When asked about people’s reactions to the ban, he said, “No one can challenge Taleban policy. They will apply it everywhere.”
Another farmer, a 70-year-old man living in the Spin Tak area in Gilan district said that in 2021, he and other people in his area were planning to “cultivate wheat, alfalfa, barley, maize or beans on our land.” Other local men told the author that the Taleban had held meetings in spring 2020 to inform people of the ban. A civil society activist from Gilan, Aminullah Bahar, said his village elders had gone to a meeting in the bazaar in Jahangir, the district town of Gilan. He said the Taleban had told the elders that cannabis cultivation was haram – forbidden under Islamic law – and was therefore banned. In the Kuchni Chula area of the Dela district, two brothers, the owners of around 20 jeribs of land, who had migrated from Logar, said local Taleban leaders had also told them to stop growing cannabis. “It will be impossible to cultivate it in 2021,” one said, “so we have sown wheat this autumn [of 2020].”
That cannabis is an illegal crop in Islam appeared to be accepted by all interviewees. The part-time farmer and car mechanic, Samad Khan, for example, himself a user of hashish, accepted it was haram: “If you doubt it’s haram, you doubt your belief in Islam.” Therefore, he said it was good that the Taleban had banned it. Other interviewees said that money earned from cannabis cultivation was not ‘good money’, meaning legitimate income. A landowner in Dela gave the example of what happened to his neighbour to make this point: the neighbour, he said, had made 2,000,000 Pakistani rupees (roughly 12,500 USD) from cannabis, but just a few days later, he was broke. It was because the income from cannabis was haram, he said, that the neighbour did not know how or where he had spent the money. It had “disappeared from his pockets quickly.”
Some curious aspects of cannabis cultivation in Ghazni and Paktika
The author was interested to discover that many of the now ex-cannabis farmers in the districts of Ghazni and Paktika, which are the main subject of this study, had come from other provinces and had been renting land. For example, two brothers encountered in Dela had migrated from Logar province to cultivate cannabis. There were also people from Kandahar in Dela, whom locals said were cannabis cultivators and hashish smugglers. A businessman from Nawa, who now lives in Kabul, also told the author that farmers had migrated from Kandahar and other provinces to his home district to cultivate cannabis.
There are also cases of people grabbing what is called ‘uncultivated’ or ‘state’ land, usually where there is no proven landowner (see page 32 of this AREU report for a full explanation) and renting that land to farmers from other provinces to grow cannabis. This had been the case, according to several interviewees, in the Nawa and Aab Band districts of Ghazni and Khoshamand district of Paktika. One Nawa resident, who owns a business in Kabul, told AAN that land grabbing and renting had started in his district two or three years previously, with farmers installing solar panels to power wells for irrigation. This technology, introduced originally for opium poppy cultivation in the desert areas of the southwestern region (see this AREU report) has been developed and adopted throughout the country since and not only for the opium poppy. As for returns on the land, the resident said that in the past, such land could not be cultivated and had no monetary value except for grazing animals. That changed with irrigation. Another Nawa resident, speaking in November 2020, explained that with a well that could irrigate 15 jeribs, tenants could be easily found and financial arrangements made. Once the season was over, he said the farmer would give the solar panels and the well to the landlord in lieu of rent. In other areas, landlords were given 1,000 seers of wheat (around 143 kilogrammes) as rent for one jerib for the season. As to the profits made, one Nawa resident said some people in his district had made 300,000 to 350,000 Pakistani rupees (roughly 1,870-2,181 USD) for each jerib rented out, a considerable sum.
Residents in all the districts visited by the author said that both local Taleban commanders and fighters had been actively involved in cannabis cultivation and trade in hashish, prior to the ban. Interviewees told AAN that local Taleban commanders had, for example, cultivated several jeribs of land in Spin Tak, the desert between Gilan and Nawa districts. During the author’s visit to Khwajakhel and Kalawoo in Nawa district, some residents even named the commanders who had cultivated cannabis.
Also featuring in the interviews conducted in November 2020 were indications that, even before the ban, many farmers had not been keen, or had become less keen on cultivating cannabis. This had nothing to do with religious considerations, but the nature of the crop. While producing hashish does not require much expertise, farmers said it is time-consuming and labour-intensive. Also significant – and this theme will be explored in depth below – is that farmers reported that the price of hashish had fallen considerably in 2020. However, it may be that, at the time of year when farmers were deciding what crops to grow in 2021, cannabis had become a less attractive crop to grow regardless of the ban. No one in the districts visited by the author were intending to defy the new Taleban ruling. On the face of it, it looked like the Taleban had successfully stopped the cultivation of cannabis locally. The next question was whether they were enforcing the ban in other areas of Afghanistan then under their control.
Are the Taleban enforcing their ban in other districts and provinces of Afghanistan?
A full nationwide survey was beyond the scope of this report. However, the author did conduct some sample interviews in November 2020, either face-to-face or by phone, with people in other districts of Paktika, Logar and Paktia provinces, to get a flavour of what was happening elsewhere in the south-western region. Interviewees also reported that the Taleban had allowed local farmers to grow cannabis in 2020 and for the crop to be processed into garda and hashish, and that the ban would start in earnest in 2021. In Paktia, people said they had seen a copy of the Taleban ban. There were also indications, however, that in some places, not all farmers were obeying the order not to grow cannabis, or that the Taleban had not informed them of it. In Paktia’s Aryub Zazi district, civil society activist Anwar Seddiqi told AAN he had seen a copy of the cannabis ban in his village mosque in the spring of 2020 and that around “70 per cent of farmers have stopped growing cannabis.” The other 30 per cent, he said, were “demanding assistance to switch to alternative crops” and said they would not stop cultivating cannabis until they were given support. He said that key to the 70 per cent of farmers opting not to grow cannabis in 2021 was not only the Taleban’s ban, but also a decision reached by tribal shura that had possibly been inspired by the Taleban’s ban.
The author also carried out some sample interviews with farmers in other cannabis-growing provinces in summer 2021. In Chimtal district in Balkh province, two farmers and a businessman reported in July 2021 that they had heard only been rumours of a Taleban ban on cannabis; nothing official had been seen or said. One of the farmers said such rumours were rife also in Chaharbulak and Balkh districts. The Taleban had been present in the rural areas of all three of these cannabis-growing districts before the collapse of the Republic government and Taleban takeover.
The author also spoke to one farmer in a Taleban-controlled area of Nangrahar’s Sherzad district where most farmers were cultivating cannabis in June 2021. “No one’s been told in the Taleban-controlled part of our district not to cultivate cannabis,” said the Sherzad farmer. “It’s just a rumour that the Taleban have banned cannabis cultivation.” He himself had cultivated cannabis on three jeribs of land in 2021 and said he planned to sow cannabis again in 2022.
In Panjwayi district of Kandahar province where most of the farmers grow cannabis, the then district governor, Haji Mahmud, told AAN on 12 July 2021 that he had never heard of a Taleban ban on cannabis. He said people had cultivated cannabis and they would cultivate it again. However, a local researcher said on 15 July 2021 that people had decided that, because the Taleban might return to Panjwayi, and to neighbouring Maiwand and Arghandab districts and might ban cannabis, most farmers had cultivated less cannabis in 2021 than previous years.
None of the interviewees in Balkh, Kandahar or Nangrahar, all major cannabis-growing provinces, reported the Taleban actively announcing and enforcing their ban in the way they had in Ghazni and Paktika.
The author asked Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed about the very mixed implementation of the ban on 28 July 2021. He insisted that Taleban fighters in all areas had told farmers that cannabis cultivation was now banned. “If it is cultivated somewhere,” he said, “that is in violation of the ban.” He also said Taleban governors had said “they had banned it and were not allowing. If cultivation is found, [the crop] will be destroyed.”
Despite Mujahed’s insistence, it is clear that the ban has been only patchily implemented. As was explained above, Ghazni and Paktika had been fairly new to cannabis cultivation; cannabis was a novel crop there which was not a major revenue source for the community. This, combined with the Taleban’s solid control over many districts in these two provinces, may have meant it was relatively easy to ban. As yet, it seems the Taleban have not tried to stop farmers with a long history of cannabis cultivation in provinces such as Nangrahar, Kandahar, Balkh from growing this narcotic crop.
In order to explore the current Taleban ban more thoroughly, this report now looks at previous attempts to ban cannabis and hashish, and also opium poppy, and then explore the painstaking way the Taleban built up their case for the ban, by consulting religious scholars (ulema) and involving various of their commissions in drawing it up. It then returns to the question of the nature of this ban. That narcotics are banned under Islamic law is nothing new and if cannabis is banned on religious grounds, why not opium, and anyway, why try to ban cannabis in 2020/2021?
Previous attempts to ban cannabis
Cannabis regulation has been an important feature on Afghanistan’s counter-narcotics agenda, although it has always come second to opium, a more commercially-valuable crop and a more dangerous narcotic. In 1973, Afghanistan’s King Zahir Shah outlawed cannabis production, following it up with a commitment to eradication – backed by 47 million USD in funding from the United States government (see this AAN report). In line with the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, during Dr Najibullah’s presidency, a law prohibiting the “illicit trafficking of narcotics and psychotropic substances” was approved and published in the official gazette on 20 January 1992. This law referred to ‘psychotropic substances’ as listed in the 1988 convention.
During the Taleban regime, cannabis also became a focus of attention. In September 1997, the Taleban’s State High Commission for Drug Control (SHCDC) declared that farmers “should strictly refrain from growing, using and trading in hashish and heroin” (quoted by David Macdonald in his 2007 book “Drugs in Afghanistan: Opium, Outlaws and Scorpion Tales”, p80).
The Taleban’s first attempt to officially ban cannabis cultivation came in a three-article decree signed by Mullah Omar and in the official gazette on 30 April 1999. The first article stated, “Cannabis cultivation is absolutely banned. If anyone cultivates cannabis, they will receive the harshest punishment under sharia.” The second article instructed all provincial governors to take necessary steps to prevent cannabis cultivation. Four months later, on 18 August 1999, the Taleban leadership issued a second decree, which legalised the destruction of hashish-processing workshops. It authorised the Minister of Vice and Virtue and his staff to “destroy hashish and hashish workshops, wherever they are.” It also instructed other officials to cooperate with this ministry as needed. As a result, Macdonald reported, “34 drug processing workshops in Nangrahar were allegedly destroyed with a further 25 destroyed in Helmand the following year” (p80).
On 25 June 2000, Taleban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar signed a new and much more substantial anti-narcotics decreecontaining six chapters and 28 articles. It banned the cultivation, processing, production, sale, buying, smuggling and other uses of both poppy and cannabis. It also focused on the rehabilitation of addicts, spoke of providing alternative facilities for farmers, requesting the ulema, elders and other influential figures to support and attract international assistance in this regard. The decree stated that the Taleban would destroy any poppy fields found in areas under their control during the 2001 growing season. This ban would also apply to any territory seized from the Northern Alliance. In February 2001, the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) – now called the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – declared that the ban on opium poppy cultivation was successful and that the 2001 crop in Taleban-controlled areas was expected to be negligible.
This ban was the Taleban’s first real effort to reduce opium production. In 1999, they had ordered poppy cultivation to be reduced by one-third, but this had not happened. There was surprise then, when observers, including AAN colleague Kate Clark, then the BBC correspondent in Afghanistan, found in the winter of 2000 that the Taleban were strictly enforcing the ban; this was not just propaganda. It was certainly ambitious, the first time, noted Bernard Frahi, then head of the UNDCP office in Pakistan, which also had Afghanistan in his remit, that “a country has decided to eliminate in one go – not gradually – these crops on its territory” (quoted here).
Whether the ban would have lasted is debateable – it was extremely unpopular in opium-growing areas, the very parts of Afghanistan from which the Taleban drew soldiers and support. Moreover, the harm done to many farmers by the 2000/2001 ban was profound. Those in debt found it difficult to survive the winter without the promise of an opium harvest and were forced to default or reschedule their seasonal loans. Some had to resort to selling land, livestock and even marrying off very young daughters to service their debt (see here). Its success in terms of drugs control was also subsequently questioned (see, for example, Bill Byrd’s scrutiny of the Afghanistan’s opium drug economy published in 2004).
In any case, by the following sowing season, winter 2001/02, the Taleban government had fallen. Hamid Karzai, new head of the transitional government, did issue a new, seven-article decree banning both poppy and cannabis cultivation, on 4 April 2002 (although the word ‘cannabis’ was included in the 2002 law’s title, there were no further references to cannabis in the articles), but his government could not or did not want to enforce the ban on either narcotic crop. President Ashraf Ghani approved the current anti-drug law passed on 24 February 2018, the third counter-narcotics law since 2001 (see this AAN report). The 2018 law penalises both poppy and cannabis cultivation, as well as a variety of other substances.
Under both Taleban and post-Taleban governments, the main thrust of counter-narcotics talk and action has been taken has been against opium poppy. Cannabis, while mentioned, has never been the focus of action or attention. In 2020, however, the Taleban have only banned cannabis. The next section of this report looks at how they introduced the ban and at the pre-ban measures they took, especially their consultation with ulema.
The new Taleban ban on cannabis
Before issuing the ban, the Taleban had first asked its commission that rules on religious issues, the dawat wa ershad – invitation (to Islam) and guidance commission, previously known as the vice and virtue department – for help in obtaining a fatwa, a religious ruling based on sharia law, on cannabis. This is significant because once there was a fatwa, it would be more difficult for people to justify ignoring the ban. The commission referred the issue to the Taleban’s Dar ul-Eftah (the house of fatwas), whose religious scholars sent a questionnaire to several clerics in different districts and provinces, mostly in Taleban-controlled areas. For example, a local imam in Ghazni’s Andar district, who is a member of the Taleban’s district fiqhi majles (jurisprudence council) that meets to discuss issues related to Islamic jurisprudence and answer religious questions from the public (read this AAN report about living with the Taleban in Andar, for details), was among those receiving the questionnaire. He told AAN the main issue was whether “selling, cultivating and profiting from cannabis” was religiously permissible.
Asking their advice gained the approval of those mullahs who had been against cannabis cultivation. They praised the Taleban for taking action against the narcotic crop. As one interviewee, a local mullah and schoolteacher said, now the local mullahs could say that the Taleban had listened to them and would be satisfied. Local mullahs are an effective mechanism for the Taleban to deliver messages to the population. This is a well-oiled propaganda machine that spreads the word of the Taleban to nearly every mosque, where the mullahs work as imams, in their respective districts and provinces. As one mullah told AAN, “The mullahs prove more effective than the media.”
When asked about the stance of Hanafi jurisprudence regarding cannabis, another member of the Fiqhi Majles told AAN that selling, transporting, planting and processing cannabis was haram because the prophet had “forbidden every intoxicant and slanderer.” Quoting Syrian religious scholar Wahbah al-Zuhayli, he said that smoking hashish was harmful to both the smoker and to others and this was illegal in Islam. He said a small amount was allowed for medicinal use. The opinion of the mullahs consulted, that cultivating and profiting from cannabis was haram, paved the way for the Dar ul-Eftah to issue a fatwa, which then underpinned the decree and its implementation. Taleban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, told AAN that it took six months to get the fatwa from Dar ul-Eftah. The mullahs’ religious consensus that cannabis was haram was entirely to be expected and could hardly have surprised the Taleban. What it gave the Taleban, however, was a religious legitimacy to their ban.
The movement also sought, spokesman Mujahed told AAN, information about who was growing cannabis, how it was used, how many addicts there were and what people thought about it and whether there were complaints or concerns. He said the Taleban complaints commission and Dawat wa Ershad commission were both involved in the fact-finding and sent a written report to the Taleban supreme court. Another report by an ‘investigative team’, looking at the financial benefits of cannabis was also sent to the court, he said, which, “with the help of the Dar ul-Eftah, analysed the effects and side effects” of cannabis production. The court approved the Dar ul-Eftah fatwa stating that cannabis cultivation is illegal and sent it to the current Taleban leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada for final approval. “Once the leader signed [the fatwa],” said Mujahed, “he issued a decree, which was sent to the Dawat Wa Ershad commission. The military commission will support this commission [Dawat Wa Ershad] if the use of force is required.”
The March 2020 decree (see Annex 1) gives as a reason for the ban the harm done to compatriots who become addicts and the need to protect the community and future generations, as well as that the crop is haram. It couches the ban in words of guidance: farmers are to be “encouraged and motivated to refrain from planting cannabis and cultivating this destructive crop and instead to cultivate beneficial and harmless crops” and tribal and local elders are “encouraged to make decisions to comprehensively prevent cannabis cultivation and the hashish businesses in their areas through community-based agreements.” Yet it also says the cultivation of cannabis is “definitely” or “absolutely” banned (mutlaq). It also, unequivocally, bans the renting out of state land for cannabis cultivation and also warns Taleban officials to avoid involvement in its cultivation and the transport and trade in hashish. The decree is not yet accompanied by secondary legislation, which would provide details on fines and penalties. The only clearly stated punishment relates to Taleban commanders or fighters who, according to the decree, will be removed from their positions if they are found to be in violation of the ban.
Mujahed told AAN that, based on their experience of banning opium in 2000/2001, the Taleban were confident they could successfully implement the new decree. “In 2001,” he claimed, “we had gradually banned drug production and we have adopted a similar attitude for the current policy.” The 2000 poppy ban was actually sudden and comprehensive and about as far from gradual as it is possible to imagine. There had, on paper, supposedly been a gradual cutting down of cultivation in previous years, which presumably is what Mujahed is referring to, but that reduction was never implemented, as AAN colleague Kate Clark, then with the BBC, reported at the time. Nevertheless, Mujahed said they were adopting the ‘2001 gradual model’ by allowing all farmers who had already planted cannabis to harvest their crops in 2020, but telling them they would not be allowed to cultivate cannabis in 2021.
In 2000/2001, the Taleban were able to ban poppy because of the uncompromising nature of their law enforcement practices and their unquestionable authority in areas under their rule. The 2020 decree carries a far less punitive tone than the counter-narcotic laws adopted during Taleban regime and there is also no explicit punishment for ordinary farmers and landowners who break it. Nonetheless, Mujahed insisted that, to enforce the ban, they would call on the military commission to help if force were needed.
Why did the Taleban ban cannabis – and not opium?
Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told AAN there were several reasons why they had introduced the ban. First, he said, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) is against any drug production in the country and therefore, when the Taleban were in power in 2001, it brought drug production, including hashish, to zero.” The statement is questionable: the Taleban seek out benefits from the drugs trade, in particular by their systematic and rigorous taxation of opium (see, for example, AAN reporting here and here.
Mujahed also said the Taleban had been pushed to act by the increased use of cannabis among young men, given how widely available cannabis was. Farmers in Nangrahar, Logar, Paktika, Ghazni, Khost, Paktia and some districts of Zabul had been cultivating cannabis for commercial purposes, he said and it was being used as an illicit drug, not for medicinal or other (Islamically legal) purposes. He said the increased use of hashish among young men was an ongoing concern in communities and this was a significant driver behind the Taleban making the ban. Taleban local courts, he said, had consistently received complaints from people in different provinces about the use of hashish among young men in their communities. This may well be the case. On the author’s field trip, civil society activist Aminullah Bahar from Gilan district of Ghazni province, told AAN that drug use was pervasive not only in his district, but also in Moqur, Nawa, Aab Band, Giro, some districts of Zabul as well as neighbouring Paktika, where, Bahar said, communities have reported that there are girls, boys and women, as well as men, use hashish, heroin and other substances. News reports have also covered this issue, for example, on 4 April 2020, Azadi radio reported that residents in Ghazni province had complained about young people using hashish. The 2015 Afghanistan Drug Use Survey (the last year for which statistics are available) reported that between 2.5 and 2.9 million Afghans or 11 per cent of the population used drugs, with around one-third of them using cannabis. Speaking to AAN, the Taleban spokesman attributed the increased use of hashish among the young to the widespread cultivation of cannabis and the simplicity of producing hashish (see this AAN report about the process here and here.)
Mujahed said the harm done by cannabis was the reason given by local Taleban leaders to major landowners in areas under Taleban control in meetings held in 2020 to brief them about the ban: “We told them that if your economy is going to improve by destroying the lives of the youth, then you must forgo the financial benefits.” Again, however, the use of opium and other poppy derivatives is also a problem in Afghanistan and indeed is far more dangerous in its effects on individuals and communities. It is not clear, therefore, why the Taleban have singled out cannabis as particularly problematic.
Mujahed did say they would like, in the future, also to ban opium, but considered it too difficult to carry out a ban at this time because, he said, farmers had made significant investments in poppy cultivation. He argued that it was easier for farmers to stop growing cannabis because it does not need such investment. He also said that, as the Taleban were neither in power, nor in a position to provide an alternative to farmers for poppy cultivation, they had decided not to ban poppy. However, again it is difficult to see how, in this instance, cannabis differs from poppy: where cannabis or poppy has been grown on previously uncultivated land with wells dug and solar panels bought, both have required an investment. Where cannabis or poppy was grown on land that was already irrigated and cultivated, each crop is as easy to stop cultivating as the other: both sown yearly, so are easy to start and stop cultivating, unlike, for example, orchard crops.
Indeed, all the reasons Mujahed gave for banning cannabis apply also to poppy. None of his answers were convincing as to why the Taleban have singled out one narcotic crop and not the other. However, in practical terms, it would make sense to start with the crop is less widely grown and less economically important for farmers and traders. Banning poppy would be more destructive of people’s livelihoods, cut more deeply into Taleban revenues, require more political capital to implement and have far more potential to damage local support for or acquiescence to Taleban rule. Such reasoning would also explain why the Taleban did not enforce the ban in the 2021 growing season throughout Afghanistan; banning cannabis where it is a major source of revenue for farmers would have been difficult and required more political capital than the Taleban had.
Why have farmers obeyed the ban?
During the author’s visit to the districts in Ghazni and Paktika in November 2020, interviewees reported that there had been no challenges to the ban. Those who had been growing cannabis said 2020 would be their last year and they would sow a different crop in 2021. The most common reason given was the Taleban ban. The farmers we spoke to felt that disobeying the ban was not an option for them. However, they also mentioned other reasons as influencing their decision not to grow cannabis: the low price of hashish, the returns not being as great as from other agricultural products, the hard work of turning dried cannabis into resin and being involved in something they already knew to be haram – although such claims of piety are typically given by farmers who have no choice but to stop growing a narcotic crop.
On what they said were falling prices, without specifying a time period, interviewees speaking in November 2020 said that, ‘in the past’, the price of a kilo of hashish had been far higher – they mentioned prices of between 20,000 and 28,000 Pakistani rupees (123 to 172 USD) per kilo and said it had dropped to between 4,000 and 10,000 Pakistani rupees (24 to 61 USD). In Nawa’s district town, where the author saw several shops selling hashish in the last week of November 2020, the price of one kilogramme of hashish was between 3,500 and 5,000 Pakistan rupees (roughly 22-32 USD).
Whether this price fall was local or national is an important piece of the puzzle, but difficult to determine. That the price of hashish has generally been falling is borne out by figures collected by the then Ministry of Interior and earlier the UNODC, although the trend appears to be on a much-longer time-scale, over the last decade (prices from 2005 to 2020 supplied to AAN by UNODC). The data does not show prices falling as precipitously as the interviewees suggested, although it only goes up to August 2020, so ending a little before the period when farmers would have been making their decisions on which crops to grow in 2021. However, illicit economies expert David Mansfield said he also had reports of falling hashish prices in places such as Nimroz (trafficked, rather than grown) – 48 USD per kilo in March 2021, down from 80 USD per kg in summer 2019 – and in Nangrahar – 50 USD per kilo for good quality hashish in 2021, down from 120 USD per kilo in 2019.
Surveying the price of hashish is tricky. As Mansfield pointed out to AAN, the price data collected by the Ministry of Interior between May 2020 and May 2021 showed “contrasting trends, with prices falling in Nangrahar and Baghlan, Badakhshan, while rising in Kandahar, Faryab, Balkh and Herat.” He said part of this could be to do with methodology and problems with collecting data reliably, but price also varies markedly between provinces, reflecting, he said, “the realities of differing qualities and markets.” In the five districts featured in this study, reporting on prices was consistent, that prices had fallen. One farmer who rented land from local landowners, for example, told AAN how he had lost money in 2020. He estimated that one kilogramme of hashish had cost him 10,370 Pakistani rupees (roughly 66 USD) to produce, but he could only sell it for 3,500 to 5,000 rupees (roughly 22-32 USD). Costs included paying workers and providing meals, renting land, buying fertiliser and tarpaulins and digging a well. When the author asked him whether he would cultivate cannabis next year, he covered his ears with his hands and said: “I regret it and I will not cultivate it next year because I cannot afford all the expenses. This is my last year of renting land and cultivating cannabis.”
Our interviewees could only speculate about the falling prices, that some producers were adulterating hashish, or legalisation of cannabis in the west – so that you can buy hashish “as easily as grapes”– both dynamics which, they thought would reduce demand and prices. Others spoke of the effect of the disruption to smuggling routes caused by the pandemic; again they thought this might make hashish more expensive for customers and therefore reduce demand – although the evidence is against this: Mansfield wrote in May 2020 that during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was still “business as usual” for the smugglers.
Whatever the reason behind the falling price of cannabis and its products, and the subsequent low profit margins in the areas the author visited, this does appear to be one reason why farmers in these districts decided to grow other crops in 2021. Lower prices may have contributed to the success of the Taleban ban there, if there was disinclination to grow the crop anyway. Recalling the case of the highly effective 2000/01 Taleban ban on opium poppy, at that time, the price of wheat was high and opium low. These price dynamics supported the Taleban ban on growing poppy. Yet the movement still had to put political capital into banning the narcotic crop to stop all production. Of course, the opposite is also true: a ban that reduces the cultivation and supply of hashish should eventually push prices back up and encourage cultivation again.
Most of the farmers we spoke to, except those who had invested heavily in making desert land cultivatable, were fairly sanguine about the ban. Ghazni and Paktika are not known for growing cannabis, so it could be that farmers who had cultivated it for a few seasons when it seemed opportune found it relatively easy to switch to other crops. What was curious, however, was how much effort the Taleban had put into formulating this edict – getting the support of the ulema and the Taleban’s own commissions – and into implementing it in the districts visited in Ghazni and Paktia, while apparently shying away from demanding farmers in provinces with a longer, established history of growing cannabis stop growing the crop.
Days after capturing Kabul, Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told a press conference (media report here) that the Taleban would be banning narcotics: “There will be no drug production, no drug smuggling. We saw today that our young people were on drugs near the walls; this was making me very, very sad that our youth are addicted.” However, there appeared to be a catch in his promise; would the ban only take place if there was support from international donors? Mujahed went on to say: “Afghanistan will not be a country of cultivation of opium anymore, but we need international help for that. The international community needs to help us.”
Given the colossal economic shocks – the cut-off of aid, end to the dollar supply and freezing of state assets (see this AAN report) that have assailed Afghanistan since the Taleban takeover, it would be economic and political suicide for the new regime to ban one of the country’s few successful exports. No more has been heard about banning narcotics and Taleban spokesman Mujahed did not respond to AAN’s request for an interview about narcotics. That having been said, the Taleban have begun their rule with a decree, supported by a fatwa, prohibiting cannabis and hashish already in place. Whether they will want to expend the political capital needed to maintain their ban in the southeast of Afghanistan, let alone extend it to more provinces, or, as seems more likely, quietly forget they ever enacted the ban in the first place is a topic to be followed.
Edited by Kate Clark and Jelena Bjelica
Annex 1: AAN translation of the Taleban decree banning cannabis cultivation
Date: 1441/8/4 (29 March 2020)
Serial No: 86/5
In the name of God
Instructions from the Islamic Emirate’s leadership for the prevention of cannabis cultivation.
The increased cultivation of cannabis has resulted in many countrymen, particularly the youth, becoming addicted and the number is increasing daily, which is a tragedy for the community. The provisions below will be strictly implemented to protect the new generation from addictions of any kind and misdeeds:
(A) In all parts of Afghanistan, farmers are encouraged and motivated to refrain from planting cannabis and cultivating this destructive crop and instead to cultivate beneficial and harmless [crops].
(B) Tribal and local elders are encouraged to make decisions to comprehensively prevent cannabis cultivation and the hashish businesses in their areas through community-based agreements. As a result, the cultivation [of cannabis] is definitely banned.
(C) The commission for Dawat Ershad and the commission for recruitment, through the respected ulema, for the purpose of public awareness, will give evidence-based sermons to the general public about the harm done by cannabis, hashish and other intoxicants as well as about it being haram.
(A) Whoever is renting Emirati land (land belonging to the Emirate, or simply desert or state land) do on the condition that they do not cultivate cannabis.
(B) People from one area who are renting land in another area for cannabis cultivation are absolutely banned from cannabis cultivation.
(C) The commission for agriculture and livestock and the commission for usher and zakat should pay complete attention to this issue to ensure that the ban on cannabis cultivation is enforced.
Article Three Emirati officials and members must keep themselves away from this bad bush, from its cultivation, business and its transportation. In case of violation, the officials involved should be removed from their positions and be introduced to the relevant Emirati entities.
This article was last updated on 26 Nov 2021