The supreme leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban declared Sunday that their campaign against illicit drug production in the country had eradicated the cultivation of opium poppies, which are used to make morphine or heroin.
Hibatullah Akhundzada's declaration follows recent media reports and satellite images backed by the United Nations and the United States, concluding that annual poppy cultivation has "significantly" decreased in the world’s biggest opium producer.
The reduction is credited to a decree issued by the reclusive Taliban chief in April 2022, which strictly prohibited the cultivation, production, usage, transportation, trade, export, and import of all illicit drugs in Afghanistan. The ban allowed anti-narcotics Taliban units to eradicate poppy farming across the impoverished war-ravaged country, which accounted for 85% of global opium production until last year, according to United Nations estimates.
"As a result of continued efforts of the Islamic Emirate, the cultivation of poppy has been eradicated in the country," the Taliban chief said in his statement in connection with the annual Islamic Eid al-Adha festival later this week. He used the official name of the Taliban government.
"Farmers are looking for alternatives as legal cultivation continues to grow. Many citizens, especially the [Afghan] youth, are now saved from being exposed to harm," Akhundzada stated.
Last week, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan told a U.N. Security Council meeting that there was "growing evidence" the Taliban’s opium poppy ban had been "effectively enforced," decreasing the cultivation "significantly" in many parts of the country.
"At the same time, the opium economy has helped sustain parts of the rural economy in Afghanistan. Donors should consider allocating funding to alternative livelihood programs that address the specific needs of farmers affected by the ban," Roza Otunbayeva told Wednesday's meeting in New York.
Thomas West, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, in a June 7 tweet, also hailed the reduction in poppy cultivation.
"Reports that the Taliban have implemented policies to significantly decrease opium poppy production this year are credible and important. Every country in the region and beyond has a shared interest in an Afghanistan free of drugs," West wrote.
The international recognition of counter-drug efforts by the Taliban stemmed from new research and analysis published earlier this month by a geospatial analytics firm Alcis.
The studies noted that recent satellite images show an "unprecedented" decrease in the cultivation of opium poppy in the country, with cultivation in the largest-producing southern provinces down by at least 80% compared with last year.
"The Taliban have successfully reduced poppy cultivation by more than 99% in Helmand province, which previously produced more than 50% of the country's opium," the report said.
Otunbayeva, briefing the U.N. Security Council members on Wednesday, said, however, that the Taliban’s sweeping restrictions on women’s access to work, education, and public life at large "obscure" their "positive achievements" such as countering narcotics and "the welcome reduction of high-level corruption" in Afghanistan.
She renewed the U.N. call for the fundamentalist authorities to rescind the curbs immediately.
Akhundzada has rejected calls for removing restrictions on women as interference in internal Afghan matters, saying their policies are aligned with local culture and Islamic law, or Sharia.
The Taliban chief reiterated his defiance in Sunday's Eid message, asserting that his decrees have restored "the status of women as free and dignified human beings.” Akhundzada added that he had instructed all government institutions to help women secure marriage, inheritance, and other rights.
"Under the rule of the Islamic Emirate, concrete measures have been taken to save women from many traditional oppressions, including forced marriages and their Sharia rights have been protected. … The negative aspects of the past 20-year occupation related to women's Hijab and misguidance will end soon,” Akhundzada said without elaborating.
The Taliban regained power in August 2021 after waging a deadly insurgency for almost 20 years against the U.S.-led NATO troops protecting the internationally backed former Afghan government in Kabul.
No foreign government or global organization has recognized the Taliban as a legitimate government over restrictions on women and girls, among other human rights concerns.
"I am blunt about the obstacles they have created for themselves by the decrees and restrictions they have enacted, in particular against women and girls," said Otunbayeva on Wednesday. "We have conveyed to them that as long as these decrees are in place, it is nearly impossible that their government will be recognized by members of the international community,” she added.