Until recently, most of the heroin on the world market was produced with the Afghan poppy. BBC correspondents, who traveled to Afghanistan and studied satellite analysis, witnessed that the current leaders of the "Taliban" movement were more successful than their predecessors in the fight against poppy cultivation.
An Afghan man named Abdul (representative of the Taliban) with a Kalashnikov assault rifle on his left shoulder and a large stick in his right hand, uses all his might to hit the top of the poppies, after which the crop emits a pungent smell. spreads around.
With incredible speed, Abdul and dozens of his companions destroy the poppy crop covering the small field in minutes. The Men wear shalwar and kamzul (traditional Afghan tunics and wide trousers) and all of them are armed, to protect themselves from the owners of the fields who may resist them.
After completing one field, they get on the back of a truck and head to the next.
This is the anti-narcotics squad of the Taliban movement in Nangarhar province, located in the east of Afghanistan. Less than two years ago, these people were rebels. And now they have won, obeying the orders of their leader and with authorities.
In April 2022, the supreme leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Okhundzo, issued a decree strictly prohibiting the cultivation of opium, the main component of heroin. Anyone who violates the prohibition will have their fields destroyed and punished according to Sharia law.
Taliban officials told the BBC that the strict ban was imposed because the harmful effects of opium on the population and its distribution were contrary to their religious beliefs.
Wheat instead of poppy
Afghanistan produced more than 80% of the world's opium. Heroin produced from Afghan opium makes up 95% of the European market.
Now, the sharp decrease in poppy cultivation in large regions is noticeable even with the naked eye. The same thing is shown by images taken from space.
"In 2023, the annual yield of poppy in the country may decrease by 80% compared to last year. Crops are likely to be 20 percent less than in 2022. The scale of the reduction is expected to be unprecedented," said David Mansfield, a leading expert on the Afghan drug trade at the British satellite analysis company Alkis.
Instead of poppies, farmers are planting wheat in their fields, but it is less profitable form and many say they are struggling financially. And some still violate the ban.
When the Taliban squad came to destroy farmer Ali Muhammad Mia's poppy field, he watched in shock as pink flowers, green seed pods and broken stalks fell to the ground.
Photo: Ali Muhammad Mia / BBC
Ali Muhammad Mia explained why he grew poppies despite the ban.
"If there is no food in your house, if your children are hungry, what else can you do? If we grow wheat, we would get only a fraction of the income we get from selling opium," he said.
How does the Taliban feel about destroying the source of income for their starving people?
"This is the order of our leader. We are so loyal to him that if he orders my friend to hang me, I will surrender to my friend," said Turkhan, the commander of the patrol squad in Nangarhar.
Helmand province in the south-west was once the poppy center of Afghanistan. More than half of the country's opium is produced there. Last year, when BBC reporters were there, they saw fields planted with poppies, but this time there are no crops.
Graphic: Helmand poppy cultivation has collapsed - shows two satellite pics of the province (2022 and 2023) demonstrating the fall-off in poppy farming
Alkis analysis shows that poppy cultivation in Helmand has decreased by more than 99%.
"High-resolution images of Helmand region show that poppy cultivation has decreased from 129,000 hectares last year to 1,000 hectares," says David Mansfield.
The local residents of Helmand say that they are barely making a living, and that there is no help from the government.
Graph: How poppy cultivation in Helmand has fallen (shows drop from 51.9% of crops in 2022 to 0.4% in 2023)
The spokesman of the Taliban government, Zabihullah Mujahid, explained what the interim government of Afghanistan is doing to help the people as follows.
"We know that people are very poor and suffering. But opium does more harm than good. Four million out of 37mn people in our country suffer from drug addiction. This is a huge number. As for the alternative way of life, we want the international community to help the Afghans who are suffering."