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Taliban men destroy opium plants — first time since 2001

Taliban fighters have destroyed fields of opium poppies in eastern Afghanistan. It is the first time since 2001 that the hardline Islamist group is known to have clamped down on the cultivation of a drug that provides a big part of its funding.

world Updated: May 21, 2012 23:38 IST

Taliban fighters have destroyed fields of opium poppies in eastern Afghanistan. It is the first time since 2001 that the hardline Islamist group is known to have clamped down on the cultivation of a drug that provides a big part of its funding.

While the insurgents appear to have dug up a relatively small area of poppies in a remote area near the border with Pakistan, the move was so unusual it won a chorus of praise from the Afghan government and international organisations, whom the Taliban consider their enemy, as well as senior clerics.

“They just did what the constitution ordered,” said Wasifullah Wasifi, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Kunar, where the eradication took place.

“The provincial governor really appreciates what the insurgents did. From the perspective of Islam it is forbidden and a crime to grow drugs,” Wasifi said, adding that nearly a hectare had been destroyed by the Taliban in the province’s Manawara district, in addition to a far larger amount eradicated by the government.

The country representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, Jean-Luc Lemahieu, confirmed that the Taliban had uprooted poppy fields in Kunar, and said he hoped the “rare event” might presage a stronger approach to controlling drug production.

“We welcome this new approach and would hope that this is not a one-time exception but that the Taliban, and others alike, would take a principled stance against the narcotics business,” he said.

Afghanistan has for years produced the vast majority of the world’s opium, with only a brief break in 2001 when the Taliban government, which had previously relied on the crop to bolster its coffers.

But opium production has flourished since the group was toppled in 2001.