Fixing the market; how Taliban officials control the supply of opium and keep prices soaring

The Taliban banned cultivation of opium poppies and other narcotics in April 2022. But according to a recent UN report, in 2022, poppy farmers had their most profitable returns in years, with cultivation a third higher than the previous year. 

Afghanistan supplies 80 per cent of global opiate demand, the UN report said.

The Helmand province’s southernmost district of Bahram Chah, near the Pakistan border, is the opium trading capital of Afghanistan these days, with its markets bustling with bags of opium paste changing hands. Prices have soared since the Taliban announced the ban.

Before the ban, the price of 1 kilogram of opium was around 90,000 Pakistani rupees ($394) across Helmand. The price for the same amount in Bahram Chah yesterday, 13 January, was 157,900 Pakistani rupees ($692). In Bahram Chah, as every district in Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and other poppy growing provinces, buying and selling opium have gone on unimpeded. 

Some farmers have never stopped cultivating poppy. They have walled around their plots to hide their crops. A farmer in Kandahar told KabulNow that he would wait until the spring and if the ban was being as loosely enforced, he will seed his land. “Dealers encourage farmers to sell. But farmers try to only sell enough to get through the month, knowing next month’s prices will be higher,” he said.

“In Kandahar, the Nurzais, the Pashtun sub-tribe Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Hibattulah Akhundzada, belongs to, have almost total control of the market. They distribute to other provinces and neighbouring countries,” a local source told KabulNow.

Some farmers have obtained permission from their local Taliban officials. Some have received advanced payments to pay for fertilisers for their next crops. “It depends on who controls the district,” our source told us.

Before the ban was announced, Taliban commanders and officials went around buying opium from farmers and traders, helping the prices to go up. Taliban government officials in Helmand, a source told KabulNow, invest their salaries on opium. They know the prices will keep going up. “They control the market,” our source told us.

Tarinkot, the capital of Uruzgan province, is home to two large opium markets. One of the markets is located next to the provincial governor’s building, where powerful dealers are based. Some days, a kilogram of high-quality opium paste can go as high as 300,000 to 400,000 Pakistani rupees ($1315 to $1754).