Two years after the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, the country’s drug trade is flourishing. The United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crimes has released a report stating that opium sales have tripled in 2022 alone, despite the Taliban’s efforts to crack down on the trade. Opium cultivation increased by 32% in the first year after the Taliban took control, with sales rising from $425 million in 2021 to $1.4 billion in 2022. The Taliban’s interior ministry spokesman, Abdul Mateen Qani, acknowledged that the industry cannot be completely eradicated within a short time but expressed confidence that a strategic four-year plan will effectively eliminate narcotics, including meth.
The rise in opium farming mirrors the growth in meth production observed during the U.S. withdrawal. Annual meth seizures in Afghanistan skyrocketed from 220 pounds in 2019 to 6,000 pounds in 2021. Experts point out that Afghans turn to meth production due to various reasons. Unlike heroin or cocaine, meth production does not require waiting for cultivation as it can be synthesized. Meth labs are mobile and concealed, making it easier to produce and distribute. Additionally, Afghanistan has the advantage of the ephedra plant, which is not found in major meth-producing countries like Myanmar and Mexico.
Although the Taliban has made efforts to crackdown on drug traffickers, primarily targeting the heroin trade, their campaign has had little impact. Afghan-made meth has been found being sold in Africa and Europe, highlighting the global reach of the problem. Drug addiction remains a significant issue in Afghanistan, with approximately 20,000 people currently hospitalized for drug addiction, according to an Afghan health official.
The release of the UN report coincides with the two-year anniversary of President Biden’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. The persistence of the drug trade raises questions about the effectiveness of the withdrawal and the ongoing challenges faced by the Afghan government.