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The Azadi Briefing: Opium Sold Openly In Afghanistan, Despite Taliban Ban

Opium is traded at a market in Helmand Province. (file photo)
Opium is traded at a market in Helmand Province. (file photo)

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe for free, click here.

I'm Malali Bashir, senior editor for women’s programs at RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The Taliban banned the cultivation, production, and trafficking of all illicit narcotics in April 2022.

But opium markets continue to operate as usual in many areas, including in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, where most of the country’s opium is produced, according to locals who spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Syed Najibullah Ahmadi, a former Afghan anti-narcotics official, said drug traffickers amassed large “strategic stockpiles” of opium ahead of the ban and are now “selling it at many times the price.”

Experts have said that the Taliban has taxed narcotics producers and been involved in the trafficking of narcotics to neighboring countries, from where they end up in Europe and North America.

The Taliban has asserted that it has significantly reduced opium production, a claim that has been backed by some experts. Even as opium production appears to have decreased, Afghanistan has become a major supplier of other narcotics, including crystal meth.

Why It's Important: The continuing sale and trafficking of narcotics has raised questions about the Taliban’s commitment to stamp out drugs in the impoverished country.

Ending Afghanistan's status as one of the world's biggest producers of narcotics has long been a priority for the international community.

In a statement on July 31, the U.S. State Department said Washington had “registered serious concerns regarding continuing trafficking and sale of processed opiates and synthetic drugs” in talks with Taliban officials.

What's Next: The Taliban is likely to face increasing pushback from poppy farmers in Afghanistan as it fails to provide them with alternative livelihoods and crops.

"We used to grow poppies and use that money to provide for our needs,” said a farmer in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, who spoke to Radio Azadi on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “If you destroy our crops, then you have to give us wheat, fertilizer, or money, so that we can continue to live.”

The Week's Best Stories

Draconian Decrees: The Taliban's Restrictions In Afghanistan

Since seizing power two years ago, the Taliban has imposed restrictions on every aspect of Afghans’ lives, including their appearances, freedom of movement, the right to work or study, and access to entertainment and uncensored information.

The Taliban’s notorious religious police have enforced the new laws, often violently, in many areas. Those who violate the Taliban’s morality laws can be subject to public floggings, jail, or even death.

Islam Does Not Ban Girls' Education. So Why Does The Taliban?

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where teenage girls are not allowed to go to school, even though girls and women have a right to education under Islam. So why has the Taliban -- a militant Islamist group -- banned girls from attending school after sixth grade? Part of the answer lies in the Taliban's interpretation of Islam, experts say.

What To Keep An Eye On

The Taliban has announced that it has registered more than 100 madrasahs, or religious schools, across Afghanistan.

Zar Mohammad Haqqani, a Taliban official, said 124 madrasahs were granted permission to operate, while another 30 were likely to be registered soon.

An unknown number of unregistered madrasahs are believed to be operating in the country.

Why It's Important: Since the Taliban takeover, there has been a surge in the number of madrasahs in the country. The militants have vowed to build a vast network of madrasahs across the country's 34 provinces.

The move is seen as part of efforts to root out all forms of the modern secular education that thrived in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the Taliban's first regime.

The Taliban-run madrasahs promote extremist religious instruction, raising fears that it could radicalize a new generation of Afghans.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have. You can always reach us at

Until next time,

Malali Bashir

If you enjoyed this briefing and don't want to miss the next edition, subscribe for free here. It will be sent to your inbox every Friday.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

To subscribe, click here.