Taliban face rare public uprising against their rule in northeastern Afghanistan


ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban leaders have threatened to militarily suppress unprecedented violent public protests in a northeastern border region against a nationwide ban on poppy cultivation.

The unrest erupted last Friday when the Taliban’s anti-narcotics forces began destroying poppy fields in Badakhshan province, prompting angry farmers to resist it with the support of local residents.

Multiple sources confirmed Sunday that Taliban security forces used firearms to disperse the demonstrators, killing two of them during the two days of protests.

Videos circulating on social media showed residents chanting slogans against reclusive Taliban supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada, who has banned poppy cultivation across Afghanistan through a religious decree. VOA could not ascertain the authenticity of the footage independently.

While Taliban authorities claimed Sunday the situation had returned to normal, residents said tensions were running high, and they were waiting for a high-powered government team to address their complaints.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an overnight official announcement that their army chief, Qari Fasihuddin, a Badakhshan native, would lead the team to thoroughly investigate the violence and circumstances leading to it.

Mujahid said that an anti-poppy campaign in Badakhshan was under way in line with Akhundzada’s decree to prevent the cultivation of the illegal crop and its smuggling.

“This decree extends to all regions without exception. Regrettably, there have been incidents where offenders attempted to attack the security forces involved in the fight against poppy cultivation, resulting in tragic events,” he said.

Fasihuddin reportedly warned on Sunday that he would be compelled to deploy additional military forces to “quell the rebellion” if the demonstrations persist. He reiterated the Taliban’s resolve to eradicate poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and vowed to achieve this goal, come what may.

Badakhshan and surrounding Afghan provinces are ethnically non-Pashtun regions. The province borders Tajikistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban, who represent the country’s majority Pashtun population, were unable to take control of these provinces during their first stint in power in the 1990s.

Following their takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban have successfully established control over all 34 Afghan provinces.

However, some experts argue that the public uprising in Badakhshan highlights the potential obstacles that the Taliban may face in maintaining their authority.

The international community has not yet formally recognized the Taliban government, citing its restrictions on Afghan women’s access to education and work, among other human rights concerns.

Afghanistan has faced dire economic problems since the Taliban takeover nearly three years ago. The Afghan banking sector largely remains isolated, and terrorism-related sanctions on Taliban leaders continue to deter donors from resuming financial assistance for development programs.

The restrictions have fueled unemployment and economic problems for the poverty-stricken country’s estimated 40 million population.

The World Bank noted in its latest report released on Thursday that the Taliban’s ban on opium cultivation precipitated a staggering $1.3 billion loss in farmers’ incomes.

Citing U.N. estimates, the report said that the opiate economy’s value has contracted by 90 percent, while the area under cultivation declined by 95 percent, costing Afghans 450,000 jobs at the farm level alone.

The World Bank report noted that Afghanistan’s economic outlook remains uncertain, with the threat of stagnation looming large until at least 2025. “For a sustainable future, Afghanistan needs to address harmful gender policies, invest in health and education, and focus on the comparative advantages it has in the agricultural and extractive sectors,” it said.

Afghanistan used to be the world’s largest opium-poppy producer until the Taliban imposed the ban on cultivation in early 2022.

The ban strictly prohibits the cultivation, production, usage, transportation, trade, export, and import of all illicit drugs in Afghanistan. Afghan poppy farming accounted for 85% of global opium production until recently, according to United Nations estimates.__VOA News