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Afghans on High

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Guest Urbanhog
Afghans on high


OBEYING a Taliban edict, many cannabis cultivators stopped growing the plant used to make hashish when the hard-line Islamic militia was in power. Now some of those farmers are back in business.


They're so open about it that fields of sturdy cannabis plants, some more than 2m tall, line part of the main road leading west from Mazar-e-Sharif, the biggest city in northern Afghanistan.


With the main harvest expected in one to two months, growers in the roadside village of Khana Abad, 30km from Mazar-e-Sharif, say they'll ignore government warnings to tear up their crops.

``Maybe it isn't good for our people, but we have to do it because of our economic problems,'' said Rouzudin, a farmer who said he heard the warnings broadcast on the radio only after investing a large sum in his hemp plot.


Rouzudin might just be able to harvest his leafy, dark green crop without state intervention.

Since the Taliban was ousted in a US-led war last year, Afghanistan's new government and the United Nations have focused anti-drug efforts on eradicating opium-bearing poppies, which are used to make heroin.

Afghanistan was once the source of 70 per cent of the world's opium, much of it originating in the south of the country. The Taliban successfully banned poppies in 2000, but farmers quickly planted them again after their ouster.


During the harvest earlier this year, the government offered compensation money to farmers who abandoned opium, but many reaped their harvest anyway.


Cannabis, on the other hand, is less of a priority, even though Afghanistan, especially the northern part, is a major producer.


There is widespread hashish consumption in the country, and smugglers ferry the drug through Iran and to markets in the Gulf, Europe and beyond.

The United Nations has conducted surveys of poppy crops, but has not done so for cannabis. The focus on poppies possibly reflects the view of international donors that heroin is one of many more urgent problems in a country ravaged by almost a quarter-century of war.


Cannabis plants are widely grown in at least three of the 16 districts in Balkh province, which is home to Mazar-e-Sharif.


Local authorities have sent letters to villages urging farmers to desist from growing the illegal crop, but they have yet to decide how and when they will crack down.

``The farmers have planted this stuff like smugglers, like gamblers [and] we don't know how much there is out there,'' said Saheed Azizullah Hashmi, head of the province's agriculture department.


He said many people associated with the hashish trade were linked to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.


However, cannabis thrived well before they held sway over much of Afghanistan, and local commanders with large landholdings reportedly benefit from its cultivation.

Rouzudin and his fellow farmers made no effort to hide their cannabis plants, which loom over nearby cotton bushes. The two crops are interspersed along the road leading to Shibergan, the headquarters of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek commander and powerful political figure in the north.


Farmer Majid Gul said he could get five million Afghanis (A$227) for a kilogram of hashish -- 200 times more than what he earns for the same amount of cotton.

``When we're ready to sell, people in big cars will come from the bazaar in town,'' he said. ``We don't know who they are, we just want the money.''


Source: AP


Source: Tasmanian Country

Edition 1 -FRI 13 SEP 2002, Page 002


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