With Afghanistan's opium output now breaking all previous records, it seems that hashish continues to remain an important sideline for the country's warring factions—and to hear the US tell it, it's the ultra-puritanical Taliban that are responsible for it. A Dec. 18 press release from NATO Special Operations Command boasts of the& seizure of 34 tons of "raw hashish" (presumably meaning herbaceous cannabis) and 300 kilograms of "processed hashish" in a raid carried out jointly with the National Interdiction Unit of the Afghan police force.
NATO's Afghanistan Special Mission Wing provided air support for Afghan Counter-Narcotics Police in the raid on what was called a "Taliban drug cache" in Mohammed Agha district, Logar province. The hashish was destroyed on site in what was described as "one of the largest narcotics seizures that the SMW has supported."
US commanders took the opportunity to portray the Taliban as a mere criminal enterprise. "First, the Taliban is not a popular insurgency," said Gen. John Nicholson, NATO's Operation Resolute Support commander, during a Pentagon press briefing quoted in the statement. "So we believe that the Taliban, in some ways, have evolved into a criminal or narco-insurgency. They are fighting to defend their revenue streams. They have increasingly lost whatever ideological anchor they once had."
A second such haul was reported Jan. 1, when commandos from the Afghan army's 7th Special Operations Kandak conducted a night raid on a Taliban "Red Unit" compound in Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand province. The commandos reported seizing and destroying over 1,000 kilograms of hashish in the raid, "denying $3.4 million of illegal drug trafficking revenue to the anti-government insurgency."
The Taliban's "Red Units," believed to number some 300 fighters, are the rebel army's own special forces, said to be responsible both for especially critical attacks, and for overseeing the dope-for-guns pipeline that fuels the insurgency.
And on Jan. 10, the Counter-Narcotics Police of Afghanistan announced16 arrests in a wave of busts across four provinces—Kabul, Kandahar, Baghlan and Herat. The raids scored 69 kilograms of hashish, as well as smaller quantities of opium, heroin and morphine. Foreign currency totalling $4,500 was also reported to have been seized in the raids.
Hashish exports from Afghanistan are on the increase, and seizures within the country are invariably labelled as "Taliban hashish." The Taliban in their years in power between 1996 and 2002 were of course ultra-puritanical, and hash-smokers were publicly flogged. Now that they are in insurgency, however, they've turned to the dope trade to subsidize their guerilla war.
Ironically, ISIS, which has also now established a foothold in Afghanistan, has been taking the same propaganda tack as NATO, attempting to tar the Taliban competition with the narco stigma, and portraying themselves as keepers of the flame of an ultra-puritanical Islamic fundamentalism. They can preusmably afford to do so because they've been bankrolled by the black-market oil industry run by the "Islamic State" in northern Iraq and Syria. With ISIS now being driven out of its erstwhile heartland in Iraq and Syria, this may be changing. ISIS may be the next to sully themselves with cannabis.
But, as with opium, it would be naive to assume there aren't also officials and warlords on the Afghan government side that have got a hand in the hash trade.