Clashes and protest in Badakhshan province after Taliban poppy clearance
The incident marked the second clash between farmers and the Taliban over poppy eradication enforcement, after a similar incident occurred in Nangarhar in April.
Cover image: A close-up of an opium poppy in Afghanistan. Photo ID 507016. 01/07/2005. Afghanistan. UN Photo/UNODC/Zalmai. www.unmultimedia.org/photo/
On April 3, 2022, Bakhtar News, a Taliban-controlled state news agency, reported the publication of a decree banning poppy cultivation throughout the country, warning that existing fields would be destroyed and their owners punished according to Islamic law. However, despite the announcement that the decree would be enforced immediately, the Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoIA) department only reported the clearance of poppy fields across seven provinces in Afghanistan between January and December 2022.
In 2023, the MoIA increased its activity against poppy cultivation in the country. Since January 2023, the MoIA Twitter account has published almost daily updates on actions taken against alleged criminals. In the first two weeks of May alone, the MoIA reported the destruction of poppy fields in 25 different provinces, as seen below:
Figure: Provinces in Afghanistan where poppy fields were destroyed, as reported by the MoIA.
On May 11, the MoIA published a press release claiming the anti-narcotics team cleared over 800 acres of land used for poppy cultivation across six provinces of Afghanistan. The statement mentioned various operations which took place in several districts of Badakhshan.
On May 14, Afghanistan International published a video allegedly provided by a Badakhshan resident. The footage, reportedly recorded on May 11 in the Darayem district, showed two Taliban vehicles with armed fighters on the road in front of a large group of civilians holding farming tools.
The caption on the video reported the incident as a “violent conflict between the Taliban and local people over the destruction of poppy fields”. According to the news agency, local sources claimed “at least three people were killed, and several others were injured” due to the confrontation. Although AW investigators verified the presence of weapons in the footage, the video did not show them in use.
According to 8am, an independent Afghan newspaper, the Taliban fired upon the protesters, who allegedly attempted to prevent Taliban fighters from destroying the poppy fields. The Independent Persian reported that the Taliban attempted to destroy poppy fields in the villages of Tergeny, Jangal Beit, Yaqeen Abad, and Khair Bey, all located in the Darayem district of Badakhshan province.
On May 12, Etilaatroz, an Afghan investigative news outlet, and Salam Watandar, a radio network, reported a clash between the local population and Taliban forces in the village of Doabah, also located in the Darayem district. According to their sources, the Taliban arrived at the location to destroy the poppy fields, and the farmers demanded payment for the damage. The conflict escalated, and the Taliban forces allegedly retaliated with gunfire killing four civilians and injuring five others. From the casualty numbers, it is likely the reports are referencing the same incident as above.
Posts from social media users from the Darayem district appeared to corroborate the information provided by the news agencies. On May 11, a Facebook user asked for details on the reported conflict. Dozens of users replied, claiming the Taliban clashed with the local population and killed various civilians during a poppy eradication operation. One user specifically mentioned that there were three deceased, one from Yaqeen Abad village, one from Khair Bey, and one from Tergeny village, and between four to five seriously injured.
AW investigators could not verify the number of victims of the incident or geolocate the footage shared by Afghanistan International. However, despite the lack of visual evidence, multiple sources claim the incident occurred in specific villages in the Darayem district, with fatalities and injuries.
The situation in Badakhshan province echoes a similar incident reported in Nangarhar, and highlights the potential for localised protest in response to poppy eradication efforts. On April 10, a large crowd of civilians clashed with the Taliban poppy eradication team in Nangarhar’s Achin district. The Taliban responded with gunfire, reportedly killing at least one farmer and injuring three others. As a result, the Taliban administration sent a delegation led by the provincial governor to visit the village. According to various reports, the Taliban delegation acknowledged the incident and offered money to the victims' families.