A senior spokesman for the Taliban has denied that he is in Pakistan, after one of his tweets located him there.
Zabihullah Mujahid appeared to have had his location tagged to his Twitter updates on Friday, labelling him as being in “Sindh, Pakistan”.
He dismissed the location as an “enemy plot”, tweeting that he was definitely in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is often accused of having covert links with the Taliban, an allegation it denies.
After Twitter users noticed the labelling, he tweeted: “My Twitter account has been manipulated – as part of weak efforts of enemy plot, it showed that I am based in Sindh of Pakistan, I call this attempt as fake and shame [sic].”
“Now, the enemy’s fake act has been exposed, and with full confidence, I can say that I am in my own country.”
His exact location is a secret. However, many Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to seek shelter in neighbouring Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s opium economy provides more employment — “up to 411,000 full-time-equivalent jobs” — than even the country’s armed forces, according to a quarterly report released today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The country’s poppy cultivation is at an all-time high, covering more than 200,000 hectares, another SIGAR report found earlier this month.
Opium and its derivatives are the country’s largest export, worth $3 billion in 2013, an increase from $2 billion in the year before.
In fact, Afghanistan’s opium production has been on a constant uptick since 2010, according to a chart included in the SIGAR report:
“Counternarcotics Appears To Have Fallen Off The Agenda”
Despite the rampant growth of an illicit drug economy that stokes corruption and even finances the Taliban, the concern over opium has diminished. The US and its partners seem to have given up on opium eradication as a goal in the country. As the SIGAR report notes, it isn’t even mentioned in “the declarations and communiqués from the conferences on Afghanistan reconstruction that have become a mainstay of the international effort.”
Opium cultivation is paid only “oblique reference” in the 2012 document laying out the country’s reconstruction. Indeed, nowhere in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework do the words “poppy” or “opium” appear, even as the industry plays an ever-bigger role in the life of Afghans.
Meanwhile, appropriations for the Department of Defense’s Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities Fund (or DOD CN) have plummeted since a steady climb in the aughts and a peak in 2012. Since 2002, the US has spent nearly $7.8 billion trying to tackle Afghanistan’s opium problem.
This chart shows how that effort recieved less and less US budgetary attention, at the same time opium production in the country increased:
According to FP: Afghanistan remains awash in opium, despite $8.2 billion in American taxpayer dollars spent since 2002 to curb its rampant drug production and trade, a U.S. reconstruction watchdog concluded.
FP writes that the country’s own drug use rates remain among the highest in the world, according to a new quarterly report by the congressionally mandated Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.
A 2014 World Drug Report by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime confirmed Afghanistan again leads the world in opium production and for the third consecutive year saw more land being used for poppy farming — a record 520,000 acres — despite U.S. efforts.
Not only is Afghanistan yet again the world’s largest grower and producer of illegal opium. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime representative Jean-Luc Lemahieu says it also has more than one million drug users.
For most of the last twenty years, Afghanistan has been the world’s largest opium producer; in 2000, the country accounted for roughly 70 percent of the world’s heroin supply.
Then in 2001, the Taliban banned poppy, citing Islamic prohibition against drugs, and wiped out 99 percent of the country’s production of the crop.
The prohibition caused near economic ruin in rural areas. Some farmers tried to replace the poppy with wheat, which requires more water, and in the spring of 2001, many questioned whether the Taliban could enforce the ban for another year.
Afghanistan’s southern provinces, which have been disproportionately affected by the recent surge in violence, continued to drive overall production, with a 27% increase in yields.
Afghan opium continues to flood drug markets, including 90 percent of Canada’s supply and 85 percent of the worldwide market, according to the SIGAR report.
Yet hardly any Afghan heroin makes its way to the United States, despite the growing appetite for the drug. Overall, the U.N. found that Afghan heroin accounted for only 4 percent of drugs sold in the United States.
Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of Afghanistan’s Balkh Province, says he has forged an alliance with the unlikeliest of candidates — former rival warlord and First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum — in order to combat the Taliban in the country’s restive north.
Noor, speaking exclusively to RFE/RL on June 23, said the two political heavyweights had set aside old rivalries to fight against the Taliban and other militant groups active in the region.
“This alliance is meant to bring peace and security to the region and push back our enemies,” said Noor.
The alliance between Noor’s Jamiat-e-Islami party and Dostum’s Junbish party is unprecedented, given past hostilities.
Dostum — an ethnic Uzbek former militia leader — and Noor — an ethnic Tajik who has ruled Balkh for the past 12 years — were locked in fierce battles for control of the north during the country’s devastating civil war in 1992-96.
Fighting continued after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 until a power-sharing agreement was signed three years later, in which Noor was given control of Balkh.
As violence spreads across the country’s north amid a major Taliban offensive that began in April, Noor told RFE/RL that many northern provinces were in danger of being overrun.
The 50-year-old said with the two sides united, he was confident of inflicting a “powerful blow” to the militants.
Noor, a former mujahedin commander, said the two sides were “coordinating Afghan security forces in the provinces to repel enemy attacks.”
The governor said the sides were working with the full support of the central government and that they were taking steps to “reinforce the alliance.”
The Taliban launched their annual spring offensive in April with attacks in the provinces of Kunduz and Badakhshan, where the militants captured several districts.
Afghan security forces have managed in many areas to beat back the militants, recapturing territory lost to the Taliban.
In the latest fighting, Afghan forces on June 23 recaptured a key district close to Kunduz’s provincial capital, repelling Taliban fighters who had threatened to overrun their first provincial capital since being toppled from power in 2001.
Noor said he had sent soldiers and police from Balkh to join local government forces in Kunduz.
This year’s Taliban offensive marks the first fighting season in which Afghan forces are battling the insurgents without the full support of U.S.-led foreign combat troops.
Noor said Afghan forces were capable of fending off the Taliban, but said “stronger leadership” was required on the part of the central government.
He said the “weakness of the government” was partly to blame for the soaring insecurity in the north.
Noor’s relations with Kabul have been tense in the past and the governor has accused Kabul of neglecting security threats in northern Afghanistan.
On Monday, as the Afghan parliament gathered to endorse new Defense Minister Masood Stanekzai, a car driven by a suicide bomber exploded outside. After the initial attack, gunmen attempted to storm the building.
It was a truly audacious attack, yet live video footage from inside parliament as the explosion hit shows Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, the speaker of the lower house, remaining calm despite the danger around him.
Even as dust fell from the roof, Ibrahimi tells his fellow politicians it is an electrical problem. “Don’t get scared,” Ibrahimi said.
Ibrahimi has been speaker of the lower house since 2011 and he has personally been affected by suicide bombs before – in 2013, it was reported that his father, brother and nephew were killed along with their guards after a suicide bomber struck the end of a match of buzkashi, a polo-like competition in which players on horses try to drag a goat carcass over a goal.
Born in 1962, Ibrahimi fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets after their invasion of Russia during the 1980s. He first won a seat in parliament in 2005, according to Pajhwok Afghan News.
Despite his appeals for calm, lawmakers fled parliament as more blasts and gunshots were heard. Karim Amini, a journalist with Afghanistan’s TOLONews, tweeted images that showed the evacuation.
The interior ministry say that security forces were able to repel the gunmen when they tried to storm the building, and that all attackers were now dead. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.