The Washington Post reported on May 2 that in Afghanistan, which has been a global hub for opium production for decades, now meth industry is growing at breakneck speed, stoking fears among Western experts and officials that, under the Taliban, Afghanistan could become a major supplier as demand rises globally.

Hundreds of meth labs have reportedly appeared in Afghanistan over the past six years.  According to independent experts, former government officials and drug traders, more are being built each month as the country’s economic crisis forces Afghans to find new sources of income. The vast majority of meth produced is for export, but an increasing number of Afghans are turning to it as their drug of choice, The Washington Post noted. 

The sudden boom in meth production reportedly came after drug traffickers discovered a potential bonanza in a native plant called ephedra — known here as oman — which grows wild and is a natural source of the drug’s key ingredient.

Sellers at the meth bazaar in rural western Afghanistan have long been free to ply their trade.  Local drug traders say the previous government largely turned a blind eye, and the Taliban have reportedly taken the same approach since coming to power. Though Taliban fighters sometimes inspect the market, they have not tried to shut it down.

“The only reason we are in this business is because there are no other jobs,” a drug trader was cited as saying by The Washington Post.  “Of course, if the economy gets worse, more people will start producing shisha (The Dari term “shisha”, which directly translates to “glass”, is a common street name for methamphetamine in Afghanistan – Asia-Plus),” he added

The Taliban issued its first formal ban on the growing, production and distribution of illicit drugs several weeks ago.  Yet there is widespread skepticism that the new leadership will eliminate a source of hard cash at a time when the country is almost entirely cut off from the global financial system.

“A significant part of the Taliban’s revenue comes from taxing illicit commodities, and drugs is one of those,” Andrew Cunningham, who heads the drug markets, crime and supply reduction branch at the E.U.’s European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, was cited as saying by The Washington Post

A number of reports, including the one by the independent U.S. watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, say that during nearly 20 years of war, U.S. and NATO-led efforts to eradicate opium production in Afghanistan were found to be some of the least effective and most wasteful operations.

Many opium exporters are now moving meth, using existing infrastructure, routes and bribery schemes to reach neighboring Iran and Pakistan, according to The Washington Post.