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Protests in Badakhshan: Deadly clashes over poppy field destruction

On 3 and 4 May 2024, protests in Badakhshan's Darayim and Argo districts erupted after clashes between locals and Taliban counter-narcotics teams over the destruction of poppy fields, resulting in deaths and ongoing protests despite Taliban attempts to resolve the issue.


24 May 2024

The Taliban banned the cultivation of narcotics in April 2022, warning those violating the rule would be dealt with according to Sharia law. The Taliban’s Deputy Ministry of Counter-Narcotics, operating under their Ministry of Interior Affairs, regularly posts updates on the implementation of this decree and efforts around poppy field destruction across the country. 

In recent efforts to eliminate plantations in Badakhshan’s Darayim and Argo districts, on 3 and 4 May 2024, the Taliban faced resistance from local populations, which led to violence and two deaths. Following the clashes, locals engaged in protests, demanding the Taliban take accountability for those who were killed; locals also called on the Taliban to replace its current counter-narcotics teams with local recruits. AW notes that this is not the first time that locals in the Darayim district have clashed with the Taliban over poppy cultivation; similar incidents were reported in several district villages in May 2023.

On 3 May 2024, videos began circulating on social media, showing groups of men protesting in the Darayim district. In the videos, protesters can be seen marching and carrying a body, while chants of “death to the Emirate” can be heard. Another video showed a gathering of protesters where a number of people are seen standing and delivering speeches.

According to 8am Media, on 3 May 2024,  residents of Darayim district’s Qarluq village clashed with Taliban forces. Local sources told AW that a Taliban counter-narcotics team had arrived in the area to destroy poppy fields. In response, the local population – including women and children – started throwing stones at the officers, who retaliated with aerial gunfire. Sources stated that, as the locals retreated to their houses, Taliban officials followed, and arrested them. These initial clashes reportedly led to the killing of one local resident and the injury of 10 others. By following residents to their houses and arresting them, the local population felt as though the Taliban had violated their privacy; this likely resulted in larger subsequent protests, in which residents denounced the counter-narcotics team’s actions, as well as the invasion of their privacy.

As the protests continued in Darayim on 4 May 2024, reports emerged of another protest in Badakshan’s Argo district. This protest was reportedly triggered by the Taliban’s firing on local residents in the Ganda Chashmah village, who had also resisted the destruction of poppy fields. In a video of the protest, shared by Independent Persian, a crowd of hundreds of local residents can be seen protesting as heavy gunfire is heard nearby; a few individuals can be seen throwing rocks in the direction of the gunfire, likely in an attempt to hit Taliban officials who had opened fire. Etilaatroz reported that a man named Basit had been killed in the shooting, while five others were injured. 

On 5 May 2024, Rukhshan Media reported that protesters had obstructed the route between Faizabad city and Argo, and prevented a Taliban delegation from entering the Argo district. 

On 13 May, reports and footage of another protest in the Argo district emerged on social media. According to Azadi Radio, locals in the Barlas village protested and clashed with the Taliban forces as they commenced to destroy poppy fields in the area. Videos surfaced on X, showing crowds of people, including a number of women, amid sounds of firing. Taliban forces can then be seen leaving the scene in two vehicles. Afghan media reported three protesters as dead and 15 injured in the incident. AW recorded videos of people allegedly carrying those shot by the Taliban.

The figure below shows the location of where the three protests took place in Badakhshan province. The first reported clashes between the local population and armed Taliban took place in Qarluq village on 3 May, followed by Ganda Chasmah on 4 May, and lastly on Barlas village on 13 May.

Figure: Location of the villages in Badakhshan province where protests and clashes between the population and armed Taliban took place in May 2024.

Following these incidents, there were reports of the Taliban cutting off access to telecommunications services, and arresting dozens of people in the Argo district. Furthermore, Etilaatroz reported on 16 May that the Taliban had started house-to-house searches in Barlas to identify the protesters and arrested at least 12 people.

The Taliban’s response

To address the protests, the Taliban reportedly formed a delegation to meet with protesters, led by the Taliban’s Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Qari Fasihuddin Fitrat, who hails from Badakhshan province. According to Amu TV, on 6 May 2024, around 35 protesters were “forcefully” taken to Faizabad, Badakshan’s capital city, to meet Fitrat. 

Ahead of the meeting on 7 May 2024, an audio message, attributed to Fitrat, surfaced on X (formerly Twitter), in which he reiterated the Taliban’s decision to eradicate poppy plantations in the area, and noted that clashes with local populations would not shift this decision. He added that if the Taliban were permissive of protests, it would likely embolden local populations to violate Taliban edicts in the future. AW investigators confirmed that the audio message contains Fitrat’s voice.

Later in the day, in an interview with Amu TV, Fitrat announced that the issue had been resolved, and claimed that farmers, local elders, and the ulema had committed to cooperating with Taliban forces in the eradication of poppy cultivation. Taliban Spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid also posted Fitrat’s interview on X, and wrote in another post that the tensions were resolved, that the local population had pledged to help the Taliban in eradicating poppy cultivation, and that victims of the Taliban’s violence would be taken care of. 

Although the Taliban claimed the discord has been resolved, quoting sources on the ground, Amu TV reported that the meeting with the Taliban delegation ended without an agreement; moreover, sources told the outlet that the Taliban threatened protesters with “torture and imprisonment.” Then, on 8 May 2024, Amu TV reported that, contrary to the Taliban’s claims, the protests in Darayim and Argo districts had not ended. 

Similarly, on 8 May 2024, Afghanistan International reported that the Taliban had deployed fresh troops to Badakshan’s Darayim, Argo, and Jurm districts. Quoting local sources, the outlet reported that the Taliban could not accommodate all the new forces in government buildings, and housed some in mosques. In another video, shared by Afghanistan International, on 9 May 2024, a man claims Taliban forces were deployed forces inside the Argo Congregation Mosque to suppress the protests; in the video, troops can be seen within a compound. Amu TV reported on 9 May 2024 that the Taliban cut off telecommunication services in all parts of Darayim and Argo districts. 

Meanwhile, 8am Media reported that the Taliban had moved Pashtun forces out of the Argo district and stationed them near the airfield in Faizabad city. This aligns with a BBC Persian report, which claimed that the Taliban’s Ministry of Interior agreed to replace counter-narcotics forces in Argo and Darayim districts with local recruits, in response to demands from the protesters. Media reports also indicate that the Taliban delegation promised to offer financial compensation to the families of the protest victims, however, authorities did not elaborate further. 

As the protest continued in the Argo district’s Barlas village, the Taliban reportedly quelled the unrest by arresting a number of protesters, following an episode of violence that ended up in the killing of three and injury of 15 people.  

Despite the resistance and tensions, the Taliban reportedly continue to eradicate poppy plantations in Badakhshan, clearing more than 5,000 acres of land in Darayim and Argo districts as of 16 May 2024.

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