Narco Polo: Taliban’s Drug Policy Was More Humane Than US’s


I always enjoy Rob Arthur's Narco Polo comics. Rob is the author of an interesting book called , You Will Die: The Burden of Modern Taboos, "which takes an anthropological look at how wrong and debilitating our beliefs are about sex, drugs, and more."

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Under its brutal rule there were public executions and amputations weekly. Music, television, dancing, and public laughter were banned.* (2, 3) Women could not go out in public unless they were completely covered with a burqa and escorted by a male relative. Women caught with finger polish had their finger tips cut off.

In 1997 the Taliban Supreme Court ruled that, “the addicts of illegal drugs should be referred to the hospital/treatment center to receive proper treatment. If an addict after receiving treatment and being rehabilitated restarts using drugs, in this case he will be entitled for receiving punishment [sic].” (2)

In practice, the Taliban’s edict was not effective as Afghanistan had almost no rehabilitative services at the time. Nonetheless, the fact that the Taliban’s extremist leaders expressed more humanity than the United States federal government on this issue is remarkable.

* There were loopholes. For example, religious songs without instrumentation were allowed, as well as patriotic chants such as “Taliban, O Taliban, you’re creating facilities, you’re defeating enemies.” (1)


1. Nadya Labi, “Rhythmless Nation,”, 15 Sep. 2001. LINK

2. David Macdonald, Drugs in Afghanistan: Opium, Outlaws, and Scorpion Tales (2007), pp. 47-50.

3. Physicians for Human Rights, “The Taliban’s War on Women,” 1998. LINK (PDF)

Taliban’s Drug Policy Was More Humane Than US’s


  1. A startling exception to the norm to be certian, but could this be related to the attitude in Islamic countries towards hash-ish for example; which is quite different from a western point of view on this class of drugs?  Also, what are their policies towards recovering from alchohol addiction?

    1. Afghanistan is the #1 production centre in the world for Opium. This is the primary cash crop of the region and these facts should be considered in regard to the discussion of “drug laws”. Hashish and herbal cannabis are grown in the area, but the tolerance for these drugs in the Muslim world to which you referred tends to exist in Sufism as opposed to Wahabbism.

  2. LOL – wut?

    Not that the US doesn’t have fucked up drugs laws I would like to see abolished, but to  suggest the Taliban is somehow more humane than anyone short of the Nazis is not only ridiculous, but  belittles the plight of their victims.

  3. I’m also not a fan of US drug policy, but this is an unfair charge.   If the Taliban had a more lax attitude towards narcotics it’s because they’ve profited off of the opium trade.

    edit: me suck at grammar

    1. And there are people in the US (industries really) that profit from putting other people in jail and lobby for laws to that effect. So what?

      1. A fair point, and I agree that there is industry in the US that profits off of our drug laws.  I guess what I mean is that it’s intellectually dishonest to use the Taliban as an example here. The implication is “see, even the mother-effing *Taliban* is more compassionate than we are about drug policy!” when in truth they were motivated by economics — more addicts is more money. 

    2. Actually the Taliban did manage to reduce opium production for a period of time before the 2001 invasion, despite the unpopularity of this move in a country where it is the most valuable crop. After the NATO invasion, the Taliban moved to “tax” warlords who controlled poppy fields in order to fund their military campaigns.

      Bear in mind that the Taliban which exists at present is different in composition from the pre-2001 Taliban. NATO and the Northern Alliance defanged the Taliban when they first took the country, the current activities are largely run by people who had no role in the pre-2001 Taliban, many of them are recruits from madrassas in the Pashtun region of Northern Pakistan, or militants from other parts of the Muslim world.

      1. This is true,  the Taliban *did* reduce opium production.  Still, it’s odd that the punishment for drug abuse (mandatory rehab first offense) vs. alcohol consumption (lashes first offense).  

        But again, the thrust of my argument is that it’s dodgy at best to take this quirk of Taliban punishment and extrapolate it to say that they must  care more for their drug-addled citizenry than the US.

  4. Ok – I read the comic… again. Slowly. The fact that the law said they first had to offer treatment and could only punish after a relapse is what makes them more humane?

    In the next breath in the text below it points out they “had almost no rehabilitative services at the time. ” Soooo, it’s a more humane law in theory (the treatment) with much, much harsher consequences in the end for drug using (the 2nd time), drug dealing, dancing, and walking around showing your face while possessing womanly bits?

    Is this that satire thing I heard about, or is my bad pain day fucking with my brain able to connect dots.

  5. I call SHENANIGANS.  There’s only one reason the Taliban would do this: MONEY.  The Taliban’s economy was based on opium.  This is like allowing smoke breaks at the Marlboro factory

    The United Nations Drug Office believes the Taliban made up to $300 million from opium sales in 2008. Money is not only made from the sales, but from also charging “protection fees” for those moving the drugs over theAfghanistan borders and for the drug laboratories. Afghan opium cultivation in 2008 fell nearly 20 percent, and production fell six percent. However, according to Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the U.N. Drug Office, this does not reflect progress by those fighting the Taliban. The Taliban has simply produced so much that they have reduced cultivation and are stockpiling current supplies to artificially keep prices higher..

  6. Seriously- pro-drug people need to find more constructive examples if they want to sell squares like me. Fantasy economic benefits? Not. Change or the cartels will get you? Not. Aspire to be up to the moral standards of the Taliban? Not.

  7. I’m sorry, but that comic is utterly ludicrous and devoid of any understanding whatsoever. It’s a reprehensible claim which takes not one iota of reality into consideration. The Taliban were, and are, the equivalent of Islamic Nazis.

    1. It’s a reprehensible claim which takes not one iota of reality into consideration.

      You must live in an interesting reality where reality is not considered to be reality. The comic cites facts.

      1. Cites facts that don’t take into account the context surrounding those facts.

        I’ll repeat it again… =)

        I’d also like to add this: None of us commenting here, or the person who drew the comic, would have survived under Taliban rule.The humanity of a law can only be judged in context of the society as a whole.

        1. Agreed. What I don’t really get in this discussion is how anybody could possibly take this as praise for the Taliban rather than a condemnation of US drug policy. You’d think that the part about amputations would be a hint.

  8. I’d also like to add this: None of us commenting here, or the person who drew the comic, would have survived under Taliban rule.

    The humanity of a law can only be judged in context of the society as a whole.

  9. Could we be a little cynical here for a second? Do we really think that the Taliban ” expressed more humanity” than the U.S.? Don’t we think that, maybe, perhaps, the rules were lessened because tribal elites were more likely to participate in drug use, and as a result, they softened the punishments? I mean, I’m all for legalization, but let’s not attribute “humanity” by way of comparing policies. 

  10. “in July 2000, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, collaborating with the United Nations to eradicate heroin production in Afghanistan, declared that growing poppies was un-Islamic, resulting in one of the world’s most successful anti-drug campaigns. As a result of this ban, opium poppy cultivation was reduced by 91% from the previous year’s estimate of 82,172 hectares. ” – wiki

    I think you’ll find that its the Northern Alliance that was growing the bulk of the opium back when the Taliban controlled most of the country. So, yeah, there’s a fair chance that there was some basic humanity at work in their drugs policy, unlike the American policy. Why not? Pure evil only exists in cheap fiction.

    1. Again, I call Shenanigans.  Mullah Omar making a blatantly theatrical political to appease the UN move does not equal actual human kindness.  Remember that in 1999, they were helping us locate some guy who’d masterminded bombing the World Trade center in 1993…and then ‘arrested’ him and then ‘lost’ him.  Osama something or other, I think it was.  Wonder what ever happened to him?

      Immediately prior to the Taliban’s restriction in 2000, under Taliban rule there was a bumper crop in 1999.  In 2001, Opium resumed a huge crop…the Taliban assualted the Opium trade to weaken the warlords, not out of altruism.  And after they were unseated in Afghanistan, they got heavily back in to Opium for money.

      So I’m a little leery of seeing the Taliban as good moral actors, here.

  11. From the “you will die” site:

    “Heterosexuals were never in much risk from AIDS.”

    “The federal government bullies states and foreign countries whose citizens wish to decriminalize drugs.”
    No shit Sherlock! US fed gov will bully foreign countries about a whole lot of issues where the locals want their nation to do something different then big bro USA (oorah oorah oorah) wants…

  12. On one hand, you want to decriminalize drugs, and on the other, you want to cite the Taliban as a more humane way to approach the problem?  (And I thought the Democrats had a communication problem!)  What a remarkably tone deaf post.  Yes, you may find it interesting, in the same way that we find cannibalism, genital mutilation, or any of a thousand other culturally taboo practices that we’re allergic to ‘interesting’, but again, the ‘facts’ cited were basically stripped of any context so that it could be reduced to a one panel, one paragraph cartoon.  That’s some might deep shit.  Sure, we can find an instance where the Taliban theoretically acted rationally and thoughtfully, but the other facts would tend to undermine that narrative, and their continued reliance on taxing the drug trade to support their war on the U.S. would seem to be the (one of the) real reason(s) behind their continued tolerance of drug users, many of whom are dependent on the drug trade in one form or another.  I don’t want the U.S. in Afghanistan, I don’t believe in the War on Drugs or much of the current path that U.S. society is currently on, and I don’t definitely don’t believe in some sort of pure ‘evil’, but we’re at war with the Taliban, and this is the fastest and easiest way to alienate a lot of borderline drug decriminalization sympathizers, not to mention there’s a strong element of preaching to the choir with this shoddy moral relativism.  

    Try to at least surprise me with something insightful, because this argument isn’t working.  

  13. I never, ever get tired of reminding the internet that George W. Bush gave the Taliban $43 million as part of the ‘war on drugs.’  That was in May 2001.  From the linked article: “Never mind that Osama bin Laden still operates the leading anti-American terror operation from his base in Afghanistan, from which, among other crimes, he launched two bloody attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998.”  Now, what did Osama bin Laden do a few months after May 2001?

  14. Afghanistan must have a viable economy if it is ever to become a functional, stable country. Since it is already the world’s largest producer of opium, all of the profits from this industry go straight into the hands of the ‘war lords’ who control the trade. How much of that money do you think gets spent on community infrastructure (roads, schools, hospitals)?

    Legalizing the growth and export of opium and derivatives would allow the government of Afghanistan to regulate and tax the trade, which is the most likely foundation of the Afghan economy in the short- and mid-term.

    Legal and regulated access to opiates in consuming countries has been shown to allow addicts to easily control their use, and indeed most will quit by themselves within a year if they know they have access to cheap, quality drugs from a reputable source.

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