ahmad masood

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul Province. Kabul. August 2011. A wounded Afghan policeman is carried away from the site of an attack on offices belonging to the British Council. Taliban bombers killed two Afghan policemen and a civilian when they attacked offices belonging to the British Council and the United Nations in the centre of the Afghan capital, police said. 

Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters

AFGHANISTAN. Kabul Province. Kabul. September 23, 2010. A newly graduated soldier from the Afghan National Army (ANA) attends a graduation ceremony. Afghanistan’s army got its first female officers in decades, when 29 women graduated in a class of new recruits. 

Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters

Photo of the Day: A Muslim pilgrim sits as he holds a book on the Mountain of Mercy on the Plain of Arafat during the annual Haj pilgrimage, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, September 22nd 2015. Credit: Reuters /Ahmad Masood 

Women, who are former scavengers, are daubed in colours as they take part in Holi celebrations organised by non-governmental organisation Sulabh International at a widow’s ashram in Vrindavan in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh March 14, 2014. Holi, also known as the Festival of Colours, heralds the beginning of spring and is celebrated all over India. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood


Muslim faithful throughout the world are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan. Observant Muslims participate in fasting (sawm), one of the five pillars of their faith, this entire Lunar month.  Eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity is prohibited from dawn until sunset. Along side restraining from bad intentions,desires, and superficial needs.  The fast is broken at sunset with the evening meal called Iftar. Local customs define varying traditions, including differing types of food used to break the daily fast. [Children, women in pregnancy/menses, sick/poor health individuals, and those traveling do not have to fast.] During this time, Muslims are also encouraged to read the entire Quran, to give freely to those in need, give charity, and strengthen their ties to God through prayer. The fasting is meant to teach a person patience, humility and sacrifice, to set aside time to ask forgiveness, practice self-restraint, and pray for guidance in the future.

1. Chinese Hui Muslim girls read the Koran, Islam’s holy book, at the Niujie Mosque as they wait for their fast on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Beijing. (Andy Wong/Assocaited Press)

2. A man takes a nap in between prayers at a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan during the holy month of Ramadan. (REUTERS/Adrees Latif)

3. A girl displays henna traditional paintings on her hand in front of a local Koranic school on the second day of Ramadan in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano. (Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye)

4. Palestinian Muslim worshippers break their day-long fast during a charity Iftar meal outside the golden Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalemon July 14, 2013. (Astroawani)

5. In Panama City, Panama, a Muslim man performs Friday prayers in the Jama Masjid Mosque during Ramadan. According to Saleh Bhattay, one of the officials in charge of the mosque, there are approximately 8,000 Muslims in Panama.(Reuters/Carlos Jasso)

6. Bosnian Muslims Rasim Hamidovic , 55, his wife Esma Hamidovic ,45, and their two sons Talib, 9, left, and Muhamed Mustafa, 5, eat dinner together as they prepare to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the last day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in the village of Vukovije, 72 kilometers (44 miles) north east of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

7. A Sudanese man reads the Koran on the first Friday of Ramadan in a mosque at Umdowan Ban village outside Khartoum, Sudan. (REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)  8. A Muslim girl arranges plates before iftar (breaking fast) meal in India at the Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) in the old quarters of Delhi on July 11, 2013. (Reuters/Ahmad Masood) 9. Carli, the Ramadan drummer, walks the streets of Elmadağ in Istanbul, waking the inhabitants in time for Sahur, the last meal before a long day of fasting that starts with the call to prayer at sunrise. (Guardian/Jonathan Lewis) 10. Muslims offer Maghrib, the sunset prayer at Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. Muslims around the world started their first day of fasting to observe the month long Ramadan. (Getty Images / Alex Wong)

Terry Gross speaking to journalist Matthieu Aikins about the largest opium harvest in Afghanistan’s history:

TG: Your current article in Rolling Stone is about how Afghanistan became a narco state. Just give a sense of how much poppy is produced there and how much heroin comes out of that?

MA: This spring I traveled to Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan, which is the largest opium-producing province and I witnessed what in fact turned out to be the biggest opium harvest in Afghan history. Afghan opium production has doubled since the year 2000. It now produces 90 percent of the world’s opium supply, much of which is converted into heroin and sold abroad. So, it’s not just a problem that has been unable to be solved over the last 13 years of the military occupation, but it’s one that has gotten dramatically worse.

You say that in trying to solve the problem of terrorism coming out of Afghanistan we helped increase the amount of poppy being sold there. What’s the connection?

This is another one of those Faustian bargains that we’ve made in the name of the War on Terror. In Afghanistan, after we toppled the Taliban, we allowed some of the figures who have been responsible for introducing large-scale opium cultivation in Afghanistan—the war lords, the Mujahideen, who had participated in the civil war—back into power. We allied with them in our quest for vengeance against al-qaida and the Taliban and allowed an incredible level of criminality to flourish [in] the highest levels of the Afghan government–so that naturally led to flourishing opium and heroin trade.

What did you witness when you were in Helmand, when you were witnessing this huge poppy harvest?

The manpower that’s required for the opium harvest is staggering; it’s a very labor-intensive process. They go from poppy bulb to poppy bulb scoring the surface and scraping out the resin. So at harvest time, the whole province is basically mobilized to participate in the harvest and people come from all around Afghanistan; they come from Iran; they come from Pakistan; the markets are full. It’s a big business opportunity for all the merchants and traders. It’s like being in a whaling town when the ship comes in. The schools are empty, fighting stops as both the police and Taliban go and work in the fields.

Wait. The police and the Taliban go and work in the poppy fields?

They do, yeah, because it’s an opportunity to make some great cash or often they get paid in opium. The farmer gives a portion of the harvest to the workers. So if you look at the number of attacks and fighting all dips dramatically in the south during the opium harvest and then of course, surges back up afterwards as there’s a fresh infusion of cash to both sides for fighting.

You quote somebody who is a poppy grower now, who is very poor, you describe him as not even having furniture, and you ask him how much he’s getting paid for what he’s growing, for his crop and you compare that to what it’s going to be worth on the market when it becomes heroin. Give us a sense of the gap between those two figures.

It’s staggering. So he pulled out this basketball-sized lump of opium abut an acres-worth of harvest and he was hoping to sell it for about $600.  I quickly did some rough calculations in my head and told him this could be worth up to $100,000 sold … in London or New York.

I think it’s interesting because it helps us understand that Afghan farmers themselves only get 1 percent of the global value of the opium trade, so this is the world’s problem. It’s not something Afghanistan alone is responsible for. It’s a massive global demand for illegal drugs, in this case heroin and opium, and there’s one end of it that’s in Afghanistan.

I was also struck by the fact that [there’s this] vast, tangled chain of traffickers and drug warriors and corrupt officials that exists between this impoverished illiterate farmer in a mud hut in Afghanistan and the junkie on the street sticking a needle into his or her arm in London or New York. And it’s staggering that both people are so poor at both ends of this chain, but there’s so much money and power involved in it. 

Listen to the interview:

Reporter In Kabul Wins Award For Courage In Journalism

Photo: Afghan farmers in a poppy field: Helmand province, center of British military operations, accounts for over half of the opium crop. Credit: Ahmad Masood/Reuters via Guardian