A day before Thanksgiving, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (known to the rest of the world as the Taliban) declared that it was entering into a deal with an Australian company to set up a $450 million cannabis processing facility in Afghanistan to produce marijuana products for sale in the country. Western media practically exploded with the news, but skeptics are starting to wonder if the whole affair was an elaborate hoax perpetrated on the media.
“Yesterday, the deputy minister for counter narcotics, Ministry of Interior Affairs, met with a representative of Cpharm Company,” tweeted the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs on Nov. 24. “Cpharm will invest $450 million in setting up a hashish-processing company in Afghanistan.” The regime agency went on to say that it planned to produce “medicines and creams” at a factory that would employ hundreds of people.
The tweet was sent from an official account of the Taliban, which seized control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in August. The story was picked up by regional mainstream news and journalists traced the name mentioned in the announcement—Cpharm—to an Australian company. With that it was off to the races, and outlets in the U.S. and the U.K. were playing leap frog to beat each other to the sexy headline. The report was repeated by The Times of London, the BBC and Al Arabiya, as well as numerous others.
But there were a few problems with the story. One problem is that Cpharm isn’t a cannabis company or a manufacturing company of any kind; it’s a post-market consulting company that caters to the medical industry. Another problem—probably the biggest one—is that the company says it’s definitely not working with the Taliban.
“Cpharm Australia is not a drug or medical manufacturer, and it’s not engaged in discussions with the Taliban re: cannabis,” Cpharm’s chief financial officer, Tony Gabites, told VICE reporters. “We don’t make any drugs. The first we heard about it was someone calling our office this morning.”
The company was forced to publish a press release to assure the world that it was not involved with the current Afghanistan regime. “We have no connection with cannabis or the Taliban,” wrote the company. “We have no idea where the Taliban media release has come from, and want to assure everyone that it should not be connected to Cpharm Pty Ltd Australia.”
The company became a target for unwanted publicity overnight. “We’ve had probably 40 or 50 calls today,” Cpharm Chief Financial Officer Tony Gabites told Reuters. “It’s just out of control and it’s just all lies, media guys … not doing any due diligence on what they want to publish.”
Taliban spokesperson Qari Saeed Khosty responded to the controversy on Twitter by correcting the reports and saying that the regime is working with a German company called Cpharm, not the Australian one identified in the media. Qari also clarified that the company would be providing the cannabis facility—not the cannabis.
Even after the clarification, the story still seemed fishy, though. Researchers have been unable to find any trace of a German company called Cpharm or any variations of the name, and no representatives of a company of that name have come forward to confirm the deal with the Taliban.
Strangest of all, the regime has thus far signaled that it does not approve of cannabis use. In early October Taliban police forces reportedly raided homeless camps, beat and forcibly detained alleged drug users and shipped them off to rehab facilities against their wishes. The Associated Press reported that the regime was taking a zero-tolerance policy toward drug addiction and was willing to beat and humiliate drug users to make its point.
Now some analysts are wondering if the entire announcement was some kind of internet hoax. If the Taliban hates drugs, why open a drug processing plant? How would they plan on selling such a large amount of cannabis anyway?
The Taliban’s relationship with the internet and social media is an odd one. In the ’90s the fundamentalist group banned the use of internet in Afghanistan. But today the regime has seemingly embraced the use of social media as a propaganda tool to influence the Afghan people and has even adopted the practice of trolling its ideological enemies.
The group spreads its message over thousands of official and unofficial Twitter accounts. Dubious videos of Taliban soldiers telling women and religious groups that they will maintain their freedom under the regime’s rule have been spread across the platform as well as jokes aimed at the U.S.
In August the regime proved its internet chops by posting and circulating a shocking image of Taliban soldiers wearing stolen U.S. gear and posing in a photo recreating the famous image of American soldiers raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima. And some have questioned whether a widely shared image of Taliban soldiers eating ice cream was meant to mock President Joe Biden.
But the question remains: If this is all an elaborate troll—as it appears to be—what is the Taliban’s intention? Was it supposed to trick naysayers into believing that the Taliban is in the middle of transforming into a more progressive version of itself? If that's the case, then whether the ploy worked or not remains to be seen. Was it meant to illustrate the gullibility of Western media? If so, then it succeeded splendidly.
And of course there’s also the outlying possibility that the Taliban is actually planning on pumping up its economy with marijuana. It seems ridiculous, but if the last five years have taught us anything, it’s that we’ve entered into a strange time of incessant novelty, and almost anything is possible.
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