Masters of Afghanistan after outlasting the United States military in unconventional warfare for nearly 20 years, the Taliban are also formidable opponents online.
Shortly after the regressive Islamic fundamentalists swept into Kabul in August, images appeared of Taliban fighters naively playing with gym equipment and cheerfully navigating paddleboats—a PR campaign, some observers guessed, meant to soften the Taliban’s image.
It appears the Taliban aren’t done trolling decadent Western democracies. In this mission, they’re happy to use our vices against us, including legalized marijuana.
Early Wednesday, the Taliban’s Ministry of Internal Affairs tweeted that an company called Cpharm had brokered a deal with the regime to build a $450 million “hashish processing plant” in the country. The weed factory would making cannabis-based medicines, employ hundreds of people, and make the Taliban look based.
A little out there, maybe, but the report, repeated by Afghanistan’s Pajhwok Afghan News, was just plausible enough. Consider: Cannabis production is widespread in Afghanistan—which also supplies a significant amount of opium poppies—and the Taliban are keen to generate revenue. And everyone around the world is trying to make money in marijuana.
“Taliban make first deal: selling cannabis to the Australians,” the Times solemnly reported, adding that a Taliban “narcotics minister” had already met with a Cpharm representative, and that “the project is expected to be up and running within days.”
With this mainstream endorsement, it was off to the races. Reaction ranged from outrage—how could Cpharm do this! Why is the Taliban embracing weed when Congress and Joe Biden won’t!—to bitter disappointment. Why would Cpharm work with Afghanistan when there’s all this unsold weed in Canada ready for export!
But there’s a problem. There’s only one Cpharm in Australia, according to a Google search—and as the company said in a news release posted Wednesday, they don’t manufacture “or supply” anything at all. They are certainly not working with the Taliban.
“We have no connection with cannabis or the Taliban,” Cpharm said. “We have no idea where the Taliban media release has come from.”
As Tony Gabites, Cpharm’s CFO, told Reuters, it’s possible that the Taliban did ink a deal, but with another Cpharm. Thing is, there aren’t very many other Cpharms. There is a Cpharm in Haifa, Israel, and another in the Dominican Republic, but according to listings and according an Instagram page, they’re just typical pharmacies: like where you go to buy masks and aspirin. Not in the weed-factory building business!
Notably, the Taliban’s original tweet does not identify Cpharm as an Australian company or anything else. The case of mistaken identity, then, was a Western media blunder. As Gabites told VICE News, everyone else—the Times, etc—published stories naming the Australian company without contacting Cpharm first.
“It’s just a shame that the media organisations aren’t checking their facts,” Gabites told VICE. “No one’s contacted us to discuss it with us; you’re the first person that’s done that from the media.”
It’s certainly possible that there’s another Cpharm out there, and they have every intent to raise $450 million and spend it in Afghanistan, where the Taliban will have a cannabis production factory.
But there are a host of factors that make this highly unlikely.
These range from the practical (who would buy all that weed?) to the political. For example, trade sanctions prohibit Australians (as well as Americans!) from having any business dealings with the Taliban regime. It’s possible the Chinese or the Russians could be funding a Taliban marijuana factory in Afghanistan, but both of those countries are worse on weed than Texas. Not likely.
The most plausible explanation that emerges, then, is that the Taliban decided to celebrate Thanksgiving by having a little fun with the West. And if that was the intent, it worked. Major media have egg on their faces for printing up fables, and a tiny Australian company is having to waste time on media damage control.
First the British, then the Soviets, then the United States—and now online. Afghanistan is undefeated.