It is as pricey as precious metals or illicit drugs, and in some kitchens it is increasingly becoming even more valued. Saffron, a spice that grows in Afghanistan, could be a solution for farmers who want to make ends meet without growing poppy flowers that can be turned into opium and heroin that enrich and empower drug barons.
But this week, the spokesman for the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan spoke of a "disturbing trend" in the western portion of the country: The Taliban is forcing farmers to stop growing the savory spice and switch to more nefarious crops.
"Insurgents are pressuring Herat farmers to switch to growing poppy instead of saffron so they can use the money from drug sales to fund their operations," German army Gen. Josef Blotz told reporters Monday. "In areas north of Herat city, insurgents have destroyed fields planted with saffron, and last month they attacked two trucks carrying saffron bulbs for planting and killed the truckers who were delivering them."
A Taliban spokesman reached by telephone Wednesday denied the charge.