赫拉特警察總部發言人尼克薩德(Nur Khan Nikzad)說，武裝分子正積極鼓勵幾個地區的農民種植罌粟，但堅稱，「唯一可能種植鴉片的地區是Shindand和Kushkk。我們的情報顯示，全省鴉片產量下降了90%。」
Farmers taking part in an internationally-backed saffron-growing project in Herat province in western Afghanistan say they are being targeted by Taliban militants who want them to cultivate opium poppies instead.
Insurgents in areas north of Herat city have destroyed fields planted with saffron, and last month attacked two trucks carrying bulbs for planting. Both drivers were killed and their vehicles torched.
Security officials in Herat acknowledge that the Taliban presence is significant in remoter parts of the province, but insist they are working to extend the reach of government and prevent armed groups from disrupting farming.
Nur Khan Nikzad, Herat police headquarters spokesman, said the insurgents were actively encouraging farmers in several districts to grow the opium poppy, but insisted, "The only districts where opium is probably still being cultivated are the Shindand and Kushk. Our intelligence indicates that the level of opium production [province-wide] has fallen by 90 percent."
Mullah Sayed Zaher, the head of a parallel administration the Taliban have created in Kushk, admitted responsibility for the attack on the truck.
Abdullah Halim, an expert on agricultural affairs in Herat, believes the Taliban want to display their power by showing they can make people grow poppy, and also to profit from the lucrative drugs trade.
The saffron crocus plant, whose stamens are harvested mostly for culinary use but also for medicinal purposes, needs little irrigation, is resistant to disease and can be harvested over several successive years.
Herat region has become an important producer, generating 1.5 tons a year. That might not seem much, but the stamens fetch US$2,000 a kilogram on the Afghan market, and twice that when exported.
"There have been many obstacles standing in the way of growing and trading in saffron," Mohammad Jalil, a leading trader, said "Another major problem has now been added on - hostility to the plan's cultivation on the part of some in the armed opposition."
All the investment made to date is now at risk, he said, noting that the attack in Kushk meant a contract with a Danish aid group to supply saffron bulbs to neighboring Faryab province had to be cancelled.
Afghanistan's counter-narcotics minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel says poppy cultivation in Herat fell by 50 percent last year, thanks to the efforts of his staff and other government agencies, and also because of a disease that blighted poppy plants.
However, he warned that higher prices and increasing demand for opium might now be encouraging farmers to turn back to poppy growing, which would reverse the downward trend.