Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Now in power, Taliban eyes Afghan drug underworld

KABUL, Afghanistan (WNN) — Now Afghanistan’s unopposed rulers, the Taliban, have set their sights on ending the drug addiction crisis, even if by force.

At night, battle-hardened fighters-policemen chase the capital’s drug-ravaged underworld. Under bridges in the bustling city of Kabul, hundreds of homeless men addicted to heroin and methamphetamine are surrounded, beaten and forcibly taken to treatment centers, amid piles of garbage and streams of dirty water. The Associated Press had rare access to one such raid last week.

The scene provided a window into the new order under Taliban rule: men – many with mental illness, according to doctors – sat against stone walls with their hands tied. They were told to remain calm or face beatings.

The heavy-handed methods are welcomed by some health workers who had no choice but to adapt to the Taliban regime. “We are no longer in a democracy, it is a dictatorship. And the use of force is the only way to treat these people,” said Dr Fazlrabi Meyer, working at a treatment facility. He was referring specifically to heroin and meth addicts.

Soon after the Taliban came to power on August 15, the Taliban’s health ministry issued an order for these facilities, outlining their intention to strictly control the drug problem, the doctors said.

Blurred-eyed and skeletal, detained Afghans comprise a spectrum of life that has been hollowed out by the country’s turbulent past of war, invasion and hunger. He was a poet, soldier, trader, farmer. Afghanistan’s vast opium fields are the source of most of the world’s heroin, and the country has emerged as an important meth producer. Both have fueled massive addiction across the country.

Old or young, poor or sometimes rich, the Taliban see drug addicts alike: a stain on the society they hope to create. Drug use is against his interpretation of Islamic doctrine. Addictions are also stigmatized by the wider, largely conservative Afghan community.

But the Taliban’s fight against the drug is complicated as the country faces the prospect of economic collapse and imminent humanitarian devastation.

Sanctions and lack of recognition have made Afghanistan a longtime aid-dependent country, ineligible for financial aid from international organizations, which account for 75% of state spending. A horrific human rights record, especially in relation to women, has made the Taliban unpopular among international development organizations.

A liquidity crisis has begun. Public wages have been in arrears for months and the drought has exacerbated food shortages and disease. Winter is week away. Without foreign funds, government revenue depends on customs duties and taxation.

The illegal opium trade is linked to the economy and turmoil of Afghanistan. Opium growers are part of an important rural constituency for the Taliban, and most depend on the crop to meet their needs.

During the years of insurgency, the Taliban profited from trade by taxing smugglers, a practice that applied to a variety of industries in the areas under their control. Research by David Mansfield, an expert on the Afghan drug trade, shows that the group earned $20 million in 2020, a small fraction compared to other sources of revenue from tax collections. Publicly, it has always denied ties to the drug trade.

But the Taliban also implemented the only successful large-scale ban on opium production between 2000-2001 before the US invasion. Previous governments have failed to do so.

The police roundup of addicts took place during the previous administration. But the Taliban are more powerful and fearful.

On a recent evening, fighters stormed a drug den under a bridge in the Gujargah area of ​​Kabul. With cables for whips and slung rifles, he ordered the group of men out of their fetal quarters. Some came out staggered, others were thrown to the ground. Sudden ringing of the lighter after another order to hand over the goods; The men preferred to use up all the drugs they had before they were seized.

A man poked a match under a piece of foil, his sunken cheeks deepening as he sucked in the smoke. He stared blankly from afar.

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Another man was reluctant. “They’re vitamins!” He pleaded.

Taliban fighter Qari Fedai was tying the other’s hand.

“They are our countrymen, they are our family and they have good people inside,” he said. “God willing, the people in the hospital will be well with him and heal him.”

An elderly, eyewitness raised his voice. He is a poet, he declared, and if they let him go he will never use drugs again. He wrote verses on a piece of paper to prove his point. it did not work.

What drove him to drugs? “Some things are not meant to be told,” he replied.

In the end, they were rounded up to at least 150 men. He was taken to the district police station, where all his belongings – drugs, purse, knives, rings, lighters, a juice box – were burnt in heaps as he was not allowed to be taken to the treatment centre. As they bowed down, a Taliban official saw a plume of smoke, counting the prayer beads.

By midnight, he was taken to the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment, located on the fringes of Kabul. Once a military base called Camp Phoenix, established by the US military in 2003, it was converted into a drug treatment center in 2016. It is now Kabul’s largest, capable of accommodating 1,000 people.

The men are taken off and bathed. Their heads are shaved.

Here begins a 45-day treatment program, said Dr. Wahidullah Koshan, lead psychiatrist.

They will undergo withdrawal with only some medical care to reduce discomfort and pain. Koshan recognized that there was a shortage in the hospital for the alternative opioids, buprenorphine and methadone, which are commonly used to treat heroin addiction. His employees have not been paid since July, but he said the health ministry had promised that salaries would be forthcoming.

The Taliban have broad objectives. “This is just the beginning, later we will go after the farmers and punish them under (Islamic) Sharia law,” Chief Patrol Officer Qari Ghafoor said.

For the expert, Mansfield, the latest drug raid history is washed out and repeated. “In the 90s (when the Taliban were in power), they used to do exactly the same thing,” he said. The only difference now is that there are drug treatment centers; At that time drug abusers were made to stand on mountain melts, or rivers, thinking that it would calm them down.

Whether they will be able to ban opium production is another story, he said. Any meaningful ban would require dialogue with farmers.

Mohammad Kabir, a 30-year-old opium farmer from Uruzgan province, checked himself into a hospital two weeks ago. He said the demand for smugglers remains high, and as November comes harvest time, selling opium is their only means of livelihood.

A total of 700 patients in the hospital roam the hall like ghosts. Some say that they are not being given enough food. Doctors said hunger is part of the withdrawal process.

Most of their families do not know where they are.

A waiting room is filled with parents and relatives wondering whether their missing loved ones were involved in the raid.

Sitara cries when she is reunited with her 21-year-old son, who has been missing for 12 days. “My whole life is my son,” she cries, hugging him.

Back in the city, under a bridge in the Kotesangi neighborhood, drug users live precariously under cover of darkness, fearing the Taliban.

One evening, he smoked casually next to the mutilated body of a man. He was dead

They covered him with a cloth, but did not dare to bury him while the Taliban patrolled the streets.

“It’s not important if some of them die,” said Mawlawi Fazulla, a Taliban official. “Others will be fine. After they recover, they can be free.”


Associated Press journalist Felipe Dana in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.


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