Under Taliban, Kabul's Drug Addicts Are Forced Into Withdrawal (AFP)

Published October 20th, 2021 - 07:57 GMT
AFP
This picture taken on October 16, 2021 shows drug addicts waiting to register at the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment in Kabul. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)
Highlights
AFP is republishing this story which has been selected by the agency's chief editors as one of the best of the week Pictures by Bulent Kilic. Video by James Edgar and Emmanuel Peuchot

With shaved heads, oversized tunics, and the terrified gaze of the hunted, the drug addicts rounded up by the Taliban brace for 45 days of painful withdrawal. For some, the hardliners' raids may potentially help them cast of the yoke of addiction. But for many, the stay at Kabul's Ibn Sina center will just mark a short change of scene, marked by a brutal approach to forcing users of their powerful dependence.
Before the Taliban marched into Kabul on August 15, police in the capital would sometimes arrest addicts and transfer them to the center.


But since the hardline Islamists took control, the frequency of raids on areas where addicts gather appears to have increased.

Hundreds of users shelter in squalid conditions at Pul-e-Sukhta, under a bridge in western Kabul synonymous with hard drugs and violent crime.

"AFP"
This picture taken on October 10, 2021 shows drug addicts looking out from their dormitory at a detoxification ward of the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment in Kabul. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)


They recognize the rehab clinic's ambulance and those who can lif themselves of the fetid ground stagger down the rubbish-strewn Paghman River to avoid capture, while many are too intoxicated to wake up.

Two Taliban fighters, armed with M16 and AK-47 rifles, prod the comatose heroin and methamphetamine users with their gun barrels as outreach workers wrestle with men before forcing them to the vehicle.

Raw sewage runs straight into the boggy river bed, and the stench of urine, faeces and vomit in the crowded drug, den is overwhelming.

Cushions, blankets, sandbags, and tarpaulins make up the ramshackle camp, which is littered with the addicts' paraphernalia: syringes, wraps, foil and pipes.
The gunmen fire a few shots into the air to assert their authority and shock the addicts, before about 20 are rounded up and whisked away.


Searches and checks 

During their 45-day rehabilitation stay at the 1,000-bed centre, the men spend their time lying on cots in large dormitories or crouched in the yard, soaking up the autumn sun. 

There is little methadone available to help wean the opium and heroin addicts, and nothing to remove the withdrawal pains for those being weaned of of meth, doctors say.

This morning, Emal, 36, shufles into the registration room.

"AFP"
This picture taken on October 16, 2021 shows drug addicts waiting to be checked by officers after their detention at the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment in Kabul. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)


A volunteer, who like many others working here is a former addict, opens his logbook.

- Name? Emal.
- Your father's name? Abdul Matin.
- Married? Yes. I have three children, two girls and one boy.
- Working? Not currently.
- What drugs do you take? Crystal (meth).
- Have you been here before? Yes, three times. This is my fourth. I was discharged 10 days ago.

As Emal leaves, 22-year-old Bilal Ahmad, skinny and jittery, takes a seat. He is also addicted to meth, and has been through the programme before, "one or one and a half year years ago".


"I am happy to be here," he tells AFP, casting fearful, furtive glances around the room that 
indicate he is not. "In 45 days, God willing, we can go home."

The men are searched carefully when they arrive. 

"Open your mouth. Wider. Lif your tongue," another member of staf at the clinic tells the new arrivals, before checking their shoes and clothes for traces of drugs.
In groups of six, they then shufle to the tiled building that houses the showers. There their baggy khaki tunics and trousers are removed and they are handed a packet of shampoo, but no towel.

When they emerge, dripping, they are handed over to a team of barbers who shave their heads to prevent the spread of lice, but leave their scraggy beards.
Some are taken to rooms lined with five beds, while others are ushered into a dormitory where around 30 men of all ages are already lying on top of their covers.
One childishly plays a bamboo flute. Another gestures to his mouth indicating that he is hungry.

"AFP"
This picture taken on October 16, 2021 shows a drug addict getting his head shaved at a detoxification ward of the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment in Kabul. With shaved heads, oversized tunics and the frightened gaze of hunted animals, the drug addicts rounded up by the Taliban brace for 45 days of painful and anxiety-ridden withdrawal. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)

 'Terrible problem'

Poppy cultivation was banned under the Taliban's last rule in the 1990s, but the export of heroin from Taliban-controlled areas provided the hardliners with billions of dollars during their insurgency against the United States and the Western-backed government.
With poppies cheap and easy to grow, Afghanistan provides around 90 percent of the world's production of heroin.

Crystal methamphetamine production has also surged, created from the ephedra plant which grows wild in the country.

According to anti-narcotics experts, 11 percent of Afghanistan's 34 million population are 
drug users, with four to six percent addicted. Since sweeping back into power, the Taliban have promised not to allow narcotics production.

"It is the policy of the Islamic Emirate," said Doctor Ahmad Zoher Sultani, who heads the centre located in an old US army base.

For now, the staf in the centre are all working without pay. Salaries have not been paid out for four months as Afghanistan's economy teeters on the verge of collapse. Sultani says he was worried that the Taliban would shut his clinic when they first seized power.


"Their intentions towards us were not clear," he told AFP, adding though that the country's new rulers had "quickly told us they wanted us to continue."

In signs he is adapting to the new regime, the doctor has since mid-August swapped out his Western suit and tie for the traditional shalwar kameez, and has removed all of the photographs that once filled the walls of his office.

"Drugs are a terrible problem," he said.
 


© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

You may also like