Afghanistan’s export of mass destruction
With the tense situation and very vague prospects of a peaceful life, even those who want to kick the mortal habit find themselves at a dead end.
It’s early morning in Kabul’s old town. Heroin addicts huddle under blankets to keep the cold out – and the smoke in.
Twenty-one-year-old Assadullah started smoking heroin while at university. Six months later, he dropped out and does what he can to support his habit. He is one of the 1 million addicts in this country, which is the world’s largest producer of opium.
“My life revolves around this drug. I know it’s killing me, but I can’t stop,” he said.
Anti-drug measures have diminished output, but a hit costs only $2, providing an escape for addicts ranging from refugees returning from Iran and military veterans to teenagers with little to look forward to. The United Nations drug office says it is another threat to Afghanistan’s long-term economic growth and security.
“When supply is up and prices are down, it’s easy for addicts to get their hands on drugs,” said Jean-Luc Lemahieu of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “When supply is down and prices rise, there’s an influx in crime, which fills the prisons and harms growth and stability.”
Locals say the addicts steal and threaten them and the police do nothing more than chase them away or throw them in jail for a day or two. Then they come right back.
There are an estimated 60,000 heroin addicts in Kabul, and that figure is rising fast. Many say they want help, but the Afghan government can do little for them. And the handful of rehabilitation clinics has only a few hundred beds to offer.
The UN-funded Nejat Center is the largest facility in the capital, but it can only handle 60 patients at a time. To enter, addicts must complete a two-month detoxification. But the center’s director, Dr. Wahidullah Kashan, says a lack of post-treatment prospects ensure that over half of patients fall off the wagon.
“Relapse is a huge problem. There’s not much we can offer these people once they leave here,” he explained.
The international community is focusing on combating the flow of drugs leaving Afghanistan. But within its borders, a battle just as important is being fought with addiction – a major hurdle in the country’s hope for future stability.
Russia's top anti-drug enforcer, Viktor Ivanov, says that if NATO wants to stop the flow of opium from Afghanistan, it must target the drug lords at the top of the chain.
“The size of the poppy plantations hasn’t changed this year; they still cover 123,000 hectares,” he said. “The number of families involved in poppy cultivation has increased by about 4,000. For these peasants, the poppy provides the most basic living – they are simply struggling for survival.”
“And all the talk about the need to create economic incentives for them is simply pointless,” Ivanov told RT. “They work as slaves for the landlords and these are the people we need to find and target. And what we are proposing is for NATO to take the land from them.”
“International law and most national legal systems presume that property used for criminal purposes should be confiscated,” Ivanov added.