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28 Mar, 2010 04:36

Horrific tale of Afghan family addiction a sad metaphor for casualties of war

The Russia-NATO Council is meeting in Brussels Wednesday to discuss ways of reducing or eliminating drug production in Afghanistan. But as politicians talk, people continue to suffer from prospering drug business.

Russia is facing a crisis, with an estimated 2.5 million addicts – more than any other country in the world – and 90 per cent of them use cheap Afghan heroin.

Moscow estimates narcotics production in Afghanistan has increased 44 times since the US-led war started in 2001. It says coalition forces are just not doing enough to eradicate the problem. And drugs production remains a major source of income for Taliban militants.

As she does every morning, Karima lights up a joint of hashish. She does this in front of her six children  and encourages her oldest, aged 12 to smoke alongside her.

The 25-year-old started taking drugs when she was only 13. That was when her parents married her off to a man who used to beat her, and later abandoned her. She blames him for getting her started but now finds it impossible to stop.

“My children act like they’re crazy. They are careless about a lot of things, they forget about things I send them to do. But now we cannot survive without this drug. There is this nice shopkeeper: he gave me a bag of rice to feed my children, but it’s full of mouse droppings, and I’m cooking it, but it’s not safe for the children. It’s really difficult to get food to feed them,” Karima says.

Karima’s mother and sister share her addiction. They all live in a one-room shack in the heart of Kabul’s old city. Outside, animals live in the garbage, and clothes dry in the sandy mountain air.

The three women are addicted to marijuana, heroin and opium. Whatever money they get is first spent on satisfying their cravings. Only then is there cash for food, a situation that makes their lives desperate.

“My mother told me, ‘Let’s go to the bazaar, I want to buy something for you.’ I said, ‘Really?’ We went, and my mother said to a man, ‘Do you want to buy this girl?’ he yelled, ‘God forgive you!’ and gave us a hundred Afghanis. So we went to buy some dry bread. Another day, my mom needed money and took my sister. We were crying so much. Then she tried to sell me again. I begged her not to. And she said that if I go to people’s houses and beg, then she’ll keep me. So that’s what I do,” Karima’s daughter Faima told RT.

Afghanistan’s drug problem is spiraling out of control. Official figures say one million Afghans are addicted. Many of them are refugees who returned to the country when the Taliban were overthrown. Many children are born handicapped because mothers are taking drugs while pregnant. And more and more women and children are falling prey to addiction.

“Afghan women and children are living in the camps. The camps are there because there are no jobs. The people are making carpets. This woman thinks that opium will make her stronger, and work harder. And the small children won’t disturb their mother if they have a bit of opium,” says Dr. Tariq Suliman, director of the Nejat Centre of drug rehabilitation.

The female carpet weavers often take opium to dull the aches in their finger joints, and to be able to work longer hours. By blowing opium into the faces of their children, they’re guaranteed at least a few hours of peace and quiet.

An abandoned building in Kabul, which once served as a Russian cultural center, was the place where drug addicts used to live and feed their habits. But today, the problem is much more prevalent in other parts of the country, where lawlessness and war lords reign.

It is in those provinces that drug production remains a massive source of income for the Taliban insurgency.

”The money generated from opium is more than four or five billion [US dollars], of which 300 million is only spending in Afghanistan for the insurgents, for Taliban, for corrupt officials, for all other areas in Afghanistan. Only 300 millions are spending here, but the rest is [beyond] Afghanistan¹s borders,” Dr Mohamad Zafar, Deputy Minister of policy and co-ordination counter narcotics says.

The Afghan government has its work cut out. Not only preventing the outflow of drugs across its borders, but also locally, where a dose of opium costs just $2. People buy drugs instead of food. Last night, Karima and her family had some rice and potato for dinner, but since then they have eating nothing. And while she knows she is condemning her children to a life like hers, she feels helpless to stop it.