In Kabul, the underclass of users gathers in small groups not only under the Pul-e-Sukhta Bridge, but also throughout Kabul’s city center. Hiding under grey, muddy Palestine shawls and moth-eaten blankets, they smoke heroin, opium and meth and warm themselves on cold days by stinking fires of burning plastic waste.
The Taliban have a half-hearted attitude towards narcotics: it is an open secret that for many years they financed their struggle against the coalition forces largely with the drug trade.
In November, the Taliban banned harvesting of ephedra, but they had already been harvested by then. It did lead to a sharp rise in the price of both ephedra and crystal meth, which has actually benefited traders. Whether the ban on ephedra will work in practice can only be seen in July 2022, according to Mansfield, when the new harvest has to be brought in.
At the same time, drug users are dealt with harshly. Police officers armed with Kalashnikovs regularly round up addicts to take them to the Ibn Sinar addiction clinic for forced rehab. Cold turkey understandable.
The clinic is the old camp Phoenix army base, where coalition troops used to train the Afghan army. The gate says there are 1,000 beds, but according to director Abdul Jabar Jalili there are currently 2,000 patients.
A patient is beaten with a heavy cable by Taliban guards. He wails and screams in pain
The staff there, like everyone in government service, have not received a salary for six months, and the attitude of the Taliban is also demotivating. They do not see the addicts as patients, but as vermin, says a doctor who wishes to remain anonymous. Severe corporal punishment is the order of the day. Indeed, a patient who apparently has done something wrong is beaten with a heavy cable by Taliban guards. He wails and screams in pain: “I am not an animal, but a man.”
The camp looks more like a penal colony than a clinic. All patients are shaved to prevent head lice and dressed in shapeless faded gray clothes.
Two thirds of the patients are here because of meth addiction, the rest because of heroin. They stay here for 45 days, for withdrawal and rehabilitation. But there is no time and money for a follow-up. “Those who don’t have family or any other form of social support will inevitably return to drugs once they get out of here,” says therapist Anas Sultana.
An addict breaks free from the gray mob and starts talking in a gnawing American accent. He calls himself Tony, has lived in Texas for years. He was already a heavy meth user there. He has fled America because it became too linked to him because of his criminal activities. “Self-deportation,” he says with a smile.
In Kabul, he picked up his meth habit again. He describes the well-known symptoms that addicts suffer from: obsessively repeating the same actions, such as brushing and scrubbing the same object all night. Scratching your skin because you think there are bugs underneath, resulting in ulcers and abscesses. The irrevocable hold of meth. “Once the high wears off, all you can think about is where to score the next serving,” explains Tony. “You don’t think about food, about clothes, or about your family.” In addition to meth, Tony also used heroin, a combination that is common. “Both are poison,” he says.
Determined to never use drugs again after his discharge, Tony wants to move to the small village where he originally comes. The chance of a relapse is too great if he reunites with his old addicted comrades. “Meth is delicious. If I had smoked I felt like the king of paradise. But in fact I was a homeless person sitting in rags in the mud under a bridge.”