The shaved head, the oversized tunics and the terrified gaze of the hunted, the drug addicts surrounded by the Taliban corset for 45 days of painful withdrawal.
For some, extremist raids can potentially help them shed the yoke of addiction.
But for many, the stay at the Ibn Sina center in Kabul will mark only a brief change of scenery, marked by a brutal approach aimed at bringing users out of their powerful dependence.
Before the Taliban entered Kabul on August 15, police in the capital sometimes arrested drug addicts and transferred them to the center.
But since die-hard Islamists took control, the frequency of raids in areas where drug addicts congregate appears to have increased.
Hundreds of drug users take shelter in squalid conditions in Pul-e-Sukhta, under a bridge in western Kabul synonymous with hard drugs and violent crime.
They recognize the rehab clinic ambulance, and those who can lift themselves from the foul ground descend the trash-strewn Paghman River to avoid being captured, while many are too drunk to wake up.
Two Taliban fighters, armed with M16 and AK-47 rifles, push comatose heroin and methamphetamine users with their gun barrels as outreach workers wrestle with the men before forcing them into the vehicle.
Raw sewage flows straight into the swampy riverbed, and the stench of urine, feces, and vomit in the crowded drug den is overwhelming.
Cushions, blankets, sandbags and tarps make up the dilapidated camp, which is littered with drug addicts’ paraphernalia: syringes, wrappers, aluminum foil and pipes.
The armed men fire a few shots in the air to assert their authority and shock the drug addicts, before about 20 of them are rounded up and taken away.
– Research and controls –
During their 45-day rehabilitation stay at the 1,000-bed center, the men spend their time lying on cots in large dormitories or squatting in the yard, enjoying the autumn sun.
There is little methadone available to help wean opium and heroin addicts, and nothing to ease withdrawal pains for those who are weaned from methamphetamine, doctors say.
This morning, 36-year-old Emal rushes into the recording room.
A volunteer, who like many others who work here is a former drug addict, opens his diary.
– First name? Emal.
– Your father’s name? Abdul Morning.
– Married? Yes. I have three children, two girls and a boy.
– Job? Not currently.
– What medications do you take ? Crystal (methamphetamine).
– Have you been here before? Yes, three times. This is my fourth. I was released 10 days ago.
As Emal leaves, 22-year-old Bilal Ahmad, thin and nervous, takes his place. He is also addicted to methamphetamine and already took the program, “a year or a year and a half ago.”
“I’m happy to be here,” he told AFP, casting fearful and furtive glances around the room that indicate he is not. “In 45 days, God willing, we can go home. “
The men are searched carefully on their arrival.
” Open the mouth. Wider. Lift your tongue, ”another clinic staff member told the newcomers, before checking their shoes and clothing for traces of drugs.
In groups of six, they then go to the tiled building that houses the showers.
There, their loose khaki tunics and pants are removed and they are given 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 beards spiky.
Some are taken to rooms with five beds, while others are taken to a dormitory where about thirty men of all ages are already lying on their blankets.
One childishly plays the bamboo flute. Another gestures to his mouth indicating he’s hungry.
– ‘Terrible problem’ –
Poppy cultivation was banned under the last Taliban rule in the 1990s, but the export of heroin from Taliban-controlled areas provided hardliners with billions of dollars in their insurgency against the states. United and the government supported by the West.
With cheap and easy-to-grow poppies, Afghanistan provides about 90 percent of the world’s heroin production.
The production of crystal methamphetamine has also increased, created from the ephedra plant that grows wild in the country.
According to anti-narcotics experts, 11% of Afghanistan’s 34 million people are drug addicts, of which 4-6% are addicts.
Since their return to power, the Taliban have promised not to allow the production of narcotics.
“This is the policy of the Islamic Emirate,” said Dr Ahmad Zoher Sultani, who heads the center located at a former US military base.
At the moment, the staff at the center are all working without pay. Wages have not been paid for four months as the Afghan economy is on the brink of collapse.
Sultani says he feared the Taliban would shut down his clinic when they first seized power.
“Their intentions towards us were not clear,” he told AFP, adding however that the country’s new leaders had “quickly told us that they wanted us to continue”.
In signs that he is adjusting to the new regime, the doctor has since mid-August swapped his Western suit and tie for the traditional shalwar kameez, and has removed all the photographs that once filled the walls of his office.
“Drugs are a terrible problem,” he said.
© 2021 AFP