Oroville Mercury-Register

Now in power, Taliban set sights on the Afghan drug underworld

- By Samya Kullab, Mstyslav Chernov and Felipe Dana

KABUL, AFGHANISTA­N » Now the unconteste­d rulers of Afghanista­n, the Taliban have set their sights on stamping out the scourge of narcotics addiction, even if by force.

At nightfall, the battlehard­ened fighters-turnedpoli­cemen scour the capital’s drug-ravaged underworld. Below Kabul’s bustling city bridges, amid piles of garbage and streams of filthy water, hundreds of homeless men addicted to heroin and methamphet­amines are rounded up, beaten and forcibly taken to treatment centers. The Associated Press gained rare access to one such raid last week.

The scene provided a window into the new order under Taliban governance: The men — many with mental illness, according to doctors — sat against stone walls with their hands tied. They were told to sober up or face beatings.

Growing acceptance?

The heavy-handed methods are welcomed by some health workers, who have had no choice but to adapt to Taliban rule. “We are not in a democracy anymore, this is a dictatorsh­ip. And the use of force is the only way to treat these people,” said Dr. Fazalrabi Mayar, working in a treatment facility. He was referring specifical­ly to Afghans addicted to heroin and meth.

Soon after the Taliban took power on Aug. 15, the Taliban Health Ministry issued an order to these facilities, underscori­ng their intention to strictly control the problem of addiction, doctors said.

Bleary-eyed and skeletal, the detained encompass a spectrum of Afghan

lives hollowed out by the country’s tumultuous past of war, invasion and hunger. They were poets, soldiers, merchants, farmers. Afghanista­n’s vast poppy fields are the source of the majority of the world’s heroin, and the country has emerged as a significan­t meth producer. Both have fueled massive addiction around the country.

Old or young, poor or once well-off, the Taliban view the addicts the same: A stain on the society they hope to create. Drug use is against their interpreta­tion of Islamic doctrine. Addicts are also stigmatize­d by the wider, largely conservati­ve Afghan community.

But the Taliban’s war on drugs is complicate­d as the country faces the prospect of economic collapse and imminent humanitari­an catastroph­e.

Sanctions and lack of recognitio­n have made Afghanista­n, long an aid-dependent country, ineligible for the financial support from internatio­nal organizati­ons that accounted for 75% of state spending. An

appalling human rights record, especially with respect to women, has rendered the Taliban unpopular among internatio­nal developmen­t organizati­ons.

A liquidity crisis has set in. Public wages are months in arrears and drought has exacerbate­d food shortages and disease. Winter is weeks away. Without foreign funds, government revenues rely on customs and taxation.

Economic wrinkles

The illicit opium trade is intertwine­d with Afghanista­n’s economy and its turmoil. Poppy growers are part of an important rural constituen­cy for the Taliban, and most rely on the harvest to make ends meet.

During the insurgency years, the Taliban profited from the trade by taxing trafficker­s, a practice applied on a wide variety of industries in the areas under their control. Research by David Mansfield, an expert on the Afghan drug trade, suggests the group made $20 million in 2020, a small fraction compared

to other sources of revenue from tax collection. Publicly, it has always denied links to the drug trade.

But the Taliban also implemente­d the only largely successful ban on opium production, between 20002001, before the U.S. invasion. Successive government­s have failed to do the same.

Police roundups of addicts did occur during previous administra­tions. But the Taliban are more forceful and feared.

On a recent evening, fighters raided a drug den under a bridge in the Guzargah area of Kabul. With cables for whips and slung rifles, they ordered the group of men out of their fetid quarters. Some came staggering out, others were forced to the ground.

In the end, there were at least 150 men rounded up. They were taken to the district police station, where all their belongings — drugs, wallets, knifes, rings, lighters, a juice box — were burned in a pile since they are forbidden to take them to the treatment center.

 ?? FELIPE DANA — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Drug users detained during a Taliban raid walk in line on their way to the detoxifica­tion ward of the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment in Kabul, Afghanista­n, on Saturday.
FELIPE DANA — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Drug users detained during a Taliban raid walk in line on their way to the detoxifica­tion ward of the Avicenna Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment in Kabul, Afghanista­n, on Saturday.

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