With shaved heads, large tunics and terrifying hunting eyes, drug addicts circled the Taliban’s neck for 45 days of painful retreat.
For some, the raids of fanatics could potentially help them get rid of their addiction.
But for many, a stop at Kabul’s Ibn Sina center would mark a small change of scene, marked by a brutal approach to weaning users away from their powerful dependence.
Before the Taliban entered Kabul on 15 August, police in the capital sometimes arrested drug addicts and transferred them to the center.
But since radical Islamists took control, the frequency of raids has increased in areas where drug addicts congregate.
Hundreds of users take refuge in dire conditions under a bridge synonymous with heavy drugs and violent crime at Pul-e-Sukhta in western Kabul.
They recognize the rehab clinic’s ambulance, and those who can lift themselves off the ground of the fetlocks stagger down the trash-laden pagmon river to avoid capture, while many are too drunk to wake up. Huh.
Two Taliban fighters, armed with M16 and AK-47 rifles, prod comatose heroin and methamphetamine users with their gun barrels as outreach workers wrestle with men before escorting them to the vehicle.
Raw sewage drains directly into the swampy river bed, and the overcrowded drug den smells of urine, feces, and vomit heavy.
Cushions, blankets, sandbags and tarpaulins make up the ramshackle camp, which is littered with junkies’ paraphernalia: syringes, wraps, foils and pipes.
The gunmen fired a few shots into the air to claim their right and jolted the abuser, before about 20 were rounded up and driven away.
search and check
During their 45-day rehabilitation stay at the 1,000-bed center, the men spend their time in the large dormitory lying on cots or lounging in the yard, soaking up the autumn sun.
Doctors say there is little methadone available to help opiate and heroin addicts wean, and nothing to relieve the pain of withdrawal for meth-deprived people.
This morning, Amal, 36, shuffles into the registration room.
A volunteer, like many others who work here, is a former addict, opens his log.
Your father’s name? Abdul Mateen.
married? Yes. I have three children, two girls and one boy.
Working? Not at the moment.
What medications do you take? Crystal (meth).
Have you been here before? Yes, three times. This is my fourth. I got discharged 10 days ago.
As Imal leaves, 22-year-old Bilal Ahmed, thin and irritable, settles into a seat. He’s also addicted to meth, and has been before the program “a year and a half ago.”
“I’m happy to be here,” he tells AFP, looking horrified, secretly around the room that indicates he’s not. “In 45 days, God willing, we can go home.”
The men are carefully searched upon their arrival.
“Open your mouth. Wide. Lift your tongue,” another member of staff at the clinic tells the new arrival before checking their shoes and clothing for traces of drugs.
In groups of six, they then move to the tiled building in which the rain falls.
There his baggy khaki tunic and trousers are removed and he is given a pack of shampoo, but no towel.
When they leave, dripping, they are handed over to a team of barbers, who shave their heads to stop the spread of lice, but leave their scaly beards.
Some are taken to five-bed rooms, while others are taken to a dormitory where about 30 men of all ages are already lying on top of their covers.
A boy plays the flute. Another gesture on his mouth indicates that he is hungry.
Opium cultivation was banned under the Taliban’s last regime in the 1990s, but heroin exports from Taliban-controlled areas provided hardliners billions of dollars during an insurgency against the United States and the Western-backed government.
Because poppy seeds are cheap and easy to grow, Afghanistan provides about 90 percent of the world’s heroin production.
There has also been an increase in the production of crystal methamphetamine, which is made from the ephedra plant that grows wild in the country.
According to anti-drug experts, 11 percent of Afghanistan’s 34 million population are drug users, of whom four to six percent are addicted.
Since coming back to power, the Taliban have promised not to allow the production of narcotics.
“This is the policy of the Islamic Emirate,” said Dr Ahmed Zohar Sultani, who heads the center in an old US military base.
At present, all the employees of the center are working without pay. Salaries have not been paid for four months as Afghanistan’s economy is on the verge of collapse.
Sultani says he was concerned that the Taliban would close his clinic when the Taliban first seized power.
“Their intentions towards us were unclear,” he told AFP, although the country’s new rulers “told us quickly that they wanted us to continue.”
In signs he’s embracing the new regime, the doctor has swapped his western suit and tie for the traditional shalwar kameez since mid-August, and removed all the photos that once filled the walls of his office. Used to give
“Drugs are a terrible problem,” he said.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)