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Locals Deny End To Drug Trade In Afghan Province

The Afghan government estimates there are more than 1 million drug users out of a population of just over 30 million -- one of the highest drug-use rates in the world.
PARWAN, Afghanistan -- Hamid lies on a dirty street corner consuming heroin from a small yellow bag, open sewage running nearby.

The weary teenager, draped in a dirty blanket, says he bought the heroin at the main shopping street in Charikar in northern Parwan Province. Shopkeepers there sell everything from tranquilizers to heroin, he says.

"Everybody is selling or using heroin or marijuana. I don't know if the government doesn't know about it or what," Hamid says. "Everyone here is using and selling drugs. If you pass the markets, you can see small packages for sale with heroin inside them."

Hamid's account contrasts sharply with that of local officials in Parwan, who recently declared they had halted the manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs in the province.

In February, Parwan Governor Abdul Basir Salangi claimed an end to the cultivation of opium -- the main ingredient in heroin. He also said security forces had disrupted the flow of illicit drugs entering and leaving Parwan.

It is not hard to find people like Hamid who counter the official line. Hamid lists heroin, hashish, and marijuana among the drugs that are readily available.

'A Thousand Addicts'

Habibullah, who owns a small tailor shop in Charikar, says the authorities have done little to halt the widespread use and trade of drugs in Parwan.

"A thousand addicts pass by my shop every day. There is no lack of drug dealers here," Habibullah says. "They are available in public, everywhere. The government knows about this, but they don't do anything. By neglecting this, the government is the culprit for the deaths here."
Nobody is brave enough to name the people involved."
Abdul Waseh Saeedkhali

Health officials weigh in with statistics indicating that the number of drug addicts in Parwan has surged -- from just 7,000 in 2010 to more than 15,000 at the beginning of this year.

That rise is part of the general increase in the number of drug addicts across Afghanistan, where the government estimates there are more than 1 million drug users out of a population of just over 30 million -- one of the highest drug-use rates in the world.

The Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry says the increase is being fueled in part by the rising cultivation of opium. Around 90 percent of the world's supply of opium comes from Afghanistan.

With supplies growing, health experts such as Naimutallah Rashid, head of the drug treatment center in Charikar, warn that more Afghans will become addicts. And this, he says, will require that the government do more to provide adequate medical care for them.

Drug addicts use heroin and other narcotics near the Kabul River in the capital.
Drug addicts use heroin and other narcotics near the Kabul River in the capital.
According to the UN Office of Drug Control (UNODC), only one in 10 addicts receives drug treatment, a problem it attributes to underfunding and the lack of treatment facilities.

The UNODC says there are roughly 700,000 people in Afghanistan who want treatment for their addiction but cannot gain access to a facility. And even when they do gain access, long-term treatment is rarely available, making the likelihood of relapse high.

Local Officials Blamed

Rashid says up to 30 people come to his treatment center each day. With only a limited number of beds available, he says, many addicts are turned away.

"We have 20 beds, which are occupied for three months at a time. Depending on their condition, we keep patients for either 15 days or 30 days," Rashid says. "We give them medication and keep them for a while, after which they are released."

Many locals in Parwan have blamed local officials for turning a blind eye to the worsening drug problem in the province, with some even accusing officials of having a hand in the drug trade.

Rushna Khaled, a spokeswoman for the governor's office in Parwan, denies the accusations. "I absolutely deny the accusation that high-ranking officials are involved in dealing and trafficking drugs," she says. "Local officials in Parwan don't have any connections with this, and they should not."

But locals such as Abdul Waseh Saeedkhali accuse local officials of playing an active role in the drug trade in Parwan and in many other parts of the country.

Saeedkhali says he can't reveal any names because his life would be in jeopardy. "Security officials are paying some attention to the drug problem, but the trafficking of narcotics is a big issue and business in Afghanistan, with high officials involved," he says. "However, nobody is brave enough to name the people involved."

Written by Frud Bezhan, based on reporting by RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ahmad Hanayesh in Parwan
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.