Kinder, gentler Taliban now beating down drug addicts

Kinder, gentler Taliban now beating down drug addicts
AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon

The latest new initiative from the Taliban is one I didn’t see coming, but I suppose it makes sense in terms of Sharia law. The current rulers of Afghanistan are embarking on a campaign to wipe out drug addiction among the country’s citizens and stamp out poppy production and the methamphetamine trade. The latter move would put a serious dent in the global supply of heroin. Their addiction “treatment” program is rather unconventional by the standards of nearly any other nation, however. Taliban fighters are reportedly roaming Kabul looking for drug addicts and users. When they find them, they are simply administering beatings and locking them down, telling them that the beatings will continue until they clean up their act. It’s a rather blunt approach, to say the least. (Associated Press)

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 battle-hardened fighters-turned-policemen 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.

During these roundups, the addicts – almost all of them men – have all of their possessions taken away from them and burned. They are then transported to a treatment center on the outskirts of Kabul where they are stripped and have their heads shaved. They are then locked down to go cold turkey for 45 days. The center has no access to alternative opioids like buprenorphine and methadone. If they relapse upon release, the beatings continue.

The new Taliban government claims that the next step is to go after the poppy growers and beginning burning down their crops. This creates a significant conflict for them, however. Up until they took power, the Taliban had been making tens of millions of dollars per year by “taxing” the illicit heroin trade, while publicly criticizing it as being against Sharia law.

The Taliban currently has almost no official revenue from taxes and other normal streams because the country’s economy almost completely collapsed when they took over. Aside from foreign aid (and whatever secret deals for pallets of cash they worked out with the United States and our allies), the Taliban won’t have the money to provide very many essential services. Also, winter is coming following a bad drought season. People are going to begin starving pretty soon.

So can they really wipe out the heroin and methamphetamine trade in Afghanistan? Can they end their drug addiction crisis with whips and rifle butts? As I said, I really didn’t see something like this showing up as a priority policy for the Taliban, or at least not this quickly. But I suppose any excuse to round up some people and beat them is better than nothing.

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Jazz Shaw 1:01 PM on April 01, 2023