Afghan farmer looks at anti-narcotics poster in Talbozag village June 14, 2009.
Kabul — Sayyed Mohammed, 28, has hollow eyes, a fist full of coins, and a $4-a-day heroin habit.
â€œIâ€™m addicted,â€ he tells me in an open air drug market in Kabul, both of us ankle-deep in rubble and ruin.
â€œI was treated two times in Pakistan, but for one month, Iâ€™ve been readdicted.â€
Part of the reason heâ€™s back on drugs, he says, is because they are so cheap. â€œEach dosage costs 100 Afgani,â€ he explained â€“ the equivalent of $2.
In Afghanistan, opium, and its derivative, heroin, have long tended to be seen as export commodities. Addiction? Largely a foreign problem.
But the nation is slowly realizing the chickens have come home to roost. In rural regions such as Kandahar, the complaints centre on insurgents taxing the opium crops, funding insurgency to the tune of tens of millions of dollars a year.
In urban areas such as Kabul, where the Taliban and poppies are less visible, the complaints centre on the corrupting power of drug money, evidenced in the â€œpoppy palacesâ€ that have popped up around town.
Families speak of young men who are getting high instead of getting jobs.
Ground zero for this is Kabulâ€™s Russian Cultural Centre, a sprawling complex shelled heavily during the civil wars of the 1990s. Faded murals still show industrious workers cast in the Soviet Realist mould, but todayâ€™s denizens have succumbed to a culture of hopelessness and despair.
Dozens of addicts call the centre home, including Mr. Mohammed, who was reflective before he wandered off to exchange his coins for more drugs.
â€œHeroin has given a bad name to Afghanistan,â€ he said. He added he was more concerned about teenagers than himself. â€œThe problem is that they are jobless,â€ he said. â€œI tell them, â€˜It is not going to reduce your problems, it is going to add to your problems.â€™ â€
Afghanistan grows more opium than the world can use, forcing rivals such as Myanmar and Laos have cut back because their poppies can no longer compete.
â€œFor a number of years now, Afghan opium production has exceeded [world] demand,â€ wrote the United Nationâ€™s office on drugs and crime last year.
â€œThe bottom should have fallen out of the opium market,â€ it said. â€œIt has not.â€
Prices, however, have fallen somewhat, and this may also have helped spread addiction in Afghanistan â€œItâ€™s an increasing problem, day by day,â€ said Jamal Nazir, a social worker at a Kabul rehab clinic.
Many of his patients arrive from the Russian Cultural Centre, he said, including teenagers. â€œI have special sympathies because they are the energy of Afghanistan.â€
Families shuffled in and out of the rehab centre before Friday prayers. The visitors came from every strata, from poor farmers to the local gentry.
â€œMy wifeâ€™s brother, he is addicted,â€ said Dr. Shah Mahmoud. â€œOur youths go out of Afghanistan, for work to Iran or neighboring countries, and get addicted.â€ He complained of â€œhigh authorities,â€ getting involved in the drug trade and with mafia groups.
Afghanistanâ€™s culture of impunity has to end, he said.
â€œWe blame the government for this problem,â€ he said. â€œThe government should arrest and hand over to the law those people who are involved in this criminal business.â€