By Tamim Hamid
The city, crowded streets, people, buildings, markets and even the monies roaming in the hands of street money exchangers from inside a black-mirror car looks absolutely dark! Everything wore somber; although I have been witnessing a “black business” inside the car I have been in it since hours. It is one of the last and hot days of summer, me and my associate (driver) sprinting Kabul’s eastern road. I prowled approximately two months to access the black-mirror vehicle and spend some days with a young man who is the one of main drug distributors among several drug retailers in Kabul. The source who has introduced this 27 year-old man to me is a former member of Afghan security forces, thus it is not surprisingas Afghan security institutions confirm drug smugglers pervaded the city in different levels.
They call him Rustam – Rustam is the epic hero of the Persian epic of Shahnama in Persian mythology- with this naming, he probably wants to showoff he is unrivaled.
“I bow to no one, I have this car and continue this business since two years, and I don’t care for anyone.”
Rustam is a resident of northern Afghanistan; he studied up to 10th grade of school. His green eyes and pallid hairs resemble him to Europeans. His expensive pant and shirt shows him a young, rich and jovial guy rather than one of the main drug distributors in Kabul. He turned to drugs five years ago in Iran, he continued for two years after returned to Afghanistan; however he is no more addict now.
- “I was introduced to the main drug dealers through the small retailers, the basic condition for me to continue drug business was to quit using it (powder).”
He was crossing Kabul roads and police check posts with full impetuosity, choosing the city’s key roads; probably he is trying to unnerve me and wants to show he is not afraid of anything. His vehicle pass –government VIP pass- changes every several hours during the day.
- “How do you get these VIP passes?” I asked.
He replied while laughing “It has a long story Tamim Jan, forget it. Money makes every task cushy. Tell me, what do you want? VIP passes of government departments? Do you want me to buy government personnel? I can make it available in 30 minutes; in Kabul, dollar talks, the rest is useless.”
His comments were fulsome; probably those VIP passes were the fake ones, I knew he doesn’t want to tell the truth.
I asked him “Whose car is this? Its owner must be an influenced person as the car still holds black mirrors.”
- “The car belongs to my boss, but do not ask who is my boss and what is he doing.” He answered me with prudence.
Rustam visited much known and key parts of Kabul city during past 3 days – Kart-e-se, Shahr-e-naw, Mikroryans, Wazir Akbar Khan, Taimani and KololaPoshta. Each time he hands over the drugs, he drops me from his vehicle and returns back in 10 to 15 minutes delay. Rustam is distributing drugs to the local retailers two or three times a week.
- “How much do you earn?”
- “well… it depends, I deliver 3 up to 5 kilos of drugs each time and distribute it until late evening. I earn $200, $300 up to $500 in each delivery, so I earn around $5,000 each month.”
He wraps the drugs in small packages –he calls them “half or one kilo loafs of soap”- and puts inside a plastic bag. No one will notice and expect the package is full of the drugs – a powder that Afghanistan ranks first in its production.
Rustam is always armed with a Russian pistol that has used it several times.
- “We are humans, we have to be careful. I have no tensions from police and people’s side, I mostly encounter with my rivals –the other drug dealers. I was wounded once and nearly to die, but it was God’s grace I didn’t die.” Ends his words with a loud laugh.
Rustam escaped an ambush by the other drug dealers outside Kabul eight months ago; the bullet ripped his chest near the heart. He apparently seems happy with what he does; I could not find any sign of annoyance in him, the only visible thing in his face is a happiness mixed with cruelty.
- “Life taught me to live this way, I have come across harsh days and found the flow of money now, and therefore I won’t quit it in any costs.”
- “What do you think will finally happen? What is your plan for the future?”
While crossing a heavily police-guarded square with speed, he replied “Today –the current time- is important for me, don’t worry for tomorrow, future is in the hands of God. Who knows we will be shot in such a road and die one day hahaha.”
Rustam dropped me in Wazir Akbar Khan area in the 3rd day with his last words.
- “I saw you in local TVs; our friendship remains the same, but I will find you anyhow if you do anything against me, then my gun (hidden in his car) will talk to you; good bye now.”
10 versus 4,000
The findings of this report showing drug deals take place in 80 parts of the Afghan capital Kabul currently. Kart-e-naw, Pol-e-Charkhi, Pol-e-Sokhta, Shahr-e-Kohna, KololaPoshta, Mikroryans, Wazir Akbar Khan, Taimani and KhairKhana are the major parts of Kabul where drugs sold. About 4,000 drug retailers (a small portion of the 3 million drug cultivators and producers in Afghanistan) sell 15 to 20 kilo grams of drugs to more than 100,000 addicts in Kabul each day. The addicts in Kabul spend at least $3 daily for drugs, meaning that nearly $300,000 cash is spent for dugs each day only in the capital. An Afghan official says “the number of drug retailers goes up and down based on the number of the addicts in an area. We sometimes get the reports of only one drug retailer in an area and sometimes tens and hundreds’. Our reports show the dealers carry 10 to 15 grams of heroin in small packs so to easily carry the drugs and if caught, spend less imprisonment period.” Despite of all these information, he still stro
ngly criticizes the lack of action against the bulks of dealers exist in Kabul.
The documents I have in hand reveal the obstructionismat counter-narcotics institutions in Kabul. The documents indicate that Kabul Police Districts (PD) registered the following counter-narcotics cases during the year 2013:
13 case in Kabul PD 1, 24 cases in Kabul PD 2, 20 cases in Kabul PD 3, 7 cases in Kabul PD 4, 17 cases in Kabul PD 5, 40 cases in Kabul PD 6, 2 cases in Kabul PD 7, 23 cases in Kabul PD 8, 14 cases in Kabul PD 9, 5 cases in Kabul PD 10, 4 cases in Kabul PD 11, 2 cases in Kabul PD 12, 10 cases in Kabul PD 13, no information on Kabul PD 14, 8 cases in Kabul PD 15, 8 cases in Kabul PD 16, 3 cases in Kabul PD 17 and 26 cases in Police counter-narcotics department.
Comparing the year 2013, below are the statics from the year 2012:
5 case in Kabul PD 1, 6 cases in Kabul PD 2, 2 cases in Kabul PD 4, 17 cases in Kabul PD 5, 3 cases in Kabul PD 7, 18 cases in Kabul PD 10, 4 cases in Kabul PD 11, 5 cases in Kabul PD 13, 7 cases in Kabul PD 15, 3 cases in Kabul PD 17 and more than 12 cases in police counter-narcotics department. Though a decrease in number of drug cases also appears in some of police districts:
5 cases in Kabul PD 6, 5 cases in Kabul PD 8, 7 cases in Kabul PD 9 and 1 case in Kabul PD 16.- “These activities are not satisfactory at all; Kabul police districts must be prosecuted if they do not have an outstanding achievement during this year.” The official said.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Interior’s counter-narcotics Deputy has conducted a program to eradicate drug networks in Kabul; the program kicks off with concentrating on retailers first.
Head of counter-narcotics special unit ImamudinMotmayin says to have arrested 25 drug retailers only during one week in the capital.
- “The Afghan elections and other issues slowed down our activities, but this time our operations will consecutively continue.”
What surprised me during this report were that Ministry of Interior’s counter-narcotics Deputy has assigned only 10 of its staffs in Kabul police districts to follow the 4,000 drug dealers in the city. Head of media department in Deputy Counter-narcotics of Ministry of Interior Sayed Mahdi Kazimi confirms that only 10 cops are assigned to follow the drug retailers, but emphasizes that the Afghan Ministry of Interior is putting efforts to wipe this problem.
- “No sound mind will order to launch broader activities by 10 people in a city with 6 to 6.5 million populations. We are trying to add more qualified people for this task.”
Seizing 400kgs of opium in Surobi district, 350kgs of heroin in Company area and 1,200kgs of drugs in Pol-e-Charkhi of Kabul were the biggest catches during counter-narcotics’ recent operations in Kabul. Ministry of Interior’s counter-narcotics Deputy says to have arrested 250 people since the beginning of the year in drug dealing charges.
Drugs – the second hand problem in Afghanistan
Visiting Afghan officials during this report made me understand that several hands, since months ago, are trying to diminish the capabilities of the counter-narcotics institutions. Therefore drug problem is not in the priority, while the government is much urging for the fight against terrorism and corruption.
- “Drugs are the biggest financial sources of insurgents and unfortunately Kabul is forgetting to fight against it – even the responsible institutions were weakened to stand against the drugs.” Tells a foreign official who is working in counter-narcotics fields in Kabul; he added “Afghan forces are standing in Kabul streets believing they can recognize terrorists and can prevent their attacks. They are behaving so simple against other issues like drugs. For example, you never witnessed any cases that they get off anyone from their car for consuming drugs.”
This foreign official believes that secrete hands are behind weakening the capabilities of the Ministry of Interior’s counter-narcotics Deputy in arresting the drug dealers. There were 6,000 employees working in the Ministry of Interior’s counter-narcotics Deputy during previous year, the 50 % staff downsizing in the organizational structure of this vital department has seriously led to challenges in countering drugs.
An Afghan official who wishes to remain anonymous says“We -the counter-narcotics depart- are consisted of 2,550 employees from among 157,000 staff in organizational structure of the Interior Ministry, meaning that we comprise less than 2 % of the entire structure which is not enough. For example, we just have 75 counter-narcotics staff in Helmand province, a province which produces 48 % of the entire drugs across Afghanistan.” He is adding that “The counter-narcotics unit consisting of 800 people was dissolved, reasoning that its annual five million dollar budget was not affordable. The counter-narcotic’s aviation unit was merged with the secretariat office of Interior Ministry and it is expected that Ministry of Defence will take the responsibility of this unit. The 444 and 333 units which were our special units were assigned for countering drugs. Our zone units –consisting of 25 teammates- were also downsized and were merged with the structure of the police headquarters.”
According to the Afghan officials, there is not even a single person in the Ministry of Interior’s counter-narcotics Deputy who is working to eradicate poppy cultivation in the country and the department must seek for other government institutions’ assistance in this field.
- “They took our airplanes, our equipment and personnel; they are all the efforts of the secrete mafia in the government who try to grab our power and make us weak.”
A downfall in the capability of the counter-narcotics institutions resulted to growth of poppy cultivation in a number of Afghan provinces each year. In 2012, there were 16 Afghan provinces involved in poppy cultivation, the number reached to 17 during the 2013 and there are 19 provinces involved in poppy cultivation now in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a massive support towards the drug smugglers in Afghanistan resulted to serious problems in targeting the main gangs of drugs.
- “We receive tens of phone calls, even from the highest-ranking Afghan officials, while we arrest a drug smuggler saying: Leave him and ensure us of his release!”
In spite of all the challenges and limitations, the counter-narcotics institutions which are assigned to target 1,200 until 2,000 drug dealers each year have had more achievements than the assigned.
3,100 people were arrested by the Afghan forces in 2012, the number boosted to 3,260 in 2013 and around 1,800 people arrested up to 9 months of the current year.
Afghan capital is witnessing some other criminal phenomena too – besides drug smuggling. At least 10 criminal incidents happen in Kabul during each 24 hours. Kabul police says most of these gangs use “modern” tools during crime.
- “They use different weapons, different pistols, AK 47s and modern arms. Meanwhile the criminals make use of technology, and wide modern communications. They are trying any approaches to escape from the law and easily commit their crimes.”, tells Kabul Criminal Investigation Department (CID) chief Mohammad FaridAfzali – the man who, according to himself, must fight against the criminal gangs of the city from 6 morning until end of the night.
Killings, kidnapping, robbery, swindling and tens of other incidents are the other reasons that take away the relief from Kabul CID chief and his subordinates during the nights. However Mr. Afzali believes the crime level declined in Kabul comparing to the previous years.
- “About 70 to 80 incidents were happening each week in the past, but now we get the reports of 45 to 50 incidents in a week.”
Kabul police apprehension is still in place as the criminals are tireless in continuing their activities through various methods. Police arrested a group of criminals in the recent weeks that were carrying on criminal activities using police equipment.
- “We identified and arrested a gang whose one of the member was called General; they were disguised in police uniform and were breaking into people’s home with police Ranger vehicle.”
Based on the data provide by the Afghan security sources, there are 340 criminal gangs in Kabul city. The groups are mostly consisted of 4 to 5 people, but sometimes the group members are estimated to reach 20 to 30.
“They are trying to stay in touch with each other in a chain and this way they assume to have established a mafia gang in Kabul.” says an Afghan official believing that “powerful hands” are behind some of these gangs. “Not all, but some of them have access to weapons and government vehicles which shows some powerful people support these gangs.”
Armed robbery is another problem for Kabul residents; most of the people prefer not to go out during the nights.
- “We are scared to leave the house during the nights, fearing that thieves will break in. We don’t allow our children to go out late night, thieves are everywhere across the city now! You can find several of them everywhere and they can target you in the roads, inside the cars and everywhere you can imagine.” tells 64 year old Abdullah a resident of Taimani area in Kabul.
- “Our young neighbor while coming home from office was targeted by several armed men inside a city taxi. The robbers stabbed him with a knife for having less money.”
Apparently no one feels safe in Kabul during the nights; dread accompanies people while walking the city’s roads and alleys to home. Mohammad, a 40 year old shopkeeper in Shahr-e-naw says “While we go out in the morning we are in fear of blasts and suicide bombers, the fear of robbers continues during the nights.”
Not only the taxi passengers, but those who owned cars, were also the victims. Associated Press staff, Hussain Sadat whose car was robbed by armed men weeks ago says:
- “As usual I stopped near a bakery close to our house to get some bread. I got the bread and wanted to get in to my car which suddenly four young and armed men surrounded me and threatened to death; they took away my car. This incident took place just a hundred meters away from a police check point.”
23 years old Mariam who works for an international NGO in Kabul still carries the trepidation of an incident that two men on a motorbike – in a crowded part of the city- robbed her hand bag she was carrying her office stuff and mobile phones in it.
- “It was 4:00pm while I was heading home; a motorbike came towards me with a high speed in Kart-e-Parwan area, the biker grabbed my bag and run away before I make it to a corner.”
It is a cold autumn night in the road from Taimani to Parwan-e-du and Kart-e-Parwan area of Kabul, there is a man who stands far away from the people who are waiting for the transportation. It has been several nights that this man is walking astray in the streets and waiting for a robbers’ vehicle. He has nothing in his pocket, except few cash, he remembers a Kabul resident Abdullah’s words too that says being broke is another danger for Kabul people. Yes, this man is me; I am waiting for hours to hunt the hunters who are targeting people.
Finally a black Toyota Corolla car stops in front of me. I looked into the car and there were 2 other men with the driver; one is sitting beside the driver and another is in the back seat.
I asked: where to?
The driver said: where are you going?
This was the response I was waiting for; I was told the incidents kick off this way.
While opening the door to sit beside the guy in the back seat, I told I am going just one square ahead. The car moves; a deadly silence is dominating inside the car and I am impatiently waiting to see if I guessed correctly. All the three guys look below 30 and their dressing makes me know they are not residents of Kabul.
We crossed a police check post that I suddenly heard the sound of a pistol hammer from the front seat, but silent is still in place. We drove meters ahead that suddenly I found myself in the knife point of the guy who is sitting beside me – he holds a big knife.
- “Don’t move! Did you undrestand?”
The front guy turned his pistol towards me:
- “Hurry up, take out your money!”
I was exactly experiencing what I was told and now it is my turn to play my role. I responded with a pre-planned agitation:
- “Money? Ok, here it is.”
The guy who is beside me tells in asperity “Wait, I myself will check.” he searched my pockets in haste and took the money.
- “Where are your mobiles?”
- “I don’t have any mobile.”
- “You don’t have mobile? You are a young guy and walking without mobile phone in town? Look at your money, is 2,000 or 3,000 Afsan enough amount that you carry with yourself!?”
I hardly could control my laugh after heard his comments.
- “Well, I am a poor guy and have nothing else.”
- “Don’t complain me if I catch any mobile and money from you now.”
He started searching me again, but could not find anything else.
- “Isaid I don’t have any phone!Why are you doing all these? Isn’t it pity?”
- “It is none of your business; we will kick you out after crossing this square (Parwan-e- 2 square).
The driver who was silent from the beginning said:
- “Such a government deserves such actions; they killed all the people from hunger and joblessness!
I asked surprisingly: - “Are you making the people to pay for government’s mistakes?”
While the driver wanted to talk, the guy beside me stroke me with his knife handle and said:
- “Shut up! Go, hurry up. Go home directly and do not look behind. Be happy you are the first lucky guy who goes from my hand with no harms.”
The car heads towards KololaPoshta area with the maximum speed after I got out of it. I also sped to home to write the details before it goes away from my mind.