The meth and heroin addicts were still gathering in their hundreds in a squalid encampment under the Pul-e-Sokhta bridge in the Afghan capital of Kabul. It was a sorry sight to see them squatting beside bonfires while stray dogs ran around them, barking. Many were homeless and had nowhere else to go.
‘It’s easier to access the substance here,’ a dealer and one of the bridge camp’s scruffy inhabitants told me. ‘Everything is available here, best quality. They (the police) come here but they don’t bother us a lot. We are friends with the dogs; when it’s cold the dogs sit next to us; they may get high when we smoke, too, but not directly.’
The man noted I don’t look like one of the bridge’s regulars. What am I doing here, he asked. Then he asked if I wanted to buy anything. A dose of morphine cost a hundred afghanis, or $1 (80p). Another man offered me a drag on his morphine-laced cigarette. Eventually, my translator and guide started to get nervous. ‘Let’s go,’ he said. ‘I don’t want any Taliban to see us here.’
When the Taliban swept back into power in 2021 after the American withdrawal, they promised to stamp out the illicit narcotics trade that began in the poppy fields and ended in the veins of junkies as far afield as Moscow, Manchester and Mombasa.
At the start of the decade, it was estimated that Afghanistan was the origin of 82 per cent of the world’s opium supply, which is then refined into heroin and morphine. At first, the Taliban went around rounding up drug addicts at gunpoint to be taken to forced, prison-like detox centres. But by the time I visited in November last year, they seemed to have given up: the addicts were back under the bridge, and the poppy farmers had just planted a new crop.