1973 Dispatch from Kabul by Leon Daniel


By Leon Daniel

KABUL (UPI) -- It is a tragic trip for too many of the drug users --Americans and others -- who follow the drug trails that lead to the mind-bending scene in Afghanistan.

It is said that 70,000 or so foreign youngsters come here each year. Perhaps some find what they seek or escape what they flee. For others the trip has ended in prison or death.

The deaths of three young Americans during the past year definitely were attributed to drugs and two others were considered drug-related.

No one knows how many others died of unreported drug overdoses and were just "planted by their friends," a U.S. Embassy official said.

Seven foreign travelers, including an American, were shot to death last year in the violent and poverty-ridden country where almost every man who can afford one owns a rifle

Four people at the U.S. Embassy deal with users and their problems. Although some young travelers disagree, the diplomats bring considerable compassion to their often thankless jobs.

"These are middle class kids," said an American official. "Ghetto kids couldn't raise the money to get to Hoboken."

The most hated men on the drug scene are the "Narcs," slang for narcotics officers. They are attached to the U.S. Embassy and work for the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Many of the users insist they work for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The drug dealers used to claim the "Narcs" are responsible for putting them in the bleak mud-walled Dehmazang prison. But agents are more interested in the formidable task of stemming the flow of opium and hashish over Afghanistan's borders and through two of its airports that handle international flights.

One of the killer drugs here is morphine, which the addicts buy illegally in pharmacies and inject into their veins. They also inject "speed," amphetamines such as dexedrine. Another killer drug is opium, which the freaks eat as well as smoke.

But the magnet that draws most of the youngsters to Kabul is the strong and cheap hashish. Because of the increase in traffic, hashish has begun to replace opium as a money crop in Afghanistan.

Kids in Middle America who picture the Kabul drug scene as a happy place where beautiful young people sit around in coffee shops singing, strumming guitars and blowing a little pot can forget it.

Kabul in the winter is a cold and grim place where girls and boys have sold their bodies to feed hard drug habits.

It is a placce where a pretty girl who a few years ago was in a finishing school in Virginia panhandles to get enough to eat.

It is a place where youngsters turn yellow from hepatitis picked up from hypodermic needles and dirtier restaurants.

It is also a place where a kid can get busted and thrown into one of the grimmest prisons in Asia.

A user who gets busted can expect sympathy but little else from the U.S. Embassy, whose role is sharply limited by a foreign policy that must push a host nation to halt its narcotics trafficking and, on the other hand, is expected to minister to youngsters who break Afghanistan's narcotics laws.

When the snow falls and the cold winds whip from the stark mountains that surround Kabul, the talk turns to places like Goa, Bali and Katmandu, drug scenes they hope may have a little of the magic they seek.

A lot move on to such warmed places but some are trapped here by prison sentences, hard drug habits, sickness and poverty.

Occasionally, former freaks return to Kabul clean-shaven and short-haired and deal in hashish and opium. They stay in the city's only luxury hotel high on a hill above the grubby flophouses of their past.

Down below, desperate young junkies line up at the post office waiting for cables authorizing money. Others seek money in the streets, panhandling or prostituting themselves.

A kid blowing a little grass with his friends back in Iowa might hear some strange and wonderful tales of the Kabul drug scene. But the stark reality too often is disillusion, destitution and death.


(Leon Daniel is chief correspondent for South Asia, with headquarters in New Delhi. He went to Saigon in 1966 as a UPI war correspondent and since then his assignments have taken him to many Asian capitals. A native of Etowah, Tenn., he was graduated from the University of Tennessee. He joined UPI at Nashville, Tenn., in 1956 and worked in the Knoxville and Atlanta bureaus before going to Vietnam.)

* * *