Under the bridge

A frenzied ticking of lighters hail from behind the scarves, as ghost-like shapes crouch down to inhale the smoke. Bluish flames glitter in dark when the dope pipe makers trigger the gas burners. Poder, heroin, is cheap in Afghanistan: a dollar for a double dose. The opium harvest has hit a record mark of 9,000 tons in 2017. Heroin production is skyrocketing. And tens of thousands of junkies drag themselves through the streets of Kabul.

They are everywhere: on sidewalks and in crumbling buildings, stranded in the roundabouts and in the dumping grounds, cramming in the gardens and faltering alongside the massive steel and concrete shellproof walls that choke the city.

At night they seek shelter under the bridges, digging holes in the mud of the riverbanks, fighting for space, curling up in the rubbish, wrapped in a rag or in a plastic sheet. Many are former soldiers and policemen, some lost a leg or both at war. There is a woman who has two kids at home. And a 14 years old boy named Mahdi who began smoking at 7.

Afghanistan is lost. Over the past five-six years the Taliban have gained ground everywhere in the country, whilst the residual international forces remain confined in their barracks. The goverment barely controls the main cities but Ghazni, a three hours drive from the capital, is collapsing. Farah, Faryab and Badakshan provinces are under siege. Each day dozens of badly wounded civilians are brought to the Emergency hospital. Suicide attacks are growing in number and brutality: in the last few days a series of deadly blasts in Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar killed at least 50 people, including ten local journalists. Insecurity is so bad that in more than a week I didn’t encounter a single western foreigner around town. And there’s no way to travel by road outside Kabul, except to Panjshir. Nobody dares to mention the word peace anymore. It’s a joke.

A man under the bridge comes closer, a grin on his hollow face, hands shaking, hungry look, a pipe in his teeth. “Better blow up my mind” he says “before a bullet blows up my head”.

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