Addicted in Afghanistan: Beautiful and bleak

By Merryn Johnson

Jawed Taiman‘s award winning film, Addicted in Afghanistan, which screened at Frontline on 13 September, is beautiful and utterly bleak. The documentary follows the lives of two young boys, best friends Zahir and Jabar, through the streets of Kabul. The film moves between their sober, childish hilarity and the painful grips of their heroin addiction, which they repeatedly try to beat in a city devastated by war and poverty.

The film’s mood is one of hopelessness. The boys, who guess their age to be between 16 and 17 at the beginning of the film, have been using since they were as young as eight-years-old. And despite their families’ encouragement to get treatment, they are surrounded by addicts: mother, father, uncle, younger sister. Such addiction has become endemic in Kabul and wider Afghanistan where over one million Afghans are estimated to be addicted to drugs, especially heroin. And up to 40% of these addicts are women and children.

After the screening, producer Sharron Ward, was at the Frontline Club to answer question as was Taiman via Skype from Kabul.


Thumbnail image for SW Frontline.jpg

Photo by Chris King

Ward explained that they were originally in Kabul to make a different story, another underreported problem of HIV, which is on the increase due to intravenous drug users. Taiman said that although poppies have been grown in Afghanistan for centuries, it was previously exported to Pakistan, Iran and Europe, but that heroin production has increased since the Taliban lost control of the country.

“I’ve travelled to more than 17 provinces and everywhere I went the land was flourishing with poppy fields…. After the Soviets left, you could find one or two heroin addicts on the streets of Kabul, but it wasn’t very common, but now it’s very much a part of the Afghan people’s lives. This is the entire country’s problem now and it is not getting better.” — Jawed Taiman

In answer to a question as to how such young, impoverished boys can afford a $9-a-day heroin habit, Ward said: “There’s another darker issues, which is that a lot of the kids and particularly boys, engage in child prostitution.”

Taiman‘s frustration at the state’s failure to try and help and protect its people is clear in his lament for Afghanistan, and will be heard in his upcoming film, Voice of a Nation: My Journey Through Afghanistan. But he is not without hope.

“People of Afghanistan are hopeful. The city is beautiful… People are unsure what is going to happen post-2012 when the troops are going to leave so everybody is in a confused state. But I’m hopeful that Kabul will be as beautiful as Paris and London.” — Jawed Taiman

This reference to a famous Afghan song, which rebuffs the European capitals in favour of the homeland, was embraced by an Afghan woman in audience:

“The song very much reflects the feelings of the entire Afghan people. For all Afghans nothing can replace Afghanistan. As an Afghan, there is nothing that can be compared: those empty streets, those very dirty, filthy, dusty roads, and raggedy people – there is something there that you cannot find anywhere else and that is Afghanistan.”


jawed skype frontline.jpg

Photo by Chris King