HERAT -- Narcotics and precursor chemicals used to manufacture illegal synthetic drugs have been smuggled into Afghanistan from Iran, Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali announced earlier this month.
More than 95% of addicts in Herat consume chemically produced narcotics that have been smuggled into the country from abroad, rather than opium, Qatali said at a January 3 news conference in Herat city.
Security forces have seized narcotics such as "Tablet K", a street drug with stimulant effects, as well as precursor chemicals such as ammonium nitrate, which are used to make synthetic drugs, at legal and illegal border crossings.
The use of synthetic drugs has become commonplace in Afghanistan in recent years, Qatali said.
"All the ingredients and essential [raw] materials needed for the manufacture of chemical narcotics come from our neighbour, the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said, noting that these drugs are widely available in Herat.
This influx of drugs has fueled a rise in addiction among the local population.
"Afghanistan has been accused of exporting narcotics, but now that things have changed, the blame falls with neighbouring countries," he said, referring to the country's troubled history with opium production, often linked to the Taliban.
"A small amount of synthetic drugs is smuggled through legal border crossings, but most of them are smuggled into the country through illegal crossings," the governor said.
Cross-border drug smuggling
Counter-narcotics police in Herat Province say they have seized and destroyed more than 34 tonnes of precursor chemicals since last March.
Police have their hands full interdicting both the precursor chemicals and finished drugs.
"All synthetic drugs that are detected and seized in Herat Province in recent years have been imported through the Islam Qala crossing from Iran," said Nizamuddin Bahawi, chief of counter-narcotics at the Herat Police Department.
Three years ago, he said, 1 kilogramme of amphetamine or crystal had a street value of 500,000 AFN ($6,480). But now it would fetch less than 30,000 AFN ($389).
This is because "chemical ingredients that are used in manufacturing amphetamine and heroin are now imported from Iran in bigger volumes", he said.
Last year, Herat security forces conducted more than 300 counter-narcotics operations, during which they arrested more than 360 suspects in connection with charges of smuggling and hoarding narcotics, Bahawi said.
"Among those arrested, 67 were medium-scale and large-scale drug traffickers," he added.
Employers accused of exploitation
When 29-year-old Muhammad Zubair first started taking drugs, he used opium and hashish. But for the past three years, he has been using synthetic drugs.
"My addiction started with cigarettes and hashish, but now I take heroin, crystal and sheesha, and sometimes I inject drugs as well," Zubair said.
The Dari term "sheesha", which directly translates to "glass", is a common street name for methamphetamine in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
More than 70,000 addicts live in Herat Province, according to official data. Many reportedly travelled to Iran for work and became addicted while living there.
Muhammad Ewaz, 30, said he moved to Iran from Herat city five years ago for work. His employer in Iran had pressured him to take drugs, he said.
"Employers in Iran encourage Afghan youths to use narcotics so that they can exploit these young people [to work long hours without feeling fatigued]," he said. "I did not even smoke in Afghanistan, but after living for a few months in Iran, I even started taking heroin."
"I was very tired every day after work," he said. "My boss would come and offer me something to smoke so I would -- according to him -- not feel tired anymore."
"I rejected his offer a few times, but after he threatened to fire me and to turn me over to police, I had to use the drug," he added.
Disrupting lives of Afghan youth
Some employers in Iran tell Afghan workers that if they refuse to use narcotics they will lose their jobs, said Herat native Shah Muhammad.
"In the beginning, before they tell the workers what to do, they mix drugs in their tea," he said. "I became so addicted to drinking the tea my boss gave me every day, only to find out later that it had drugs in it."
Smuggling drugs into Afghanistan disrupts the lives of the new generation of Afghan youth, as it impacts the economy and all aspects of social life, said Herat city social activist Sayed Ashraf Sadaat.
He called on the government to crack down on the smuggling of synthetic drugs into Afghanistan, to prevent the destruction of the future of the country's youth.