04 October 2011

My 100th Post: Afghanistan's Opium Brides

One of my major interests is to read and write on international affairs. (I write for my company publication.) Societies especially those that promote violence elsewhere have always sustained my interest for a good two decades now. As a logical corollary, I am equally interested in societies that are at the receiving end of such exported, often proxy, violence.

One such society is Afghanistan. A God-forsaken place (the Taliban would kill me for this blasphemy!), Afghanistan is one of the world's most lawless states wracked by ethnic, sectarian, and political violence. Almost all violence is perpetrated by the Taliban (the word comes from Talib, meaning 'student'), created and nurtured by Pakistan.

Pakistan promoted the Taliban and helped it capture Kabul in 1996, in the process ousting a pro-India regime. One major objective behind this Pakistani move was to secure the Durand Line (the boundary line between Afghanistan and Pakistan).


Well, Pakistan strategised that if the western border could be secured by putting in place a pro-Pak regime in Kabul, then it could move its military forces away from the Durand Line to the eastern border with India, especially in Kashmir. (In the light of these facts, i.e. hindsight, we can well appreciate the rise in infiltration and terrorist activity in J&K, all culminating in the Kargil misadventure by the Pak army.)

When the Taliban captured power, it became the first terrorist organisation in the world to run a state. The Taliban government was, as expected, recognised by three states only - Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

The Taliban imposed a very strict and ultra-orthodox variety of Islam on the multi-ethnic society of Afghanistan. Men had to grow beards; women had to sit at home and could venture out only if accompanied by a male member of the family. All forms of entertainment - TV, cinema, music - were banned on grounds of being unIslamic.

Afghanistan under the Taliban resembled a medievel state with terrorism and opium being its major exports. It was from here that Osama bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks. In hindsight, the spectacular attack on the twin towers also brought about the terrorist regime's downfall.

The U.S. issued an ultimatum to Pakistan: 'Either you are with us, or against us'. Pakistan, faced with a Hobson's choice and afraid of dire consequences, preferred to sleep with the Taliban's enemy. The War on Terror had begun when the Pakis threw out their baby (read Taliban) with the hot water.

Backed by the U.S.-led coalition forces and India, the Northern Alliance, a ragtag alliance of desperate warlords all united by their fear and hatred of the Taliban, captured power. Ever since, the Taliban, now covertly supported by the Pak military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has been trying, albeit in vain, to recapture Kabul.

Where do the Taliban get money to fund their military strikes against the U.S. & NATO peace-keeping forces? The zealots extract ransom from opium farmers. While Islam forbids the cultivation of such crops, it is a matter of convenience for the Taliban. Faith in religion has always been a matter of convenience.

Today Afghanistan contributes 91 per cent of all opium produced in the world. Most of it is grown in the south, especially in the Helmand province controlled by the Taliban.

The Hamid Karzai administration, under pressure from the U.S., has systematically destroyed thousands of acres of opium farms. While the move appears positive, it has brought in its wake massive suffering to those whose farmlands have been destroyed.


In a land where the State, if we look at the welfare function of it, is absent, eking out the simplest form of existence often becomes a matter of life and death. No irrigation, no organised credit, no seed bank, and no help of any kind from the State have pushed even the unwilling farmer into producing opium.

A dangerous consequence of the destruction of the opium farms has been the growth in the number of opium brides. 

What's this?

Let me explain this social tragedy. When an opium farmer borrows money from a drug trafficker, who's hand-in-glove with the Taliban and corrupt government officials, to raise a crop, he promises to pay the trafficker a particular quantity of the opium crop.

The razing of thousands of acres of standing crop by the government has driven the opium farmer to the edge. The ruthless drug trafficker, as is his wont, presents a stark choice to the opium farmer: face death or give the daughter in marriage.

More than the fear of death, it is for his love of the whole family, the farmer is forced to 'sell' his daughter to the drug trafficker. The girl, in most cases, is under 14; the drug trafficker is generally not below 40. Girls married off in this fashion are called opium brides.

Such opium brides live a life worse than death. They are not allowed to commit suicide, for death would be an escape, escape from the clutches of hell.

The young Opium Bride works like a slave, from the crack of the dawn to the end of the day. She can't leave the house without being accompanied by a male member of the family; can't talk to anyone deemed a stranger; can't attend school or educate herself, and is covered from head to toe in a burqa.

For all practical purposes, she remains the trafficker's sex slave, to be sexually and physical assaulted by him. All this would happen to someone who is below 14.

If a farmer says no, i.e. not 'sell' his daughter, then he meets death in a ghastly manner. Wish to know how?

First, the farmer's hands and legs are bound. Next, he is thrown into a windowless room with a smouldering fire. The farmer slowly chokes to a painful death.

I strongly believe that violence is endemic to societies which lack respect for basic human freedoms. The Taliban's atrocities have only reinforced my belief. 

I published this article about a couple of years back on one of my old blogs; however, the reality of Afghanistan's Opium Brides has not changed. Misery is life personified.

Incidentally, this is my 100th post on this blog. Thank you for your visit!


Jigar said...

god bless the small girls and sinful father-aged grooms.
and that's appalling to read that even in 21st century, there is no betterment in the region..

HD said...

What women in a lot of muslim countries go through makes life in these parts of the world seem like a walk in the park. And Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'on Afghan women does just that, make the world seem smaller..

Anonymous said...

quite an informative article about life in afghanistan..... a shocker of a life for women....who are born there........god bless them....

Congrats ...Sir for ur 100th post...!!!!