KABUL // In the north of Kabul a fortress rises out from the dust in the form of high walls, guard towers and checkpoints. Even by the city's increasingly extreme standards, the security measures taken to ward off attacks are unusually tight.
But this is no military base. What lies here is Afghanistan's Counter Narcotics Justice Centre (CNJC). The guns, metal detectors and fences are a small sign of the challenges it faces in a country that is at the heart of the international drugs trade. "We have three main crimes. One is narcotics, one is corruption and the third is terrorism. The main one of these three is narcotics because it supports corruption in offices and it supports terrorism," said Ahmad Big Qaderi, the general prosecutions director.
Despite a steady drop in recent years, Afghanistan still produces more than 90 per cent of the world's opium. Officials, including a brother of the president, have been accused of working in an industry the UN valued at US$2.8 billion (Dh10bn) in exports in 2009. The CNJC is an attempt to centralise the counter-narcotics effort. Inside the $11-million building are an investigation unit, a prison, a primary court and an appeals court. All cases brought here must involve 2kg or more of heroin, 10kg or more of opium, or 50kg or more of hashish.
With the United States funding the building's construction and the UK helping pay the salaries, staff claim to have made significant progress, reeling off impressive statistics in mantra-like fashion. Mr Qaderi complained that the roughly $900 he earns a month is too little given the dangers he faces. He is provided with armed guards to take him to and from work, but still does not feel safe. "Through my efforts, all our male prosecutors have one pistol each. But it's not enough. We want tighter security, health insurance and housing from the government," he said.
The risks faced by anyone trying to combat the drugs trade in Afghanistan are clear. Alim Hanif, a judge for the counter-narcotics appeals court, was shot dead in 2008. A monument to him has been built at the CNJC. "It's a very dangerous job. We have a lot of big trafficking groups who do not accept this is a crime. They just see it as a business," said Mehroo Hamid, Mr Hanif's successor. She claims to have received threats by telephone and face to face.
"It's not my wish to do this. The government sent me here and I need to accept that," she said. Although some officials are risking their lives, others are accused of paying lip service to trafficking. In 2008 the US state department's former co-ordinator for counter-narcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan said Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, had protected drug lords for political reasons.
The same criticism arose again last year when convicted traffickers, including the nephew of a man running Mr Karzai's election campaign, were given presidential pardons. More recently, the appointment of Zarar Ahmad Moqbel as the new counter-narcotics minister has dismayed some in the international community who claim he was heavily involved in corruption when he was the minister of interior. Gen Aminuallh Amarkhil knows all too well how difficult it can be to stand up to the country's drugs mafia. For 18 months he commanded the border police at Kabul airport. It is a period he looks back on with pride and regret as he looks at photos documenting his time there.
"I thought all my achievements would be supported by the US, UK and the government of Afghanistan, but when I got into a serious problem they all kept quiet," he said. On one occasion broadcast on local TV, Gen Amarkhil stopped an Afghan mother and daughter trying to smuggle 5kg of heroin to India. The daughter said she would have him fired and continually hurled insults in his direction. After being transferred from his custody at the airport, both women were released by the police the same night. In another instance, two young Afghans were caught with 14kg of heroin. One claimed to have passed through police checkpoints in the city to the airport in a VIP vehicle. They were released after 20 days.
Gen Amarkhil lost his job in October 2006. He is now a security adviser to the minister of education in Kabul. Gen Amarkhil was adamant the government and the international community are not serious about stopping the trade. "There is speaking and there is putting into practice," he said. email@example.com