By Safia Melad and Fariba Nawa
December 22, 2004
Pajhwok Afghan News
Kabul– Sakina, Zainab and Latifa were coming to their birthplace Afghanistan for the first time after 20 years from Pakistan. They were expecting a sweet homecoming with relatives; instead they got thrown into a women’s prison in Kabul.
Four months ago, the women, who are related to each other, boarded a station wagon headed to Afghanistan. But they say they did not have the fare for the ride so a stranger, a man standing in the bus station, offered to pay their way if they carried a yellow plastic bag full of “stuff.” They were told another man would pick up the bag when they got to Kandahar, the women’s destination. He also offered them about 1600 Afghanis (US$ 35).
Half way through the ride inside Afghanistan in Maidan Shahr, police stopped the station wagon and searched the passengers. They found opium in the plastic bag. The women screamed and cried that they had no knowledge of the contents but police sent them for interrogation and then off to jail where they are awaiting their trial.
“Opium is like poison, I can’t believe that anyone would knowingly do this,” Zainab told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Police say the women are guilty of narcotics trafficking.
These three women are among thousands of women across the country voluntarily or forcibly trafficking narcotics without much incentive. They may get a cut as a poor farmer will but the drug lords benefit from their risk.
Police say it’s easier for women to traffic narcotics because smugglers and drug lords believe women are less likely to be searched. In some cases, women pretend to be pregnant with kilos of opium and heroin skillfully tied around their belly.
But the Afghan government’s push this year to fight against narcotics is giving no mercy to the women and the number of women charged with involvement in the drug trade is increasing, police say.
“These women traffickers are mostly from the south and the drug mafia wants to use them because they think we’ll take it easy on them in searches. We used to but not anymore,” said General Abdul Fatah, chief intelligence prosecutor in Kabul.
The three women coming from Pakistan say they were naïve and the drug lords exploited them. The three sat in a rather comfortably heated room on their beds in the women’s prison lamenting their fate. Latifa’s two sons, ages 2 and 5, were traveling with them. She sent the older one back to Pakistan to be with his father but kept the two-year-old boy with her in jail. The boy climbed in his mother’s lap and held her.
Latifia, 35, is Sakina’s daughter-in-law and Zainab, also 35, is her cousin. Fifty-year-old Sakina and Zainab are both widows responsible for providing for their families in Peshawar. Sakina is a maid in people’s homes and Zainab is a street vendor. But for now, they read the Quran and pray all day with each other as they wait to hear from their relatives and their lawyer. Zainab said her brother, who lives in Jalalabad, refuses to visit her because he’s ashamed that his sister has landed in prison.
The women said not only do they have to deal with imprisonment but with the disgrace hurled on women who are taken to jail, whether they are innocent or guilty. These women thought the same way until they got here.
“When we first came here, we thought the jail was full of bad people. But now we see that a lot of regular people are here,” Zainab said.
One of those “regular” people is Zadrana, a nomad farmer struck by the country’s 25-year tragedy of war, drought and poverty.
Zadrana has six more months to serve from her yearlong sentence after she and her son were convicted for planting and trafficking two kilos of opium. With raisin wrinkled brown-skin and coal-rimmed eyes, Zardana only has one leg for walking. The other is disabled from an illness she does not know. She crawls or holds onto the wall as she walks. Zardana is a widow with two sons and a five-year-old daughter who suffers from a blindness that hurts. The daughter, who’s living with Zardana in jail, sat next to her mother holding her eyes and whimpering. Zardana said the little girl inexplicably stopped seeing well one day. She sees shadows and cries from pain.
Zadrana owned a couple of pieces of land in Kunduz province. She decided to plant opium last year and sells the harvest so she could have enough money to operate on her daughter’s eyes. She scraped off the juice of the poppy bulbs, prepared it into gummy opium and stuffed it in a plastic bag. Then she and one of her sons set off in a public bus heading south. Their destination was Pakistan through the Kandahar border. But half way through her trip in Chawk-e Arghandi, the police searched and found the opium.
She confessed to smuggling the drugs but now she wants to ask for the next six months of her sentence to be forgiven.
“I won’t accept another six months in here. I don’t deserve it and I won’t do this again. It was out of desperation,” Zadrana said.