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Afghan ‘Village Of Widows’ Struggles To Survive After Losing Men To Drug Smuggling In Iran

Village Of Widows: The Afghan Drug Trade's Lethal Legacy
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WATCH: Village Of Widows: The Afghan Drug Trade's Lethal Legacy

MIR ALI, Afghanistan -- Humaira, a 40-year-old Afghan widow, has been looking after her six children in a remote village in western Afghanistan’s Herat Province since losing her husband to drug smuggling in neighboring Iran a decade ago.

She says her husband, Abdul Rahim, had joined a group of about a dozen men to venture into Iran. “Weeks after their departure, we learned about their capture and death,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. Afghans make up a large number of those sentenced to death under Iran’s draconian drug laws.

Humaira now survives by washing clothes for affluent members of her community.

“Now my children also do everything they can to help us survive,” she said. “We have no one who can help us.”

Humaira is one of dozens of widows in Mir Ali, a village in Herat’s rural Adraskan district. Some 50 families, out of a total 70, have lost men to smuggling in Mir Ali. The impoverished village is characterized by dusty streets lined with crumbling mud houses. It is locally known as “the village of widows” because it has lost most of its men to drug smuggling. With many sentenced to death in Iran or killed in border raids, some continue to languish in Iranian prisons. Some in the village simply do not know what happened to their relatives after they were recruited by drug smugglers years ago.

Humaira, a 40-year-old Afghan widow, lost her husband a decade ago.
Humaira, a 40-year-old Afghan widow, lost her husband a decade ago.

Mir Ali is located near Highway 1, the major highway connecting the western city of Herat, capital of Herat Province, to the capital, Kabul, via the southern city of Kandahar. The village is only 100 kilometers from Afghanistan’s borders with Iran and Turkmenistan, which makes it significant for smuggling operations out of the southern Afghan province of Helmand, where most of the world’s illicit opium and heroin is produced. Iran has high addiction rates and, according the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the country is one of the primary transit routes for drugs produced in Afghanistan.

In impoverished Mir Ali, most adult males are lured by the prospects of quick money by smuggling drugs into Iran. Many, however, never return.

Saad Gul, an elderly woman in Mir Ali, first lost her husband to drug smuggling. Her two sons were later also killed while attempting the same. “We now have no male guardian left,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Zahra, another widow in the village, says she was left to look after her small children after she lost her husband 12 years ago. “We are forced to live in abject poverty,” she said.

Everyone in the village has stories of misery and suffering. Whenever the remaining men in the village gather, they mostly exchange stories of suffering and loss and remember missing relatives and friends.

“No one helped these people. No one even tried to understand their problems,” Abdul Ali Faqiryar, the district governor of Adraskan. “Their husbands and children left for smuggling in Iran, but no one knows for sure what happened to most of them – whether they are dead or alive.”

It is not clear whether the Afghan authorities have plans to raise the issue with Iranian officials. For Mir Ali residents, the village graveyard remains the most frequented place as families visit the graves of the men whose bodies they were able to retrieve.

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