Afghan anti-drugs campaigner’s book-reading project opens new page in tackling abuse

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Naqibullah Zaland poses for a photograph in front of a small library he has set up at a hospital in Khost, southeastern Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Naqibullah Zaland)
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Naqibullah Zaland works at a small library he has set up at a hospital in Khost, southeastern Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Naqibullah Zaland)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Afghan anti-drugs campaigner’s book-reading project opens new page in tackling abuse

  • Authorities laud 26-year-old’s initiative in distributing books, opening libraries to broaden minds in remote region of Afghanistan

KABUL: An Afghan anti-drugs campaigner has opened a novel new chapter in his bid to help addicts kick their habit — by encouraging them to read books.

When Naqibullah Zaland’s attempts to raise awareness about the dangers of narcotics abuse fell on deaf ears, he decided to turn over a new leaf by distributing books and setting up small libraries in the remote eastern Afghan province of Khost.

Drug use in the sparsely populated region, which neighbors Pakistan, has been a problem for years, as it is throughout Afghanistan — the world’s largest opium producer.

Nationally, at least 12.6 percent of the adult population uses drugs, according to Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics data from 2015. In the country’s south and southeast the rate is believed to be much higher.

But by promoting book reading, Zaland hopes to change attitudes and win support for his cause by broadening minds and giving people the opportunity to take a fresh outlook on life.

The 26-year-old economics graduate originally set out on his anti-drugs campaign by visiting mosques and local neighborhoods where he put up posters and circulated fliers warning despairing young people about the horrors of addiction.

BACKGROUND

Naqibullah Zaland originally set out on his anti-drugs campaign by visiting mosques and local neighborhoods where he put up posters and circulated fliers warning despairing young people about the horrors of addiction.

However, when his efforts gained little traction Zaland changed tack and launched his book reading initiative in Khost city.

“As long as people are not prepared mentally, society will not move in the right direction. Reading books can do that and will deter people from using drugs and I thought through book reading we can bring change in society,” he told Arab News.

Zaland has handed out hundreds of books to bus drivers and set up 10 mobile libraries in places such as barber shops, public baths, and clinics.

Reading material ranges from selected works of poetry, Islamic literature, and popular novels to works on culture and politics, and magazines are also included.

Initially, they were all purchased by Zaland himself, but as news of his project spread the collection has grown through donations.

Khost barber, Nasrat Gul, said: “Before we received the books, our customers used to get bored while waiting for their turn, and either took out their smartphone to play games or wasted their time in other ways.

“Now, when they come, we can offer them books instead. They love it and find it incredibly useful. Illiterate people and those with little education read magazines, but those who have some education, read other books,” he added.

Zaland is trying to encourage reading wherever he can as Afghanistan’s literacy rate is among the lowest in the world. He noted how he had managed to persuade family members and friends of school and university graduates in his city to gift them books instead of fresh flowers, the normal practice during graduation ceremonies.

“Now people give books as presents to the graduates. It is much cheaper, more useful, and has a longer impact for the goodness of youth than giving them flowers which they threw away after the ceremony,” he said.

Zaland’s next goal is to donate books to Khost prison where hundreds of inmates are held without access to vocational work or means of study.

While so far, his initiative has been a private venture, the project’s success has been attracting the attention of local authorities.

Talib Mangal, a spokesman for the Khost governor, told Arab News that the administration would help Zaland in his “good cause,” adding that the initiative was “very productive and useful for promoting a culture of book reading and educating people in an unofficial manner.”


Iranian man arrested over deaths of family in English Channel

Updated 31 October 2020

Iranian man arrested over deaths of family in English Channel

  • He faces manslaughter charges after migrant couple and two of their children drowned when the boat they were in capsized

LONDON: An Iranian man has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of four members of an Iranian-Kurdish family in the English Channel.

Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35, Shiva Mohammed Panahi, 35, and their children Anita, 9, and Armin, 6, drowned on Tuesday after the boat they were in capsized as they attempted to cross the Channel from France.

Their 15-month-old son, Artin, and two people are still missing. An official from the French coastguard said there is no hope of finding any more survivors, after a search-and-rescue operation in “unfavorable” conditions was called off on Tuesday night.

The Iranian suspect was allegedly piloting the semi-rigid vessel, which was carrying 22 people from the Grande-Synthe migrant camp near Dunkirk, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Dunkirk prosecutor Sebastien Pieve said the man was arrested after survivors who were taken to hospital gave statements to police.

“He told us he was just a migrant but the information we have gathered against him, notably from 13 others who were interviewed, suggests that he is close to the smugglers and his claims do not stand up,” Pieve said.

The man, who is in provisional custody, is under investigation and faces charges of involuntary homicide, endangering the lives of other people, helping “illegals” as part of an organized gang, and criminal association, according to reports. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 10 years and be deported from France after serving his sentence.

Pieve said an aim of the police inquiries is to dismantle the smuggling ring responsible for the people being on the vessel.

A growing number of migrants are attempting risky journeys across the Channel in small, dangerous vessels provided by smugglers because of a reduction in the number of commercial sea crossings between the UK and France as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 7,400 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, compared with about 1,800 during the whole of 2019, according to Press Association calculations.