AN International Narcotics Control Board Mission, headed by Werner Sipp of Germany, recently undertook an important visit to Pakistan. Its visit was part of critical efforts taking place in the region to stem the steady and destructive flow of Afghan opiates.
Discussions with authorities here focused on the role of Pakistan in developing a domestic and regional policy framework to intercept drugs and the precursors necessary for the conversion of opium to heroin.
However, it is crucial that we move beyond these discussions to actual results and impacts within the very real political realities of the volatile region that we are part of.
Afghanistan’s drug problem is a key concern for Pakistan’s security, health and policy agenda. Pakistan has been suffering the consequences of the drug trade due to its geographical proximity to Afghanistan for more than a decade now. Afghanistan is now the source for more than 90 per cent of the world’s opium and a significant cannabis producer — much of it harvested in provinces bordering Pakistan.
It is estimated that approximately 40 per cent of all opiates and 50 per cent of the heroin produced in Afghanistan are trafficked through Pakistan. Pakistan is also a major transit country for precursors entering Afghanistan.
This is a multi-billion dollar illicit trade. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the value of the heroin that transits through Pakistan alone is worth approximately $27bn. The money sustains complex organised criminal networks of supplier rings, wholesalers, financiers, protectors and patrons.
These networks are further involved in other illegal activities and crimes, and of course money laundering and the criminalisation of legal assets. The resultant corruption stifles growth, distorts markets and undermines the rule of law and diminishes the chances for economic, political and social development.
As there is growing evidence that the proceeds of crime are being used to fund terrorism, this poses an additional challenge for the Pakistan government. With the increase in public insecurity due to organised crime it is individuals and societies that suffer, particularly from displacement. Women, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable groups.
Drug use increases the costs of healthcare for treatment and rehabilitation (including for HIV). Health problems impair family life and productive employment, diminish the quality of life and may even threaten survival.
Drug-related problems include criminal and juvenile justice costs — overcrowded prisons have large drug-using populations.
In addition, as research in Pakistan has indicated, drug use results in psychological problems for drug users as well as their families and in physical and domestic violence (particularly for spouses of drug users).
With the adoption of the National Anti-Narcotics Policy 2010 and the Drug Control Master Plan 2010-14, there seems to be an emerging consensus that drug control cannot be a peripheral exercise.
Both the policy and the master plan stress the importance of regional and international cooperation to counter the threat of drugs within the context of an integrated, comprehensive and cost-effective strategy with a balanced approach between development and security, and respect for national sovereignty and human rights.
It is important that awareness is increased and collective action is taken against the threat of drug trafficking and its resultant illegal economy.
The Ministry of Narcotics Control and Anti Narcotics Force deserve praise for the important work they do, as does the increased national and international assistance. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as a neutral partner of Pakistan also deserves our support and cooperation.
We need to continue to reiterate a three-pronged approach — strengthening law-enforcement capacities, improving inter-agency collaboration and developing regional coordination. For our work to be successful, all three efforts must go hand in hand.
The Anti-Narcotics Force has been in the forefront of arrest of drug traffickers and recovery of illicit drugs, particularly cannabis and heroin, coming from Afghanistan. On a directive of the Supreme Court in 2010, the trial and prosecution of prisoners involved in narcotics cases improved tremendously resulting in 100 per cent increase in convictions since then.
A precursor control unit was also established at the ANF headquarters in Rawalpindi, and its operational sections at the major ports of entry and exit in Pakistan have resulted in major hauls of acetic anhydride in containers checked to stop their entry into Afghanistan for conversion of opium to heroin.
An Inter-Agency Task Force on Narcotics Control was also established in 2010 that meets regularly under the director general ANF to improve coordination between all the federal and provincial agencies.
In the context of regional cooperation, the UNODC is assisting Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan through a trilateral initiative to improve coordination at the strategic and operational level.
This initiative has resulted in significant arrests of drug mafia networks involved in drug smuggling from Afghanistan through Pakistan and Iran.
Similarly, a quadrilateral initiative between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and the Russian Federation is actively promoting cooperation in interception of Afghan opiates smuggled through the Central Asian States.
While Pakistan’s anti-narcotics measures at the regional and global levels are being duly recognised by the international community, the menace of narcotics in the domestic arena requires both political will and a well-coordinated strategy to control widespread misuse of drugs across the country. It is time to make a difference in this regard.
The writer is former secretary of narcotics control and currently INTERPOL Executive Committee member and UNODC adviser on rule of law and criminal justice in Pakistan.