Asif Chaudhry lays bare how sheesha bars are related to drug peddlers in Lahore
Over four million people in Lahore use soft and hard drugs, according to a report by an NGO, Youth Council for Anti Narcotics (YOFA), while Lahore ranks second to Karachi in terms of drug consumption in Pakistan.
Hashish, heroin, bhang, tranquillisers, cocaine and opium are available everywhere in the city and the business flourishes in the absence of drug-abuse prevention programmes in both the public and private sectors.
According to police records, over 7,000 drug dens operate all over Lahore and their main supply chain is believed to be from Peshawar to about 15 localities including Shahdara, Shafiqabad, Bhatti Chowk, Tibbi City, Lorry Adda, Railways Station, Lower Mall, Hanjarwal, Defence, Baghbanpura, Shalimar, Harbanspura, North Cantonment, Kahna, Nishtar Colony, and City Raiwind.
The Lower Mall is where the drug business first started off and from here it spread to other localities and then the rest of the province. The Data Darbar and its surrounding have become a safe haven for drug peddlers to target devotees, the majority of whom belong to the lower social strata. Some drug peddlers from nearby localities started their business on a small scale and soon became tycoons, according to police records. Gaddi Sain, Shahzad Butt, Dr Siddiqui, Ghulam Nabi of Prinda Market, Farooqi Bhaya of Sheesh Mahal Road, Chand of Peer Maki and Niku Marasi and Naveed Shah of Bhatti Gat have been running the narcotics business on large scale. After Gaddi Sain and Dr Siddiqui passed away, their children took over their business.
A former Station House Officer (SHO) of Lower Mall Police Station would have arranged a meeting with Niku Marasi; a known major supplier of the cannabis but he was reluctant to meet at his home-cum-drug-den and preferred to talk on the telephone. He sells charas in packets weighing 10g, 20g, half kg and one kg at the market rate of Rs2,000 to 3,000 per 20grams.
“Garda, the purified brand of charas is in demand mainly by students and women”, he said, adding that it is costly compared to the commonly available lower quality version of the same drug. He said a shelterless, homeless or jobless drug addict consumed charas of Rs100 daily while students and upper-class ladies purchased the higher quality drug at Rs1500 for a week.
Charas remains popular because of its affordability and because it can be used for a long time without any great adverse impact on health compared to harder drugs like heroin. “Not only is heroin far too costly but a heroin addict can be identified publicly owing to the rapid adverse impact on his physical and mental health,” Niku explained.
According to Niku, the drug business is very profitable but sometimes risky, especially when a new police official (station house officer) takes charge and raises his ‘demands’. “Normally a drug dealer pays Rs10,000 to 15,000 monthly to the SHO of the area to seek business protection or to avoid legal action,” he said.
He has hired three drug addicts on daily wages as ‘salesmen’ to run his business. “I don’t pay them in cash. I give each of them a piece of five-gram charas for daily consumption for their services,” he said. “They work as front men to deal with the clients.
Students and ladies place their orders by phone while low-income drug users meet the salesmen directly who usually take a round of the surroundings of Data Darbar or Bhatti Chowk to target drug users,” he said. They are strictly ordered not to stay in one place for too long to avoid arrest.
Niku further revealed that his estimated monthly income ranges between Rs250,000 to Rs40,0000. “We earn more from students and ladies as they pay without bargaining,” he said. His income increases to Rs200,000 per week during the annual congregation or urs which is the peak season.
He said that sheesha-smoking had dented the cannabis business to some extent as it had becomes a new trend for young people. However, the recent crackdown on sheesha cafes by Lahore police again increased the demand for hashish.
Another drug dealer Ghulam Sarwar alias Budhu from Baghbanpura area said that initially he sold prescription drug injections mostly to youngsters and hard core users. He changed his business strategy in the wake of the mushroom growth of sheesha cafes in the city which attracted well-off youngsters. “Now I sell charas and heroin directly to sheesha cafes and this is quite a safe trade I believe, as all the owners are influential,” he said.
According to Bhudu, over 300 sheesha bars are operating in the city. A majority of them are located in the posh areas and many include private rooms where youngsters can find both hard and soft drugs. “There are many drug dealers in the city supplying narcotics to sheesha cafes,” he said adding that the demand from the owners of the cafes has only been increasing with the passage of time. Sheesha smokers mix high quality charas and cocaine using a chilam on a small fire.
He refused to give further details regarding his business deal with the sheesha bar owners but he admitted that his daily income is not less than an owner of a mini shopping centre in a major commercial area like Main Boulevard, Gulberg or Defence.