Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Pakistan’s drug menace

December 17, 2012

PAKISTAN’S geographic location next to Afghanistan places the country in a vulnerable position with respect to the illicit trafficking of opiates and precursors.

More than 90 per cent of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan which also produces cannabis — much of it is harvested in provinces that border Pakistan — in sizeable quantities. Consequently, large quantities of opium, heroin and cannabis are trafficked via Pakistan onwards for markets in Iran, the Middle East, Africa, East Asia and the West.

Pakistan is also a major route for certain precursors like acetic anhydride entering Afghanistan for conversion of opium to heroin. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the annual revenue generated by Afghan opiate trafficking to and through Pakistan exceeds $1bn. This does not include the revenue from illicit trading in associated precursors which may be of a similar value.

Pakistan’s importance as a key trafficking route is illustrated by the large number of seizures made by its law-enforcement agencies. During the last 10 years, approximately 150 tons of morphine and heroin entered Pakistan per year, of which quantity 20 per cent was seized. Between 1996 and 2011, the authorities captured an average of 7,200kg of opium per annum, making Pakistan the top country of interception in the world along with Iran. Cannabis seizures increased from 134,622kg in 2008 to 186,876kg in 2011.

Notable seizures of acetic anhydride prevented from entering Afghanistan include 14.8 tons in Karachi in 2008, five tons in Quetta in 2009 and 15.6 tons in Karachi in 2010.

Pakistan cultivates a small amount of poppy and vigilance is required to prevent expansion. The problem areas in terms of poppy cultivation are largely concentrated in Fata. However, poppy cultivation in some areas along the Sindh and Balochistan border was noticed in 2010. Moreover, apart from opiate production and trafficking, use and possible production of synthetic drugs in Pakistan is an increasing and emerging problem. There are clear indications that Pakistan is both a transit and destination country for these emerging drugs.

The available information on drug use in Pakistan is outdated and of questionable accuracy. Some estimates reveal that at least 80 tons of opium is consumed annually in Pakistan which accounts for six per cent of the global opiate consumer market and one-twentieth of total global heroin consumption (with five per cent of the world’s heroin users).

Although current rates of HIV/Aids in Pakistan are low (97,000 reported cases), the 100 per cent increase in injecting drug use between 2006 and 2011 is linked to a currently concentrated but localised HIV epidemic among injecting drug users. This, accompanied by high-risk behaviour, could lead to an HIV epidemic in the wider population.

The government of Pakistan moved rapidly on the policy side in 2010 and both the Anti-Narcotics Policy and five-year Drug Control Master Plan were approved by the cabinet in 2010. The policy and drug control plan are now in the implementation stages. That is where lack of political will and inadequate coordination among the federal and provincial governments and anti-narcotics agencies are emerging as major challenges.

The National Anti-Narcotics Council headed by the prime minister and comprising all the chief ministers has not held its annual meetings in 2011 and 2012 showing that the menace of drugs is not high on the political agenda of the federal and provincial governments. The ephedrine scam unearthed in 2011 has also reflected the possible extent of involvement of influential political players in this illicit trade. The absence of an effective regulatory mechanism by the health and narcotics ministries to fix quotas and monitor use of such controlled substances to the pharmaceutical industry has been a glaring policy lapse. We did not learn lessons from the seizure of 807kg of ephedrine packed in a salt container from Karachi at the Port of Montreal in 2008. Interception of even larger quantities of ephedrine from Pakistan in Iran during 2011 and 2012 saw raised eyebrows at the International Narcotics Control Board in Vienna.

For Pakistan to improve its efforts against drug-related challenges, the strategy must involve the effective implementation of the rule of law combined with concerted and well-coordinated action plans by both the federal and provincial government agencies and departments. Countering the production, trafficking and the use of illicit drugs effectively requires the implementation of the following measures that are already to a large extent part of the government’s narcotics policy:

First, as mentioned in a previous article, the Ministry of Narcotics Control is “the policy-level institution dealing with narcotics control in Pakistan and the ANF [Anti Narcotics Force] is the principal enforcement agency”. After the 18th Amendment, provinces have to play a greater role and come up with dedicated departments dealing with the menace of narcotics. Political will and ownership of the policy by all the federal and provincial stakeholders is crucial.

Second, a regulatory system and monitoring of controlled substances and chemical precursors needed for industry require not only inter-ministerial coordination but standardisation across the national and provincial levels.

Third, at present, drug treatment is somewhat separated from the mainstream health system. Disseminating drug abuse knowledge to health-worker training would help to extend its coverage, improving the efficiency of the current network of treatment and rehabilitation providers.

Fourth, a recently conducted national drug use survey would be useful for policymakers in expanding the evidence base by filling gaps in the knowledge of drug use and the perpetrators of the illicit trade.

Fifth, elements of the criminal justice system, such as prosecution services and the prison system require improvement to better deal with drug-related cases. Law-enforcement training academies need enhanced management approaches and modernised curriculum to meet new challenges.

Sixth, while the traditional orientation is towards Afghan opiates, law-enforcement agencies need to be familiarised with new and emerging challenges such as precursor chemical trafficking and importation, transshipment and production of synthetics and their precursors.

Last, regional cooperation is necessary for Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan for effective border management and sharing real-time information on drug trafficking. It is hoped that the forthcoming ministerial-level meeting in Tehran under the UNODC-facilitated triangular initiative will yield positive results in enhanced cooperation. We simply cannot afford to fail in combating the menace of drugs.

The writer is former secretary of narcotics control and currently UNODC adviser on rule of law.