by Naseer Kakar & Niala Mohammad
India is not the only country complaining about Pakistan’s rising drug trafficking issue; China, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia all have repeatedly voiced their concerns over the smuggling of illicit drugs, mainly heroin, opium, hashish and morphine into their borders via Pakistan.
However, Pakistan isn’t producing these drugs-Afghanistan is. Pakistan and Iran simply serve as transit states to the rest of the world. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2014 World Drug Report states that a whopping 87% of the world’s opium is grown in neighboring Afghanistan.
Traditionally the drug trading route from Afghanistan to Pakistan onwards to the rest of the world are the Torkham border crossing, Ghulam Khan, Kunjrab, Wahga, and Karachi. However due to increased security, about sixty-two alternative drug trafficking routes run through Baluchistan Province. In an exclusive interview with VOA Deewa, regional expert on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, Syed Ali Shah stated, “Contrabands are smuggled by road to Iran, Turkey and onwards to Europe. Another portion is smuggled via sea to UAE, Saudi Arabia, Africa and the rest of South Asia through Chaman, Noshki, Chagaghi, Dalbandeen, Panjgor, Turbat, Gawadar and Jeewani areas of Baluchistan Province. The third and more exclusive option available to high end drug cartels is air smuggling via airplane.”
In 2013 Afghanistan produced record breaking amounts of opium; during that year the cultivation of poppy was over 550 thousand acres more than the previous years recorded in history. The cultivation of poppy has spread from Helmand to Herat, Badghis, Faryab, Balkh, Kunduz, Ghazni Parwan, Kapisa and Laghman Provinces and is smuggled to the Central Asian Republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kirghizstan.
The UNODC 2011 World Drug Report stated that there were anywhere from 300 to 500 heroin producing factories operating in Afghanistan and are mostly in located in Helmand and Nimroz Provinces near the border of Pakistan in Chotho, Bramchah and Isa Chah areas. Some reports suggest the existence of heroin factories in Baluchistan as well, but regional expert Syed Ali Shah told VOA Deewa that “Baluchistan has no reports of any such factories.”
The UNODC estimates the export value of opium trade at about $4 billion, “with a quarter of that being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords and drug traffickers.” In 2009 UNODC reported heroine worth 450 million dollars have been smuggled from Afghanistan through Iran and Pakistan. An amount of 45 million dollars have been paid as tax to Taliban and anti-Afghan government organizations for protection of poppy crops and transportation of this heroin. Militant groups term this tax as Islamic Tax, called Ushur.
In lieu of this tax the Taliban provide security to poppy farmers against government agencies but Said Ali Shah says there are a handful of Afghan government officials who are also involved in the drug trade. He said, “reports say about 30% of Afghan security force officials are involved in drug trafficking trade.” UN says that apart from the Taliban, Al Qaida and Haqqani Network also benefit from the drug trade.
Although a select few seem to benefit from this lucrative trade, a fair portion of the population suffers from addiction. The use of opium is not new in that region, however it is probable that the high levels of production in Afghanistan may have brought about an increase in the use of opium based drugs. The UNODC states that in Pakistan, “Heroin users are estimated to consume 20 tons of pure heroin annually.” And in Afghanistan the UNODC Afghan Opium Survey of 2014 states 1.6 million of the populations men, women, and children are drug addicts.
Ironically both the Afghan and Pakistani governments impose the death penalty for drug trafficking.