Drugs kill more people in Pakistan each day than terrorism and a majority of the narco-trade comes via Afghanistan.
It is heroin that is doing it mostly and an estimated 150 tons of it is trafficked into Pakistan. In fact, 43% of the drugs produced in Afghanistan go through Pakistan to the entire world. According to the World Drug Report, drugs worth $30 billion transit through Pakistan. The net effect? According to a Foreign Policy report, over 700 people die in Pakistan from drugs compared to 39 from terrorism.
“Where there is demand, there is a supply,” says Huzaima Bukhari, a lawyer who has written extensively on the narco-trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan in Pakistan: Drug-trap to Debt-trap (2003). “Due to the porous nature of the border with Afghanistan, the supply cannot be controlled.” She appeared on ‘Awaz’ show on October 25 to talk about the crisis.
The Pakistan-Afghan border doesn’t have barbed wires like the Pakistan-India border does. Every day, millions of vehicles pass through and narcotics can easily be hidden in containers, secret pockets, car parts. “This had led to infiltration in the black economy as well,” she adds. “These drug dealers are also warlords and they have made in-roads into politics as politicians depend on these warlords for money for election campaigns. Not all the politicians, but a majority of them are dependent on this drug money for running their election campaigns.” Other than that, since 1995, drug lords have been investing their illegal money in the construction business.
And so, Pakistan is a country where, as with any other, there are a large number of dealers who are making money at a great cost to the economy and society. Drug money corrupts the system. We often forget this angle to the story.
Another often ignored part of this narco-trade picture is the nexus between drug smugglers and terrorism. It is said that groups in Afghanistan such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban are being funded by the $70 billion worth of drugs being sent into the world from Afghanistan. Drug addiction doesn’t just destroy families, it has a global impact.
According to the World Drug Report from 2016, there are 29 million people in the world involved in drugs. At one time, there were around 1.2 million drug users in Pakistan but now the Senate has been told that figure is at 7.6 million with 40,000 people being sucked into this habit every year. More worrisome is that a 2011 report revealed that 40% of drug users reported in Pakistan are HIV positive. Mind you, these are only the reported cases. So much of this dark world goes unreported.
What is being done to fight it?
The Anti-Narcotics Force and other organisations revealed in 2015 that 344 tons of narcotics worth $2.5 billion were seized in Pakistan. This is disastrous for our reputation in the world. And it certainly doesn’t help when PIA crew members have been caught smuggling narcotics to the UK.
“The ANF and Balochistan Levies are working to control drug smuggling and border-patrolling,” says Bukhari. “[But] it is not possible to check every car passing the border and the border is such that anyone can cross from anywhere.” They can even smuggle drugs by putting them on the backs of animals. That said, the Levies, Customs and Pakistan Army are all working on this front. “If they try to use more advanced technology, there is a chance that the smuggling could be controlled.”
We have never tried to study which areas are drug-dealing spots, Bukhari points out. Where can kids buy buy drugs easily? “Since PATA and FATA are now part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the provincial police can now work in these areas too,” she adds. “There is a need to catch these drug dealers and expose them to the masses as there are no retail shops selling these drugs. It is sold on the streets. People buy it through word of mouth.”