Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pakistan: Pakistan's Domestic Narcotics Problem Reflects Regional Instability

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pakistan: Pakistan's Domestic Narcotics Problem Reflects Regional Instability

Article excerpt

PAKISTAN: Pakistan's Domestic Narcotics Problem Reflects Regional Instability

Most Americans are aware that Pakistan, as part of the so-called "Golden Crescent" region of narcotics production in southwest Asia, has been a conduit for narcotics. These are primarily opium, which is refined into heroin, perhaps the most addictive of the hard drugs, and cannabis, the hemp plant whose derivatives are known as hashish in Europe and the Middle East, and marijuana in the United States. Americans also assume, rightly, that the narcotics traffic through Pakistan accelerated during the years of strife in neighboring Afghanistan, and that the situation will remain difficult to control until stability returns to that country, and the last of the more than two million Afghan refugees who streamed into Pakistan return home.

All of these assumptions are correct, but the problem as viewed from Pakistan itself takes on different dimensions, particularly in terms of increasing domestic drug use. It is such a serious problem that Pakistani legislators concluded they couldn't wait to pass special laws to crack down hard on Pakistani drug traffickers, who have developed a large clientele among Pakistani drug users, as well as among foreign drug traffickers.

Saiyed Mohib Asad is a 53-year-old veteran of 27 years of police service whose last position was inspector general of police. Now he is deputy director of a special force set up within Pakistan's Ministry of Narcotic Control. Until May his immediate superior was an army general who also was detailed to the narcotics force before rotating back to an army command. Both have worked closely with non-governmental organizations and international authorities, including the government of the United States, on three aspects of narcotics control: elimination of supplies in growing areas, interdiction of drug transport into and wither Pakistan, and demand reduction through education.

The results, in view of the long history of opium poppy cultivation in Pakistan, are impressive in Asad's view. During the long period of British colonial role in the subcontinent before its partition in 1947 into India and Pakistan, opium was a legal product, organized by the British for production and export -- largely to China.

For more than a decade after Pakistan became independent, legal cultivation continued, with licenses issued to farmers in the Noah West Frontier Province. The entire opium crop was purchased by the Pakistani government for medical and scientific purposes. Opium-based medicines were sold then as legal prescription and non-prescription drugs.

In 1979, however, as part of a broad series of ordinances promulgated under a military government to bring public practices more into conformity with Islamic traditions, the licensing system was abolished. In the 1978-79 crop season, the last season before promulgation of the hudud (prohibited practices) ordinances, Pakistani land under poppy cultivation was reported to be 80,500 acres.

By the 1993-94 crop season, this had been brought down to 1,383 acres. During the same period, opium production had been brought down from 800 tons in 1978-79 to some 109 tons in 199495. Among the methods used to accomplish this, with international help, were manipulation of taxes to encourage crop substitution.

Despite these highly encouraging domestic statistics, however, narcotics abuse within Pakistan soared. In 1980 there were an estimated 5,000 drug abusers in Pakistan, with heroin the principal drug in use. According to current estimates, there now are about 1,520,000 heroin addicts in Pakistan, out of a current population of 130 million. The estimated number of persons of all age groups abusing one or another narcotic drag is 3 million, and growing, with grave economic and health effects.

According to Asad, Pakistan's heroin addicts outnumber the combined total of heroin addicts in the United States and Western Europe. …

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