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November 21, 2017
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The opiate fallout

Opinion

November 21, 2017

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The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime’s latest report on Afghanistan’s opium production should ring alarm bells for Pakistan. The UNODC warned of a spike as production in Afghanistan surged by 49 percent. That means an influx of readily available and cheaper drugs in the domestic and international market.
What does it forecast for Pakistan? First, its impact on the local drug abuse scenario, which is already dismal, would be inevitable. Posing a crippling burden on the country’s economy and health sectors the drug abuse population is growing annually and is allegedly much higher than the dated official figures from 2006.
The UN’s estimates note the use of 20 tons of pure heroin annually within the country. And this is heroin alone, cannabis is not far behind. On top of the indigenous regional drugs is the use of ‘fashionable’ synthetic drugs imported from the West and South America. Such widespread use is the acceptance of drug abuse in certain circles; reports of its use among even school children is often met with shrugs of indifference.
The second impact could be that the use of trafficked narcotics for generating funds to support terrorism by indigenous groups within Pakistan is likely to go up.
Unfortunately, failure to acknowledge or deal with drug abuse is yet another form of wilful absence of responsibility or empathy in our society. Whether it is the treatment of minorities, misuse of the blasphemy law, rising lawlessness, insidious corruption, shaming of women or child abuse, it is conveniently shut out. Yet, it is not surprising that in the case of drug abuse there is such a state of acceptance. We have allowed much to be swept under the carpet.
The Anti Narcotics Force in partnership with the UNODC and other international agencies has been successful to some extent, especially in eradicating poppy production in the country, but the fight against drugs is a continuous struggle. Not only is the over 2,430 km long,

open border we share with Afghanistan problematic in terms of monitoring the cross-border movement of insurgents, it is also the preferred choice of narcotics and human traffickers. This conduit serves as a main passageway for Afghanistan opiates to Pakistan for domestic consumption and other regional destinations.
This trafficking includes opiates and key precursor chemicals used in the production of heroin. The establishment of makeshift laboratories processing pure heroin along the border is part of the production-trafficking-insurgency nexus. The direct correlation between illicit trafficking – of humans, narcotics or arms – and instability does not need elaboration. It is not surprising that half of Afghanistan’s opium production takes place in Helmand.
Alternatives like facilitating and encouraging farmers to switch to other cash crops or the forcible eradication of the poppy crop by US and Nato forces previously were resisted so strongly by the cultivators that it was deemed feasible to ignore the issue and ensure security and control of the area first. Despite the touted control by Kabul of most insurgent areas the ground reality is quite different. Both the insurgency and opium production are enjoying their own heyday.
Hence it is not surprising to learn from Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the UNODC chief in Kabul that the ‘hot political market’ since 2010 has led to a growth in the demand and supply of opiates. The drug trade clearly thrives on uncertainty and political instability. Even though saffron cultivation is said to be gaining popularity in some parts of Afghanistan as a cash rich alternative crop for farmers, it is yet to prove its credentials to stem poppy production.
The growing use of drugs among children and youth in urban and even in rural areas now is the scariest indicator we face at present. It implies a sustained and organised effort by drug pushers whose reach amongst this segment of the population is not as easy to dismiss as the other rank sores we choose to ignore. It calls for self-reliance and community effort, something civic and social organisations can work towards on a priority basis. It is time we all started contributing with whatever means we can.

The writer was a former deputy opinion editor at Gulf News, Dubai.

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