The first steps towards ridding metropolitan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of the addiction menace
owards the end of May this year, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government launched an ambitious programme called the Drug-Free Peshawar. Riaz Khan Masood, the Peshawar division commissioner, supervised its execution. Early results were so encouraging that the provincial government has decided to replicate the model in other districts and aim for a Drug-Free Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The intervention began with the formation of an energetic team. About 1,200 addicts, mostly in the 14-25 age cohort, were tracked, found involved in drug abuse, and picked up. These included over a dozen young women. On questioning the addicts, the team learnt that nearly 800 of them could no longer identify their families. Several addicts were found HIV positive. Four rehabilitation centres were selected for the first batch and the addicts were handed over to them. When a progress report was presented to Chief Minister Mahmoud Khan he was overwhelmed with excitement. He told Riaz Khan: “I salute your commitment. Well done. I am determined to expand the programme. It should no longer be just a Drug–Free Peshawar, it should be a Drug–Free Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”
Several rehabilitated individuals shared their stories and some emotional scenes were witnessed when former addicts were handed over to their families. Many of them made a pledge to volunteer their services to help the government purge the KP of the menace of drug addiction.
Some local traders promised on the occasion to provide decent employment to about 381 young men. A ceremony organised in this regard was conducted by rehabbed ‘ghazis’.
A mother recalled: “I rushed to pick up my cell phone, having said my Maghreb prayers. The voice I heard sounded unfamiliar. ‘Is this Rokhsana Arshad* speaking,’ I was asked. “Yes,” I said, “Who are you and what is this about?” He said, ‘I am an official from the Peshawar commissioner’s office, your son Bilal* Khan is here. He is fine’.”
“I simply couldn’t believe him. How come my son, whom I had lost some 14 years ago when he was a 12-year-old, could still be alive? But Bilal Khan, my lovely green-eyed boy arrived soon enough. I have been blessed; beyond belief.”
Reclaiming sons, daughters and other relatives who had been lost to deadly drug addiction to ice, heroine and other contraband substances, in some cases several years ago was unique even for the concerned families. Most of the addicts were found to have been frequenting Peshawar’s Karkhano Bazaar for access to a variety of drugs.
Peshawar was first flooded with drugs, especially heroine in the early 1980s. Trafficking narcotics down country and abroad was a booming illegal business. Numerous heroine manufacturing factories were set up in the erstwhile FATA – now merged tribal districts. The impact on the KP and the country was enormous. Ever newer drugs and substances were introduced and found a ready market. Ice has been the latest trending narcotic. Its use among urban youth, particularly students, has been rising at an alarming pace.
Zarmina Bibi* was 14 years old when one of her friends persuaded her to try a new drug at a wedding party. She says from that moment onwards it was a dark valley for her. Failing in his efforts to make her quit, she says, her father finally drove her out of their home. Her mother had died of cancer several years ago.
Peshawar was first flooded with drugs, especially heroine in the early 1980s. Trafficking narcotics down country and abroad was a booming illegal business. Numerous heroine manufacturing factories were set up in the erstwhile FATA – now merged tribal districts. The impact on the KP and the country was enormous.
Zarmina Bibi told The News on Sunday: “I developed a connection on social media with a man in Peshawar. He took me to Karkhano market. I found the treasure of crystal meth… Soon I had become a drug trafficker. I supplied the drug to girls’ hostels and some homes in some posh localities of the city. I took to the streets of Peshawar. I went through many unbelievable situations. I lost track of my family and was, at times, even unaware of my own whereabouts.”
“One rainy evening, a man shouted at me. I was shivering from fear, hunger and sickness. I could not budge an inch. He took me to a parked vehicle and drove me to a place where several other addicts were present. We were sorted out and taken to rehab centres. For two days, I was extremely restless and in pain. Gradually, I recovered some sense.”
She says she was overjoyed when her elder sister reclaimed her. She has another chance for another life and is grateful for it. She says most of the addicts she had met at the rehabilitation centre had responded to the treatment and were ready and eager to start a new life.
On August 25, around 1,200 former drugs addicts were integrated into their respective families following a three-month rehabilitation programme.
Commissioner Riaz Khan Masood has banned the use of the word ‘addict’ for the rehabilitated persons. He calls each of them a ‘ghazi’ for fighting the menace of drugs. “You are not drug addicts any longer. You are, in fact, ghazis. You should lead the campaign to root out the evil from the entire province,” he said on the occasion.
Experts say if the supply chain is not blocked, addiction to ice will likely continue to rise. They warn that even some of the rehabbed ghazis could suffer a relapse. They say a comprehensive strategy is needed to achieve a drug-free Peshawar.
Azlan Aslam, the additional SHO at Excise Department’s Peshawar division, says that his department and police registered about 9,000 cases related to narcotic trafficking from January 2020 to December 2021. They recovered 5,000 kilograms of drugs and arrested over 11,000 individuals involved in drug trafficking, purchase and sale.
“My department has tightened the noose around drug traffickers in the province, including the newly merged tribal districts of Khyber and Bajaur. An integrated operation has been launched against the traffickers. However, the support of the local population and a multipronged strategy are essential for success in this campaign,” he says.
Drugs are smuggled into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa mostly from Afghanistan. The ephedrine used in the production of crystal meth (ice) is extracted in Afghanistan’s Farah province from the native ephedra plant. The capacity of the 448 laboratories operating in southern Afghanistan is currently estimated at 220,000 kilograms. The powder, worth $125 million, is taken to the Abdul Wadood Bazaar in Bakwa district from where it is smuggled into Pakistan’s tribal belt.
“The new government in Kabul has banned the cultivation of ephedra and manufacturing and trafficking of ephedrine. However, illegal cultivation and the trade continue,” says Aslam.
In the second batch, the DFP team expects to release about 700 ghazis to their families. Dope tests will be given at schools, colleges and universities starting this month.
Parveen Azam Khan, CEO of the Dost Welfare Foundation (DWF) has been working against drugs in KP since 1994 and has helped more than 70, 000 patients recover from addiction. She says quality care provided at her centre is important for the young men and women involved to return to sound health.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets at @Shinwar-9