In pursuit of empty dreams

In Charsadda, extravagant lifestyles are attracting the uneducated youth. Drug trafficking offers some easy money to do just that

In pursuit of empty dreams


mjad Khan, 27, was a man with big dreams. He was living in a village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where a majority of people are associated with illicit drug trafficking. They earned millions in drug money and built luxury houses and hujras. Amjad was living in a mud house. Most of his friends in the village were drug smugglers. They owned jeeps and latest models of imported vehicles. Owning a big bungalow and driving an imported vehicle was Amjad’s dream. Instead of seeking education, he wanted to be a drug dealer and earn millions of rupees over night. In pursuit of that dream, he became addicted to crystal meth or ice. Last year, following an overdose, he died, leaving behind grieving parents.

Lavish houses and expensive imported vehicles owned by drug dealers are attracting many like Amjad. Young TikTokers are making short videos featuring these vehicles and bungalows. The videos go viral and get millions of views on social media platforms.

A viral video of a drug dealer’s brother shows eight expensive vehicles parked at their hujra. When the camera pans away from the vehicle, there is modern Arabic music playing in the background, a young boy is seen smiling and playing with two green parrots, one in his hand and the other sitting on his shoulder. This show of wealth has grabbed the attention of other youngsters, all of them seeking the jackpot.

In the Tangi area, there are several villages where drug dealers have built bungalows worth millions of rupees. These villages are now called Little London.

“A majority of the youth in Tangi wants to become rich. For many, drug dealing offers a shortcut,” says Wahid Gul, a retired school principal. “Many mothers have lost their sons to this phenomenon.”

In Charsadda, North Hashtnagar, a majority of people are peasant farmers who cultivate the land of the local landlord, the Khan. Many of them had been living in houses owned by the Khan. After the formation of the Mazdoor Kisan Party (MKP) in 1968, also known as the communist movement in Hashtnagar, they took over agricultural land and the houses.

The people of Hashtnagar no longer live in the mud houses. A few families associated with international drug trafficking are sponsoring political gatherings and election campaigns. In the recent local government elections, one of the relatives of a local drug dealer ran for tehsil chairmanship but lost.

In 2010, one Mudassir Khan was arrested by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) at the Islamabad Airport, for attempting to smuggle capsules filled with heroin. Before his arrest, he had successfully smuggled heroin to some countries in the southeast. He has recently been released from jail. But now he has lost his home and currently lives in a rented place with his family. He regrets his past.

In pursuit of empty dreams

“A majority of the youth in Tangi wants to become rich. For many, drug dealing offers a shortcut,” says Wahid Gul, a retired school principal. “Many mothers have lost their sons to this phenomenon.

Two decades ago, drug dealers would smuggle heroin in suitcases through their agents. Some would even carry capsules filled with heroin in their stomachs. Hundreds of Pakistani citizens were beheaded in Saudi Arabia for smuggling heroin. In Saudi Arabia, these beheadings are carried out in public squares next to large mosques after Friday prayers.

Zia, a resident of Charsadda, belonged to a lower-middle class family. He was married and had two children. His family was under severe financial pressure. He found his way into the heroin trade. He was arrested in 2008 and executed in Saudi Arabia.

Dilawar Khan, 50, from Charsadda wanted to be rich. He was involved in heroin smuggling in South East Asian countries. In 2005, during a smuggling attempt, he was arrested in China. He continues to write letters to his family. For 17 years, the family has been living in misery.

Nadir Khan is another resident of Charsadda, currently imprisoned in China for a drug offence.

There are dozens of untold stories of local drug smugglers, who were executed and imprisoned in various countries.

According to a study by Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch (HRW), Saudi Arabia executes more Pakistanis than people from any other country, nearly all of them for heroin smuggling. In 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted data on Pakistani prisoners in the Lahore High Court. “10,896 Pakistanis are imprisoned in 28 countries, with the highest numbers of prisoners in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, respectively. Among them 4,120 are imprisoned in drug offence charges,” reads the report.

Last year, around 275 million people used drugs worldwide; more than 36 million people suffered from drug use disorders, according to the 2021 World Drug Report, released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The report says that drug markets on the dark web emerged a decade ago. Major markets are now worth at least $315 million in annual sales. Although this is just a fraction of the overall drug sales, the trend is upwards and there was a fourfold increase between 2011 and mid-2017 and again from mid-2017 to 2020.

When drugs are smuggled into a country, agents sell these using Whatsapp. They call the SIM “adda” during the Whatsapp communication to avoid getting the agents arrested. They use many bank accounts for online money transfers in Saudi Arabia. Larger amounts are transferred to Pakistan through havala.

“Rapid technological innovation, combined with the agility and adaptability of those using new platforms to sell drugs and other substances, is likely to usher in a globalised market where more drugs are available and accessible everywhere. This, in turn, could trigger fast changes in patterns of drug use and entail public health implications,” reads the UNODC report.

The report says that drug markets have swiftly resumed operations after the initial disruption at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, triggering large shipments of illicit drugs, a rise in the frequency of overland and water-way routes for trafficking, greater use of private planes for drug trafficking and an upsurge in the use of contactless methods to deliver drugs to end consumers.

The writer is a multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney

In pursuit of empty dreams