by Misbah Saba Malik
ISLAMABAD, July 29 (Xinhua) -- In the silence of pitch dark night, a container carrying match boxes was creeping slowly at the outskirts of southern Pakistani port city of Karachi. Its pace was interrupted when Muhammad Khan, a police constable stopped the driver to examine the luggage and recovered over 100 kg of heroine hidden in the match boxes.
After investigations police revealed that the drug loaded container was on its way from Afghanistan to the Karachi port from where it was destined to be exported to Europe via the Arabian Sea. The anti-narcotics taskforce succeeded in recovering the concealed drugs on an intelligence tip-off.
Southern and southwestern Pakistan is the most common route used by drug traffickers to transport drugs from land-locked Afghanistan to the outside world. The route from Afghanistan into Pakistan and then into eastern Iran is called "The Golden Route" and it is the trail that takes Afghanistan's abundant opium, and its derivative heroin, to Western markets, where it finds willing buyers.
According to an official of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime ( UNODC), Afghanistan produces 355 metric tons of heroine every year, about 90 percent of the whole world's production. And 42 percent of the heroine production of Afghanistan passes through different routes from Pakistan.
Talking to Xinhua, National Research Development Program Officer at the UNODC Sher Ali Arbab said that 150 metric tons of heroine come to Pakistan every year out of which 80 metric tons are consumed in Pakistan and 70 metric tons are smuggled outside. He said it is impossible to seal the 2,500km-long porous boarder that Pakistan shares with Afghanistan, to curb drug trafficking and other smuggling.
"The drug traffickers have also succeeded in forming a mini market of heroine in Pakistan due to lawlessness in the tribal area which provides them an easy opportunity to transport drugs due to less influence of law enforcement agencies in the semi- autonomous tribal area," he said.
Opium and its derivatives are transported to European and American markets via land, sea and air routes. The southwestern province of Balochistan provides land and sea exit routes to international drug traffickers, and the Karachi port in the southern province of Sindh also acts as a drug trafficking exit point.
According to statistics of the UNODC, the total seizure of drugs in the world is 4.9 percent out of which 0.4 percent is seized by the Anti-Narcotics Force in Pakistan which is quite a good performance as compared to other countries.
Director General of the Planning and Monitoring Unit in the Ministry of Narcotics Control Muhammad Shahid indicated involvement of a complete mafia of drug-lords in drug trafficking from Pakistan to the outside world. He said that apart from local smugglers, some foreigners particularly Africans are involved in transporting drugs to European and American drug barons.
"We have arrested some Nigerian nationals and other Africans for their involvement in drug trafficking," Shahid told Xinhua, adding that poverty is the main reason behind the involvement of African people in the smuggling of drugs.
Shahid said that heroine is the most commonly used drug in the world, its per gram price in the local market is 4 dollars, but 100 dollars in European markets and it makes 200 dollars per gram in American markets.
Due to involvement of many factors and various techniques used by drug traffickers it is quite hard for anti-narcotics task force to seize drugs from them. There isn't any technology to indicate the drugs concealed in containers and most of the times drugs are seized on intelligence sharing.
In Pakistani law there are hard and fast rules for the drug traffickers. Courts decree death penalty if more than one kg of drugs is seized from a convict.
According to statistics by the Anti-Narcotics Force, 103 convicts have been sentenced to death so far in Pakistan, 1,331 met life imprisonment, 348 people have been put behind bars for more than 10 years and 7,067 other convicts got imprisonment of less than 10 years.
Previously, opium was not cultivated in Pakistan due to stringent measures taken by the authorities. Pakistan attained the status of poppy free country in the year 2001. But now due to deteriorating law and order situation, opium is being cultivated on 1,500 hectares in the northwestern tribal belt of the country.
Narcotics control officers said the main factors that push farmers in the area towards the cultivation of poppy is the scarcity of water in this parched region. It is not suitable to grow grains and vegetables which need water regularly and thoroughly. Such dry climate is most suitable for the cultivation of poppy which is also the most profitable crop.
"We are motivating the farmers of the tribal area to cultivate vegetables, we are also providing them free seeds, fertilizers and other things related to forestry and live stock to divert their attention from poppy cultivation," an officer said.
Due to the availability of heroine in Pakistan, drug addiction is penetrating deeply within every fragment of the country resulting in social, health and economic consequences for the people.
It is estimated that the total number of drug abusers in Pakistan is about four million. But a survey conducted by the United Nations in 2006 shows the total number of addicts in the country is 624,000. Among them, 400,000 are hard core heroin addicts while 120,000 are injecting drug users.
The number of heroin addicts has been stabilized over the last five years. However, injecting drug use has emerged as a serious health and safety issue.
Presently there are three government-run and about 200 private rehabilitation centers for the treatment of willing patients who want to get back to normal life. However, the number of recovered patients is far less than the number of druggies which is constantly rising in the country.