By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
Pakistan’s biggest single drug haul of 2020 was made on November 12 in the Pasni coast area of Gwadar District of Balochistan, when the Pakistan Coast Guards (PCG) confiscated 751 kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin, worth an estimated PKR 20 billion in the international market.
On October 21, the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) seized 1917.85 kilograms of narcotics, arrested 15 person’s and intercepted seven vehicles while conducting 14 counter-narcotics strikes throughout the country. The seized drugs included 1834.85 kilograms of Hashish, 15 kilograms of Opium and eight kilograms of Heroin.
On October 15, ANF carried out operations across the country and arrested at least 18 narco-dealers, recovering 673 kilograms of narcotics from their possession. Of 18 suspected smugglers, three were women, and three others were foreigners. ANF also seized five vehicles being used by the narco-dealers for transporting drugs. The value of the recovered drugs is said to be USD 91.379 million in the international market.
On October 8, 2020, ANF seized a huge haul of drugs worth more than PKR one billion from a fishing boat during a raid on an island off the Karachi coast in Sindh. Sources said the ANF intelligence wing conducted the raid in the night. On seeing the ANF personnel, the suspected drug smugglers opened fire and managed to flee the scene, leaving the narcotics in the boat. 426 kilograms of heroin and 57 kilograms of Hashish were recovered from the boat.
On October 2, 2020, Customs personnel foiled a smuggling bid and seized a huge quantity of heroin worth PKR one billion in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. After credible information was received by Tahir Qureshi, collector of the Model Customs Collectorate, Gwadar, regarding an attempt to smuggle narcotics of foreign origin from Quetta to Karachi, a raiding party was constituted. During checking 176 kilograms of brown heroin was recovered from the fuel tank of a six-wheeler vehicle.
Pakistan is geographically vulnerable to drug trafficking, sharing a 2,430-kilomteres-long porous border with Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of illicit opium. Cannabis is also produced in large quantities in the sub-region, most of the cannabis trafficked in the region also originates from Afghanistan, and is processed in the inaccessible areas of Pakistan’s tribal areas. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates, approximately 43 per cent of the Afghan opiates are trafficked through Pakistan.
On August 29, 2020, Shehryar Khan Afridi, the Minister for State and Frontier Regions and Narcotics Control, claimed that ANF had made the highest number of seizures of drugs in the world, though he disclosed no figures. He said 85 per cent of the drugs were produced in Afghanistan and fifty per cent of this 85 per cent were being smuggled by using Pakistan’s land route.
The Tribal Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and bordering districts of Balochistan have long been used as a transit point for narcotics trafficking from Afghanistan. Various reports have suggested that Pakistan’s drug syndicates run a parallel economy in connivance with select elements of the political and military establishments. The alleged nexus between drug smugglers and politicians has long been established, but has been reconfirmed in the recent past, when the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) Punjab President and former Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan was arrested by ANF’s Lahore team near Sukheki on July 1, 2019, while he was traveling from Faisalabad to Lahore. According to a statement released by ANF, “A large quantity of drugs was recovered from Sanaullah’s car.” The politician was travelling with his guards at the time of the arrest, the statement added.
Indeed, describing the drugs menace in the region, the KP, tribal region, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sanaullah Abbasi disclosed on July 24, 2020,
The KP police have arrested 15,566 drug dealers from across the province, including the newly merged districts and around 28 armed encounters also took place with the drug dealers, resulting in 25 fatalities during the year 2020… As many as 14,804 cases were registered and a total of 13,411.403 kilogrammes narcotics were recovered during the period.
The drugs seized included 557.943 kilogrammes of heroin, 11,081.542 kilogrammes of hashish, 920.159 kilogrammes of opium, 851.759 kilogrammes of ‘ice’ (crystal methamphetamine) and 20,587 bottles of liquor. Abbasi added that the Police had also observed that drugs were intimately connected with the security of society and their use was directly proportional to domestic abuse and rampant crime.
A March 2017 ‘confidential report’ compiled by the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU), an intelligence service department active within the Ministry of Finance, had observed that drug trafficking was one of the “main sources of income of terrorists in Pakistan”.
Narco-terrorism has not only resulted in an increasing number of drug addicts, but is also responsible for the emergence of many organised criminal gangs that deal in drugs and arms, kidnapping for ransom, targeted killings, speed money, extortion, and financing terrorists. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), at least 8.9 million people in the country are drug users. Organised drug gangs are so strong, they do not hesitate to attack ANF and security personnel.
On August 10, 2020, at least six persons were killed and 21 were injured in a bomb blast targeting an ANF vehicle on Mall Road in Chaman Town, Qilla Abdullah District, Balochistan. According to Police Inspector Muhammad Mohsin, unidentified persons had planted an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in a motorbike that was parked on the roadside. Chaman town Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Zakaullah Durrani asserted that the explosion targeted the ANF vehicle.
On July 17, 2020, two ANF personnel were killed after their convoy came under attack by smugglers in the Mashkel area of Kharan District, Balochistan. The ANF team was on its way back after seizing two vehicles loaded with drugs from near the Pakistan-Iran border, when it was ambushed by the miscreants.
While Pakistan has been the facing a grave challenge of narco-terrorism, the lack of adequate funding and man power in ANF has further aggravated the crisis.
According to an October 1, 2020, report, appointments had not been made in the ANF over the last seven years and the force required significantly greater manpower to curb the drug smuggling. Source added that ANF had demanded to 10,000 additional recruits, and the Senate Standing Committee on Narcotics Control had endorsed the demand. However only 500 appointments were allowed. 2,172 employees are working in ANF against 3,148 sanctioned posts, leaving 976 positions vacant. The force was also facing financial issues, and no funds for recruitment had been provided.
Earlier on March 14, 2018, ANF Secretary Iqbal Mehmood told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Narcotics Control that the lack of support from the finance department and the suspension of funding by the Government has almost crippled the ANF. The PKR 2.5 billion provided by the Government for the fiscal year 2017-18 was only enough to meet routine expenses. The apathy towards the Force was further highlighted by Major General Muhammad Arif Malik, Director General ANF, on August 8, 2019, when he stated that ANF has been struggling hard to wipe out the menace of drugs from Pakistan.
The ANF in all likelihood is not going to strengthened further. And the reason is simple.
There has been a well-established nexus between the Taliban, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Police, and politicians who control the procurement, production, and transportation of the heroin drugs using different routes to markets abroad. To expect the masters to act against themselves is hardly realistic.
An incident at the beginning of the year further demonstrated this strong nexus. On January 10, 2020, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a mosque-cum seminary, Darul Uloom Al Sharia, in the Ghosabad area of Satellite Town in Quetta, the Provincial capital of Balochistan, killing at least 15 persons and injuring another 20. Later, Khaama Press, citing an unnamed Afghan security source, reported that the explosion took place when an important meeting was going on between Taliban militants, ISI members, and drug smugglers.
Further, reports indicate that Pakistan has helped Taliban in its offensive in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in October 2020, with the drug trade providing the principal motivation, among others. Pakistan’s stakes in Afghanistan’s narcotics trade adds to the greater significance of Helmand, one of the main poppy-growing areas in Afghanistan. Opium poppy and heroin are among the main sources of income for the Taliban, which controls 80 per cent of the drug production areas in Afghanistan. Pakistan acts as a facilitator in transporting the drugs out of Afghanistan, in processing, and in further distribution to other countries. The drug consignments, in connivance with Pakistan’s authorities, are smuggled through the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and thereafter, head for Pakistan’s air and seaports and to further destinations in China, South and Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe. Significant flows, controlled by ISI backed terrorist formations as well as drug consortiums, are also pumped across the land border into India, particularly into Indian Punjab, with the help of Khalistani terrorist formations located in Pakistan
Narco-money has long been working to fuel terrorist groups. While there is no interruption of the supply from across the porous border, state complicity in Pakistan, and a general lethargy in policy establishment further aggravate the situation.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management