‘2 million drug users in the Punjab alone’

Increase in smuggling from Afghanistan, inadequate force, lack of effort blamed for increase in use.

Aroosa Shaukat January 12, 2012

LAHORE: Speakers at a seminar on drugs agreed that not enough is beidone to curb the smuggling, availability and use of drugs.

The event was organized by Sanjog, a non-government organisation, in collaboration with the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF).

There are currently as many as two million drug users in the Punjab alone, said Brigadier (retd) Shahid Afzal, a force commander with the Anti Narcotics Force. According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, there were about four to five million drug users in Pakistan in 2009.

Brigadier Afzal said that the increase in drug production in Afghanistan since 2001 had meant more drugs being smuggled into Pakistan.

The ANF officer called the number of personnel “insufficient”. He added that there were around 2,500 men in ANF and 400 officials posted in the Punjab. Despite the low numbers, Afzal said that the ANF had a conviction of prosecution ratio of 90 per cent.

However, another speaker – Shehzad Hassan Sheikh, the outgoing president of the Lahore Bar Association – criticised the ANF for maintaining the “status quo”. “The aim should not be to achieve a high prosecution rate,” he said, “but to curb the menace of drugs.”

Ahmer Majeed, a Sanjog director, said that the legal system lacked a support structure, which could provide guidance to drug abusers instead of stigmatising them.

“Drug abuse is directly linked to drug availability, which is on the rise in Pakistan,” he said. Hassan said it was worrying that despite there being a network of agencies – the ANF, Rangers and the Excise Department – the availability of drugs had not been curtailed.

He blamed it on “a lack of concerted efforts”.

Ahmad Bakhsh Awan, the Sincere Foundation chairperson, said that socially accepted drugs posed a greater challenge than ‘hard drugs’. He held the individuals responsible for getting addicted to drugs. “It’s not a disease or a psychological disorder. It is a personal choice,” he said, adding that unless people accepted that the condition could not be treated.

“Are all homeless, jobless, heart-broken people drug addicts?” he said. Awan stressed the need for therapy. People should be educated about how to deal with difficult situations, immense mental pressure and personal losses.

“Poor self esteem and a lack of spiritual association can push a person to dependency on drugs,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2012.


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