Pakistan is now also a market for psychotropic drugs, say experts

Forget heroin and hashish, ecstasy and crystal meth are a new headache for customs.

Shaheryar Mirza July 05, 2012


For decades Pakistan has been a hot-spot for the production and smuggling of heroin and hashish, but within the last few years psychotropic drugs are also surfacing, presenting new challenges for Pakistan Customs.

“Pakistan was never known for psychotropic drugs or cocaine smuggling,” Deputy Collector of Customs Habib Ahmed told participants of an international conference on drugs control held at the Avari Hotel on Thursday. To give an idea of how big the cocaine business has become, he gave the example of a 200kg swoop in one haul – and this was just six per cent of the total.

A psychotropic drug is a chemical substance that acts upon the central nervous system, affecting brain function, perception, mood, consciousness, cognition and behaviour. According to Ahmed, the most common ones found in Pakistan are amphetamine, methamphetamine and cocaine. Ecstasy, cocaine and Ketamine are readily available too, although they don’t come cheap. The use of the highly addictive ‘crystal meth’ has also been recently reported here. Most psychotropic drugs are being used by affluent young people, according to a 2008 UNODC report.

The global drug trade is worth $400 billion annually and out of this the majority of earnings come from heroin ($80 billion) and hashish ($90 billion). This is followed by cannabis.

The price per kilogramme varies widely, depending on how far each product has travelled. So for example, a kilogramme of heroin costs $2,000 to $4,000 in Afghanistan and Pakistan but by the time it hits the US this can go up to $131,000. Australians can fork out as much as $376,000 per kg.

Opium production in Afghanistan doubled from 3,400 metric tonnes in 2010, to 6,000 metric tonnes in 2011. As circumstance would have it, the three largest poppy-cultivating provinces in Afghanistan are just across the border from Pakistani territory.

Heroin and other controlled substances leave Afghanistan via four major routes. The Northern Route, through which 27% of heroin production in Afghanistan goes into Russia, travels through Central Asia. If the product makes it into Kazakhstan, according to Pakistan Customs, they have a 95% success rate of entering Russia. The Balkan Route goes from Afghanistan through Pakistan into Iran or directly into Iran, on to Turkey, Bulgaria and then Europe. The Caucasus Route goes from Afghanistan into Azerbaijan into Georgia and then through to Europe. The last major route is called the Southern Route, and this goes straight to Pakistan and is responsible for the supply to the rest of the world, unlike the others which predominantly supply Europe.

“The problem is that there is no incentive for a farmer or smuggler to produce wheat instead of the poppy plant [from which heroin is culled]. You have a 6:1 ratio of profitability which means that heroin will get you six dollars for every one dollar you earn with wheat,” says Ahmed.

New threats

The conference hosted participants from at least 20 countries and heavily featured American members from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement of the Defence Representative to Pakistan (CNODR).

“The Sindh and Makran coasts are major supply routes for narcotics and we spend $10 million to $15 million a year to help the Pakistani agencies counter it,” said Richard McKnight of CNODR. His organisation provides customs, the FIA, the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) and other agencies with training, communications equipment, scanners and detectors, as well as building infrastructure such as the newly opened Pasni Boat House for the Maritime Security Agency.

The event kicked off with an address from the chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue Mumtaz Haider Rizvi. The chief guests were Customs Investigations and Intelligence Director-General Riaz Ahmed, Roch Cote from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Collector Customs (Preventive) Khawar Farid Maneka, and Additional Collector Muhammad Saqif Saeed.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2012.


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