Illegal opiates continue to win the war on drugs in the Af-Pak region according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) World Drug Report 2018.Within just one year, the area used to cultivate poppies in Afghanistan has increased to 420,000 hectares from 328,000 in just one year. This, along with improved opium yields, has increased global opium production by 65 percent in 2017. 10,500 tonnes of opium were produced in 2017 — the highest since the UNODC first began recording global opium production.
This will only cement Pakistan’s role in the region as a major transit route for heroin smuggling. According to the report, 80 percent of the morphine and 85 percent of the heroin seized by Iran in 2017 came from Pakistan. This is an issue Tehran has taken up with Islamabad numerous times. In May 2017, an Iranian government official stated that Pakistan needs to take more action to stop the influx of drugs into Iran. However, since the Pakistan-Iran border continues to be a lawless area plagued by militants and drug smuggling gangs — whose operations are aided by dust storms that reduce visibility to zero — it is unlikely that there will be much progress on this front any time soon.
According to the UNODC report, two factors played a key role in helping opium production rise by such a large amount. Firstly, the Afghan government diverted resources to counter anti-government elements in urban areas, making things easier for poppy farmers in rural areas. The second factor pointed out in the report was lack of engagement by the international aid community, which forced more farmers to turn to poppy cultivation to make ends meet.
As such, it seems that the flow of illegal narcotics will continue, fuelling addiction and funding violent militant groups in the region, including the so-called Islamic State. The international community must take note of this issue as it impacts every country where there is a large demand for such narcotics. This should obviously include the United States — which has been suffering from an opiate addiction crisis in recent years. Meanwhile, the provincial and federal governments in Pakistan must work on tackling drug addiction and the problems it causes, while also working to stem the flow of illegal narcotics. *
Published in Daily Times, September 10th 2018.