Pakistan asks for help to fight drug threat
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan warned on Tuesday it would be unable to combat narcotics flooding in from neighbouring Afghanistan unless international assistance was increased.
Maj Gen Nadeem Ahmed, head of the Anti-Narcotics Force, said a coming shift in the drugs trade threatened to turn Pakistan into a major production and refining centre for opium and its derivatives heroin and morphine. “The question is if Pakistan is prepared to take that challenge. My answer is no. We are not prepared,” Ahmed told a news conference. He was speaking prior to the release of the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board’s annual report on Wednesday. Pakistan is one of the main transit routes used by drug traffickers from Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s army and paramilitary frontier scouts are hunting Al Qaeda remnants and their supporters among local tribesmen in the region. This fight against militancy has meant fewer resources were available to fight drugs. Pakistani officials say about 70 percent of Afghanistan’s drugs are smuggled through Pakistan and Iran, while the rest goes north through Central Asia. Opium cultivation reached record levels in Afghanistan last year and the US wised up to the threat and began backing a British-led campaign to roll back the drug menace. Ahmed said the US had promised to spend $780 million in Afghanistan on anti-drug activities, dwarfing the $2m Pakistan receives from the international community.
The area under poppy, the flower that produces raw opium, was 130,000 hectares in Afghanistan last year, according to a UN study, whereas in Pakistan, it says there was just 6,700 hectares under poppy there. Pakistan was declared free of poppies in 2000, but production began creeping back two years later.
Ahmed said there were about 500,000 heroin users and 60,000 injecting drug users in Pakistan. Pakistan could face an AIDS epidemic because many heroin addicts are starting to inject the drug, UN and Pakistani officials said. “The writing is on the wall for Pakistan: either get a grip on injecting drug use and sharing of needles or get ready to face an HIV-AIDS epidemic,” Vincent McClean, representative of the UN office of Drugs and Crime, said while launching an International Narcotics Control Board report. “The injecting drug use and sharing of needles is the fastest way to accelerate an HIV-AIDS epidemic,” McClean said.
“Once the needle-sharing drug injectors reach a critical mass, there is a very rapid spread into the general population through sexual transmission.” Ahmed said his country was aware of the threat and must move fast. “Unfortunately the number of injecting drug users in Pakistan is on the increase. We still are a low-prevalence country, but there is cause for alarm,” Ahmed added. agencies