Drug Trafficking from Af-Pak Reach New Heights Failing all Counter Measures
Afghanistan accounts for more than 80 percent of the world’s opium production. Last year, production of pure opium increased by 21 percent to 6,700 metric tonnes compared to previous year. More than half of it is converted into heroin in Pakistani laboratories before being smuggled out to markets worldwide through sea, air and land routes. The African continent, which has long served as a transit point for smuggling this heroin to Europe, has itself been emerging as a major consumption market. India, particularly its state of Punjab, is also witnessing increased incidence of narcotic consumption and the Khalistani terrorist groups, sheltered by Pakistan, are deeply involved in syndicates pushing drugs and weapons across the border.
Recent international investigations led to arrest and sentencing of several Pakistani kingpins and their African distributors. Senior politicians like Rana Sanaullah Khan, former Punjab Law Minister and provincial chief of the PML (N) party, was arrested. He is known to have long associated with drug cartels and terrorist groups. Two Sind provincial ministers are facing drug charges in the state’s High Court. The Talibn-ISI nexus in drug trafficking has long been known and one of its networks got exposed when a blast in a seminary killed them last month.
The UK government suspended last year an agreement with Pakistan for exchange of convicted prisoners because of lenient application of law and punishment handed down to transferred drug smugglers in the Islamic Republic. China is also reluctant to enter into such Transfer of Offenders Agreement (TOA) with Pakistan for similar reasons. Thailand had earlier transferred 17 convicted Pakistani traffickers to serve their sentences but many of them were set free soon.
The United States is least exposed to drug trafficking from Pakistan. Hence, the Trump administration do not seem to have an incentive to lead any serious drive to neutralize the drug syndicates in the Af-Pak area. With the US fast-tracking its `peace arrangement’ with the Taliban that would allow a short window to slow down its violence to allow American withdrawal, the writing on the wall is clear. The Taliban and its Pakistani masters would be emboldened to further boost opium and heroin production and their trafficking to European, African and Asian markets. It is up to these countries to launch counter measures to bring pressure on Afghanistan and Pakistan by making it expensive for them to indulge in narcotic production and trafficking activities.
Inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has proven to be one of the very effective mechanisms to make countries fall in line and adapt strong regulatory procedures to deter and desist from money laundering and terror funding including narcotic finance. Pakistan is already in its `grey list’, being put on observation. The prospect of slipping into `blacklist’ has forced Pakistan to adapt some of the FATF recommendations but still dithering on a number of other measures, including drug finance. Pressure should be mounted further, and not lessened, until Pakistan fully carry out all necessary actions to prevent illicit financing activities.
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Centre for Asia-Africa Policy Research
Former Additional Secretary to Govt of India
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