The Menace Of Narco Terrorism

The Menace Of Narco Terrorism
“In 2012 and 2013, UNODC, in collaboration with the Ministry of Narcotics Control, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), and other national stakeholders conducted a national survey on drug use to estimate the extent and patterns of drug use in Pakistan. The overall results of the survey revealed that approximately 6 percent of the population—9 percent of the adult male population and 2.9 percent of the adult female population—equivalent to 6.7 million people—had used a substance other than alcohol and tobacco in the preceding year.” - Press release from October 26, 2022, issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, titled National Drug Use Survey of Pakistan 2022-24.

Every survey recorded since the promulgation of the Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979 shows that this nation has been persistently sinking deeper into narco-terrorism, a term that signifies the drug-terror trap. Terrorism and the intensification of the drug trade in tandem since Zia's era has resulted not only in over 7 million addicts in 2022, but also has led to the emergence of many organized criminal gangs that deal in drugs and arms, kidnapping for ransom, target killing, speed money, extortion, and the financing of terrorists. This unholy alliance of organized crime and terrorist outfits is causing serious internal security threats to the Pakistanis state. Undeniably, the 11-year-dictatorial rule of General Zia-ul-Haq brought many ills for Pakistan, but religious bigotry and narco-terrorism are two cancerous maladies that every successive government since 1998 has failed to combat effectively.

If the figures made available recently by international agencies are even half true, the monstrous legacy of Zia's misrule should be identified as the biggest continuing threat to Pakistan's future. It is common knowledge that certain parties and groups have over the years, been involved in corruption, land grabbing, smuggling of drugs, currency and Iranian oil, the unlawful collection of Zakat, Fitra, sacrificial hides and protection money, targeted killings, the running of illegal marriage halls and parking spaces, match fixing, cybercrimes etc.

Statistics reveal that where in 1980 Pakistan had 5,000 heroin addicts (hardly any in 1979) out of a total of about 124,000 drug users, within eight years of Zia's regime, their number had increased more than two hundred times to 1,079,630 and the total number of drug addicts reached the mark of 2,244,000. Since then, there has been an alarming increase of more than 10% per year and total number of addicts in 2022 are estimated at not less than 7 million, out of which heroin users were about 2 million. It does not require any expert opinion to convince any concerned citizen that this epidemic is going to ruin our society and promote disintegration in every sphere of national life.

Terrorism and the intensification of the drug trade in tandem since Zia's era has resulted not only in over 7 million addicts in 2022, but also has led to the emergence of many organized criminal gangs that deal in drugs and arms, kidnapping for ransom, target killing, speed money, extortion, and the financing of terrorists.

The clear increase in trafficking and local consumption of heroin was followed by the promulgation of the Hadd Order in 1979. That year Pakistan had a bumper crop of poppy on some 80,000 acres of land and the total yield was an all-time record of 800 metric tons. Figures obtained a day prior to the imposition of the Hadd Order, recorded opium selling at Rs 1,200 per kg in Punjab. But a day after the promulgation of the Prohibition Order, prices shot upto Rs 9,000 per kg in Punjab, but went down to Rs 300 per kg in the tribal belt.

Left with a surplus of opium, owners did not know what to do with their stocks. At that time, international drug smugglers came to their rescue. Within a few months, there was a mood of jubilation among the growers that their opium stocks would not go waste and they would earn 10 times more if they had their crop converted into heroin. The birth of heroin in Pakistan and its local consumption portrays the tragic consequences of the shortsightedness of decision-makers. Pakistan provides a horrible example of a country converted into a ‘Kingdom of Heroin' within a short span of time—courtesy the tolerant eye and indifference of a martial law regime towards the effect of its policies on the public weal.

The former American President, George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 used the most uncalled for words for certain states, labelling them as the Axis of Evil, without realising that his own country had a proven record of using arms, drugs and terrorism to advance its economic and military designs. Narco-terrorism has been a tool in the hands of many governments and political organizations to advance their objectives of complete control over the state apparatus. In Pakistan, since the Afghan war against the Soviets, money from massive drug smuggling has been supporting terrorism, which has in turn provided assistance to drug traffickers. Organized crime has always worked hand in hand with other outlaws for their own benefit. The link between terrorism and the narcotics trade in Pakistan presents a challenging study. It unveils the deeds of American-backed forces, politicians, top civil-military bureaucrats and law-enforcement agencies.

The process started in April 1979 when President Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski pushed through a decision to support the Afghan rebels. In May 1980, two concerned members of President Carter’s White House Strategy Council on Drug Abuse, cut off from the classified information that the law entitled them to receive, warned New York Times readers in a dissident op-ed piece: “We worry about the growing of opium poppies in Afghanistan and Pakistan by rebel tribesmen who apparently are the chief adversaries of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.”  See H. Lowinson and David F. Musto, New York Times, May 22 1980.

The US policy of supporting the Afghan resistance, with the help of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) produced devastating effects in the aftermath of the dismemberment of the USSR. It managed to achieve its main goal, but left Pakistan and Afghanistan in the doldrums. General Hameed Gul, the former head of ISI, in an interview with leading Urdu daily Jang, published in its weekly magazine issue on 14 –20 January 2001 admitted that the Afghan Mujahedeen failed to capture Kabul after the exit of Russian troops due to reduced supply of arms by the CIA. He revealed that CIA was supplying between 4,000 to 6,000 tons of armament at the peak of the war, which was later reduced to only 100 tons. He also made a number of startling revelations about the CIA’s deep connections with the ISI.

In 1990, the CIA had $36 billion at its disposal for covert operations to fight Soviet aggression, and no one was in the mood to discuss the ramifications, not even the US itself. CIA allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan opened a much larger drug pipeline than in Central America. In the process, they gave an enormous boost to their trafficking intermediaries: powerful Sicilian crime syndicates who used this boom to entrench themselves in the United States and numerous other countries around the world. Jack Bloom, who investigated the Contra connection for the Kerri Sub-committee, calls the Afghanistan drug scandal “one of the biggest uncovered stories in the foreign policy arena.”

The persons behind this policy have no right to term others as being part of an “axis of evil”.

The scale and duration of the connection between drugs trafficking, gun running and foreign policy are far larger than even than the Central American affairs. The figures bear his claims out. The CIA was shipping more than a billion dollars worth of arms into Pakistan and Afghanistan. The guerillas that were receiving these consignments suddenly managed to boost opium production from 250 tons in 1982 to about 800 tons in 1989. The official silence of the US government was in the form of non-mentioning of Afghanistan in the State Department’s Annual Narcotic Report for 1985. In the 1986 edition, all of a sudden, the State Department acknowledged that Pakistan and Afghanistan were the world’s largest producers of heroin. It was claimed that 80% of the heroin reaching the US and Europe originated from these two sources. As to possible rebel involvement in the drug traffic, it only stated: “The Mujahideen organizations have condemned opium production and use.”

A few intrepid reporters and academics broke through the wall of silence and deception late in the game to pinpoint some of the top rebel commanders engaged in the opium and heroin trade. Jonathan Marshall, in his book Drug Wars: Corruption, Counterinsurgency and Covert Operations in the Third World narrated a long story of narco-terrorism inflicted on Pakistan and Afghanistan by the forces of obscurantism that had the backing and support of CIA. The criminal culpability of the US created a permanent source of irritation for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the form of these drug barons who worked under the garb of Islamic movements. This source was posing a threat to democratic institutions and social fabric of Pak-Afghan societies, for which the U.S had to bear the sole responsibility.

The Osama-drug nexus was the CIA’s doing for which nobody else deserved any blame. Since backing the Afghan resistance, Washington never openly admitted its blunder in aiding these forces of darkness and merchants of death. Explaining why Washington chose not to confront these unsavory Afghan allies or their Pakistani patrons for flooding the world with heroin and cross-border terrorism, one US official told the Washington Post, “You can’t look at [drugs] in a vacuum separated from the overall policy” [Washington Post, May 13, 1990]. The persons behind this policy have no right to term others as being part of an “axis of evil”.

The famous US scholar Dr. Noam Chomsky, in many lectures given after the 9/11 tragedy, blamed the government of his own country for promoting religio-inspired terrorism. He said: “the CIA, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries created mercenaries in Afghanistan. Yes, Afghans had the right to defend themselves from the USSR invasion, but America and Muslim countries had no right to raise mercenaries in Afghanistan.”

Chomsky said the USSR invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, which was a crime, but the US started supporting the Mujahideen there six months earlier to fight against the communist government and to "invite and trap" the USSR in Afghanistan. "The plan was successful," he said. This dangerous game later reached its peak. The US was physically in Afghanistan, waging war against the “innocent” people. “Poppy cultivation was giving Hamid Karzai’s government nightmares. Poppy cultivation that the much-hated Taliban completely eradicated was back with a vengeance in a country that once produced 70% of the world opium and was the source of 90% of the heroin sold on the streets of Europe” [The Economist, April 20th, 2002].

Pakistan today is one of the world’s top transit corridors for opiates and cannabis, which are pervasively trafficked through the country’s porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran and globally distributed through Pakistan’s seaports, airports, postal services, and unpatrolled coastal areas.

During the Afghan resistance to Soviet forces, large-scale consignments of arms were sent to Pakistan to be delivered to rebels through ISI networks. The arms factories in Tel Aviv were working twenty-four hours to supply replica Kalashnikovs to the mujahideen. In the Iran Contra scandal as well, it was uncovered that Iran, a staunch enemy of Israel, was buying weapons from it to annihilate another Muslim state, Iraq. This was the inside story of narcoterrorism, unleashed by USA. Israel also earned enormous profits by selling arms to Muslim rebels in Afghanistan, and the money was paid either through the drug trade or was financed by the Saudi Arabian government.

It is still largely shrouded in mystery as to how the CIA was working closely with the forces that US State Department wanted to eliminate or at least control. It appears as if the US government itself proved ineffective before the powerful elements that were thriving within the USA on this drug money and their great supply line of arms was dependent on narco-money. The state of affairs has not changed much even today. The forces of terror are still thriving on narco-drug-money, and posing even a larger threat to states in this region.

Pakistan today is one of the world’s top transit corridors for opiates and cannabis, which are pervasively trafficked through the country’s porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran and globally distributed through Pakistan’s seaports, airports, postal services, and unpatrolled coastal areas.

Since 2014, Pakistan has continued its participation in the Paris Pact and Triangular Initiative, two UNODC-led mechanisms promoting international counternarcotics coordination. Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) conducted joint counternarcotics operations with foreign counterparts, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Kenya, and Italy. Pakistan has continued to host over 32 foreign drug liaison officers as part of its Paris Pact obligations. In addition to working with international drug liaison officers based in Pakistan, the ANF hopes to begin placing officers within the embassies of important drug destination countries.

Every International Narcotics Strategy Report issued every year in March by the US State Department admits that “the government of Pakistan does not facilitate the illegal production or trafficking of illegal drugs, nor the laundering of the proceeds. However, corruption remains a major challenge to the practice of law enforcement.” Although parliamentary oversight committees, an independent judicial system, and a critical free press exposed corrupt practices, the consequences for perpetrators were rarely severe. Accordingly, corruption continues to facilitate the movement of contraband, including in the form of bribes to public servants.

Although Pakistan continues to face enormous economic and security challenges that often exceed narcotics trafficking in national security priorities, many of these challenges are interconnected. Pakistan could more effectively reduce drug trafficking if its law enforcement agencies coordinated more closely, shared information more readily, and expended limited resources more efficiently. Increased public awareness about the drug trade and its negative societal influences would further solidify concerted government action across law enforcement agencies.

The writer, Advocate Supreme Court, is Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)