Monday, June 8, 2015

The opium route

More than 55 per cent of heroin, which is being smuggled into India, is coming from Afghanistan through Pakistan 

SANJU VERMA/ Chandigarh

Afghanistan is mostly the sole producer of agro-based narcotics, which according to an international estimate, is about 600 tonnes. Of this the major portion is being transported to main consumer nations in America, Europe and Africa through borders of erstwhile USSR countries, which fall on the western side of Afghanistan. A very small proportion is routed through Pakistan and India borders, but still in money terms they run into many thousand crore.
Afghanistan is the sole producer of Opium and Ganza. About 600 tonnes are produced every year in that country. A very small portion of it, say about a tone is being smuggled through our borders. Our forces are vigilant and they frequently catch the smugglers with the stuff. But still, they sneak into the country with 300 to 400 kg of narcotics,” said an intelligence source in the BSF.  He, further, said, “The flow was less during the stay of American forces in Afghanistan as the soldiers used to destroy the banned crops, wherever they moved. But since they left the country, again the drug lords and barons started investing into the cultivation of opium and other drug crops. It suits the cultivators, as they get assured income. It is an international problem and requires global solution.”
More than 55 per cent of heroin, which is being smuggled into India, is coming from Afghanistan through Pakistan. Even the United Nations in its one of reports has said the Taliban are earning 200 to 300 million dollars annually from a surcharge it levies on illegal trade in that country. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that “The Taliban have an annual revenue of between USD 200-300 million from a surcharge levied on illicit drug trade”.
The report said security is “weak” in southern provinces of Afghanistan and an “overwhelming” majority of villages are involved in illegal opium poppy cultivation. It, however, said the illegal opium cultivation has dropped by 19 per cent from its record level of 1.93 lakh hectares a few years back to 1.57 lakh hectares last year. Despite this, the country accounts for 90 per cent of illegal opium in the world. More than 55 per cent of heroin, which is being smuggled into India is coming from Afghanistan through Pakistan, said an UN official too.
The eradication efforts in Afghanistan are being “hampered” by lack of security, poor planning and inadequate equipment and funding, the report said. In a welcome trend, the report, however, noted, there has been an increase in the number of provinces that have become free of opium poppy and there have been more voluntary eradication efforts by farmers.
“The illicit cultivation of opium is not the only drug control problem in Afghanistan. Illicit cultivation of cannabis plants in the country has increased significantly over the past few years. Till a few years back, illicit cannabis cultivation was reported in 14 provinces, not only in areas in which opium poppy is illicitly cultivated but also areas that have been declared free of opium poppy,” said the report. Farmers have been switching from opium poppy cultivation to cannabis cultivation, as cannabis cultivation is becoming increasingly lucrative in Afghanistan, confirmed the report. 
According to senior officials in BSF, the force has, on an average, seized one kg of heroin per day along the border with Pakistan in 2014. Altogether, the BSF had seized more than 361 kg of heroin with a street value of Rs 1,805 crore, trafficked from Pakistan to Punjab last year, the officials added.
With the BSF being accused of not cracking down on the drug mafia, who continue to smuggle drugs from Pakistan to Punjab, BSF has recently sent a detailed report on drug trafficking to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which outlined the functioning of well-organised drug cartels.
The scourge of drug trafficking in Punjab has been growing due to the easy availability of drug couriers, digging of tunnels, insertion of pipes through border fencing, and well-knit syndicates including transnational criminals running the racket from jails, said the report.
In its report, the BSF has also mentioned that it is not only the smuggled drugs that are solely responsible for the drug menace in the state. It said, heroin and opium, the two drugs most smuggled, contribute to only five per cent of the substance abuse in Punjab.
According to the BSF, there are plenty of couriers in border villages and they are being paid up to Rs 60,000 per kg and a well-organised syndicate ensures that drug consignments are “concealed and cleared”.
The BSF has also admitted that for years people along the border have been part of the drug network but little has been done to rein in these elements.

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