Pakistan’s geographic location next to Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of illicit opium, places the country in a vulnerable position in terms of drug trafficking. The patterns of illicit drug production and distribution have seen transitions as a result of social, economic and political developments in the region. The cultivation of opium poppy declined to near zero levels in Pakistan from 1999 to 2000. The Government of Pakistan (GOP) is committed for eliminating opium poppy cultivation under “zero-tolerance policy”. Together with alternative development projects funded by the international community, considerable decrease in poppy cultivation from approximately 9,441 ha. in 1992 to some 213 ha. in 2001 was witnessed. However, reemergence of poppy cultivation followed, as a result of high opium prices following the Taliban’s prohibition of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in 2001. The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), the primary drug control agency in Pakistan collects and publishes annual statistics on drug related crime. ANF’s conviction rate has improved over the last few years and stands at 8 percent since 2006.
The bulk of opium produced in Afghanistan is cultivated in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, and enters Pakistan through the former Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), now part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and Balochistan. Trafficking through the KPK region is believed to have been intensified over the last decade, following the retreat of the political administration and the general lassitude of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) who have since then regained ground in the wake of military operations in the area. The proliferation of unofficial border crossings in KPK, and the strong familial and economic linkages amongst the tribespeople, who are known to move across the border with impunity, makes the transport of contraband easier.
Trafficking from Afghanistan to Balochistan is believed to take place through the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Nimroz to the Pakistani districts of Chaghi and Nushki. Here, the trafficking is facilitated by the remoteness and inaccessibility of these scantily populated regions. Once again, while there is only one official border crossing in Balochistan, in the town of Chaman near the provincial capital of Quetta, the border region is indifferently policed and easily traversed. Once in Pakistan, opium and heroin are normally stocked in border villages for a period of time before being sent to markets in major cities or on to international markets. Stocks are normally maintained in houses, where household members are often compensated for providing the service.
In Balochistan the Frontier Constabulary (FC) remains the most powerful force, remaining active on many fronts. A small proportion of the drugs smuggled into Pakistan are trafficked onward through Balochistan into Iran, from where it moves further west. The bulk of the consignments, however, also head for Pakistan’s air and seaports, destined for China, South East Asia, Africa and Europe. While a proportion of the consignment for China is believed to be trafficked through land, via Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, seizures at China’s seaports over the years indicate that the maritime route is key for trafficking into the urban centers of China in addition to other destinations.
In Pakistan, the first-stage beneficiaries of the drug trade are the “mules” or carriers of drugs from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the manufacturers of garda and charas in Pakistan. The carriers are typically paid a negligible amount, and very often, are not aware of the contents of their consignment. Carriers entering Balochistan from Afghanistan typically operate on foot, or using donkeys, horses or livestock which can traverse the rocky terrain. Passage of drugs through mechanized transport is relatively rare here since the border area is largely a no-man’s land with few discernible tracks. In Balochistan, drugs are transported through mountain passes on livestock or by foot, but the official border crossing of Torkham is also believed to be heavily utilized for transportation of larger consignments, with parcels being concealed in crates of fruit, sacks of agricultural produce and even in specially carved out cavities in vehicles.
Once the drugs enter Pakistan, they are typically stored in small amounts allegedly in private homes, often in remote villages. It is at this stage that the involvement of the organized traffickers begins, as the households who are involved in storage often include few members who are more closely involved in the drug trade, often as transporters or low-level henchmen working with bigger players. The more prominent actors rarely keep drug consignments on their premises, but prefer to pay a small fee to the households who assent to lend their homes for storage purposes. Stored stocks are transported to markets or for further trafficking overseas in small consignments. Heroin is believed to be transported, concealed, in smaller vehicles, while opium or more often hashish are transported in more bulky consignments, often utilizing larger vehicles such as trucks or oil tankers, which have been altered to concel the contraband. Transportation overland in Balochistan is typically more brazen, given the remoteness and low population density in the Baloch hinterland. According to a United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC)2013 Report, at this stage, the operation becomes more complex, and also more lucrative for those involved; covering transportation, bribing of LEA officials at every level (from the guards who man inter-provincial checkposts to mid-level or senior officials who are expected to turn a blind eye); recruitment of skilled packers; and recruitment of agents who can get consignments onto airborne or maritime vessels. A significant amount of trafficking also takes place through small towns on the Makran coast, where small boats evade Coast Guards to carry consignments into the high seas, for loading onto larger vessels.