A Grave Threat

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Front Page Article

Pakistan must be absolutely free from polio and play its part towards a world free of polio. We should also keep our population safe from deadly Hepatitis-C, Dengue and Viruses such as the latest Coronavirus. These are all health challenges requiring clean environment at huge costs. However, the looming crisis not talked as much as it deserves attention of policy makers is a health and societal one – The Drug Abuse. It is lethal and is causing suicides, destroying families and affecting generations.
Millions of Pakistanis are drug addicts, hundreds die every day due to drug-related complications making the drug related deaths greater than those caused by terrorism. In last few decades, drug addiction in Pakistan has reached alarming levels with the total number of drug addicts at 67 million with more than 800,000 aged between 15 and 64 using drug daily, according to a UN report. The number of addicts is increasing at 40,000 per year, making Pakistan amongst the most drug affected countries in the world.
Drugs are abused in both the genders, in all income groups and in urban and rural areas. However, the most alarming are the reports of drug used in our schools and educational institutions in many large cities including Islamabad, where the percentage of drug users is very high compared to other cities.
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, now part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan provinces. Trafficking through the KPK region is believed to have been intensified over the last decade. In addition to cultivation, the chemical labs are spreading around to produce drugs.
The Ministry of Narcotics Control (MNC) is responsible for making policies on all aspects of narcotics and dangerous drugs, cooperation with foreign countries against narcotics trafficking and all other international aspects of narcotics. It is also responsible for regulation of administrative, budgetary and other matters of Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) which works under umbrella of Pakistan Army and Ministry of Narcotics Control.
ANF works with other federal law enforcement agencies like: Pakistan Customs, Rangers, Frontier Corp, Frontier Constabulary, Coast Guards as well as Levies, Khasadars and Police of the provinces. Therefore, the responsibility lies mainly with federal government with National Highway Authority tolls for internal movement and federal ministry of National Health Services for health. ANF seized 102,444.494 metric tons (MT) of illicit drugs, registered 1,310 cases and arrested 1,499 persons from August 2018 to July 2019. It seized drugs like Opium, Morphine, Heroin, Hashish, Cocaine, Amphetamine, Meth, Ecstasy, Cannabis, H2SO4, Acetone, Crystal, Ephedrine and Psy tab. ANF has reportedly destroyed 117.93 MT of poppy crop, burnt 421.054 MT illicit drugs worth Rs 12,014.663 million in one year.
First National Anti-Narcotics Policy 2019 launched by current government addresses drug demand reduction, drug supply reduction and international cooperation. The ministry has arranged the treatment of drug addicts in its model addiction treatment and rehabilitation centers at Islamabad, Karachi and Quetta.
These are laudable efforts by all means, but the nation need to know from MNC the number of deaths in 2019 due to drug abuse, current number of drug addicts, regions with drug problems, all public and private rehabilitation centers needed to cope with the challenge, annual budget allocated against the illicit drug use, success factor of programs launched so far, funds received from international agencies and their expenditure in provinces, country targets for improvement rating within the comity of nation, the quantum of narcotics used by youth and in education institutions, and when does MNC expect to make Pakistan narcotics-free?
The other key players on this menace are: educational institutions to spread awareness and enforce rules for compliance of laws on their premises about illicit drug; the parliamentary standing committees responsible for overseeing the executive functions; the judiciary which has, is and can play key role in delivering the justice; and the prime minister who should announce his personal support to meet this challenge.
The challenge is not only a country specific but a global one thus the UN focus by observing the ‘International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking’ also known as ‘World Drug Day’, annually on 26 June. The theme of World Drug Day 2019 was “Health for Justice, Justice for Health.”
Our distinguished visitor UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres rightly said last year on 26 June, “I welcome the theme of this International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking – ‘health for justice, justice for health’ – underlining the importance of a holistic approach involving health, human rights, criminal justice and social service institutions.”
Effective responses to the world drug problem require inclusive and accountable institutions of criminal justice, health and social services to work hand in hand to provide integrated solutions. The public private partnership with close support of media is important to mobilize awareness, enforcement, control and monitoring of the war against drug abuse and illicit trafficking.
At the core of combat are the citizens who can ensure that the political forces, policy makers and governments are on one page and act in unison. Let’s nab the culprits where ever and whoever they are in cultivation, processing, trafficking and use.
Can we do it? Yes, if we consider it a national challenge. If not done, this soon can emerge as yet another crisis with double jeopardy of societal and health issues. Let us not forget the irreparable loss the power of nexus between drugs, arms and terrorism can bring to sovereignty of Pakistan.
Nisar A. Memon; former federal minister & senator.