Trafficking of Drugs

Written by Rooha Javed 11:47 am Articles, Pakistan, Published Content

Trafficking of Drugs: The Implications of a Porous Border Between Afghanistan & Pakistan

Pakistan’s close proximity to Afghanistan has caused it to become the perfect target for drug trafficking. Rooha Javed explains that Afghanistan – one of the largest producers of opium in the world – has taken advantage of Pakistan’s transit route to not only acquire precursor chemicals for drug manufacturing but also for smuggling illegal drugs to the international market. Though Pakistan has adopted measures to counter this illegal drug trade, the number of Pakistanis suffering from drug addiction and overdose is increasing every day.
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Rooha Javed holds a master's degree in international relations and is currently performing a job as a visiting lecturer.


The connecting borders are the primary source of various transnational activities. In Pakistan’s case, its strategic location is fortunate in different ways; simultaneously, it faces various illegal ventures through other means. These illicit activities include human smuggling and trafficking of drugs, directly affecting every age group of Pakistan.

These illegalities prevail under the state’s asymmetric economic status and happen under the rational choices of an individual or group. Geographically, Pakistan is seen as a natural transit country and considered the hub for international economic lines. It is bound by China in the northeast, India in the east, Iran in the west, and Afghanistan in the northwest. This border connectivity resulted in the formation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which stimulates different trade perspectives.

Drug Smuggling

The borders of the adjoining western states, Iran and Afghanistan, are becoming porous regarding the trafficking of drugs. Those engaged in drug smuggling and human trafficking disparage the geographical significance of Pakistan. However, Pakistan has installed fences on the boundary but it is still not protected from malicious activities.

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After the rising cases of drug smuggling, Pakistan has pursued a zero-tolerance policy to counter this issue. This approach has shown positive results by reducing the production and trade of drugs like opium. In the production of drugs, Pakistan is primarily a producer of opium—through poppy cultivation—and hashish. It has never been a heroin manufacturer.

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As per data, poppy cultivation, which was 32,000 hectares in 1978, reduced to 5,215 hectares in 1995. In this regard, its cultivation in Pakistan was nearly eradicated in 1999 and 2000, according to an assessment by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This cultivation process in Pakistan was remotely active in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Nonetheless, the military operation and constitutional amendments, which resulted in the merging of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), drastically diminished cultivation. While Pakistan has significantly worked on reducing poppy cultivation and manufacturing of drugs, some issues—like the trafficking of drugs—still need to be addressed.

Drug traffickers employ Pakistan’s transit routes, raising another issue—the exacerbation of drug addicts in the country. Besides, the drug smuggling issue aggravates human trafficking as well. More often than not, these ferocious activities are happening under the collaboration of human traffickers, drug smugglers, and traditional smugglers who share their intelligence and offer to cooperate.

Exploitation of Pakistan’s Trade Routes

According to a 2018 UNODC report, opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 63% to 328,000 hectares, increasing drug smuggling cases in Pakistan. Pakistan shares a 2400 km border with Afghanistan which is prone to illegal activities like the trafficking of drugs, despite the border fence and patrol. Contrary to popular belief, drug traffickers follow processes that allow the authorities to benefit from the sale of drugs on the street by raising the prices of the drugs.

Moreover, the published report by UNODC has mentioned the Pakistan transit route as the busiest corridor, used by Afghanistan for its hashish and heroin smuggling purposes. The available data by UNODC shows that poppy cultivation and production increased from 184 metric tonnes in 2001 to 9,000 metric tonnes in 2017.

The UNODC-led Afghanistan survey of 2018 has shown a 26% reduction in opium cultivation, but the state is still the second-highest producer of drugs. Since 2004, Pakistan’s trading routes have connected China with Afghanistan, aggravating the trafficking of drugs, especially heroin smuggling.

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The Anti-Narcotics Forces (ANF) of Pakistan should adequately monitor these transiting routes. ANF believes that the precursor chemicals for drug manufacturing are being smuggled from Central Asia, UAE, India, and China into Pakistan, then transits to Afghanistan via Pakistan. With the propagation of drug production, the domestic usage of drugs has also increased in Pakistan.

In a 2013 report by UNODC, a total of 6.7 million drug users or substance users were identified, out of which approximately 4.25 million drug users were suffering from various health disorders. More than 8 million Pakistanis are addicted to drugs and about 700 people die in Pakistan every day due to drug overdose. At the same time, psychotropic medications are also becoming normal in Pakistan’s society, especially among the younger generation due to the on-campus paddling. However, this issue is undocumented which may halt our young generation’s performance.

Enforcement of Laws

Pakistan has enacted anti-drug trafficking legislation, with legal instruments passed to outlaw the use and trade of all types of narcotics substances. The following are the spectrum of laws passed by Pakistan:

  1. Control of Narcotics Substance Act, 1997
  2. Customs Act, 1969
  3. Pakistan Penal Code, 1960

The provisions of the Control of Narcotics Substance Act address various terms and conditions that will be imposed as a punishment for using or possessing more than 100 g (the permitted maximum limit for drug possession) of heroin. cocaine, or opium. At the same time, the sentence varies for opium and precursor substances under this act.

Under the legal framework, the law enforcement agencies are responsible for interdiction under the four federal government departments. The provincial police also carry out their tasks to take action against these issues. The following departments are responsible for implementing the laws:

  1. Anti Narcotics Force (works under the Narcotics Control Division)
  2. Airport Security force, Pakistan Ranger, Frontier Corps, and Pakistan Coast Guards (work under the Ministry of Interior)
  3. Pakistan Customs (works under the Federal Board of Revenue)
  4. Frontier Constabulary (works under the Home Department KPK)
  5. The provincial police departments
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Challenges and Strategies

Addiction to drugs is one of Pakistan’s most worrying social issues, fast-spreading to broad segments of the country’s population. In the implementation of laws pertaining to drug trafficking, there come different challenging factors in the laws’ application phase. These challenges can be categorized as structural challenges and transnational challenges.

In the structural challenges, Pakistan’s geographical location and Afghanistan’s proximity to Pakistan’s trading routes halt domestic conditions. The drug market – including the entire production process, smuggling, peddling, and consumption – also trespasses through Pakistan’s global trade route. Until the entire region mitigates this issue, no single state can perform well individually.

The mitigating procedure can be aided by increasing campus administrations’ understanding of the prevalence of drug usage and the methods of peddling used in their educational institutes. Furthermore, regular interaction with local law enforcement and campus officials on this critical issue is beneficial.

Drug trafficking can be mitigated by acknowledging Pakistan’s transit route and domestic drug use problem. With the federal government’s help, ministries can prevent drug and precursor chemicals smuggling. Similarly, drug use has increased in Pakistan through party drugs, like ecstasy pills, directly smuggled from European and Gulf states, showing the transnational state of affairs.

However, coordinating and building law enforcement acts and establishing customs cooperation as the cooperative border control regime can curb illicit transnational activities. The establishment of the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) can bring positive results under the supervision of ANF.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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