How Pakistan succumbed to a difficult-drug epidemic

In all, Pakistan’s unlawful drug trade is believed to make $ 2 billion a yr. As is usually the case exactly where illicit routines are concerned, these figures are challenging to verify. But even at the lowest appraisal this can make Pakistan the most heroin-addicted nation, per capita, in the globe.

Peshawar is at the centre of this phenomenon, in close proximity to substantial opium-poppy fields in the Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Kunar and Nangarhar, and the rudimentary heroin-processing labs clustered all around Landi Kotal in the adjoining Khyber tribal agency. A topographical map of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa shows Peshawar as a citadel surrounded by a mountainous rampart, the bulwark and crucial to the huge northern plains of the Indian sub-continent. All through history, from Alexander to Kipling and the machinations of the Great Game, the two past and current, the city and its wild tribal environs have held a compulsive fascination for the feringi (foreigner). My grandfather Douglas ‘Buster’ Browne fought on the frontier as a boy soldier in Britain’s abortive Third Afghan War of 1919, and in the early 1980s I was a single of the initial Western journalists to cover the mujahideen insurgency across the exact same Afghanistan-Pakistan border. These days these and other ongoing wars have come to haunt Peshawar it is a city below siege, racked by violence and lawlessness.

The Western media asserts that Taliban Islamists are accountable for the bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and murders of female teachers and wellness staff. But several locals favor to believe the perpetrators are CIA, Indian or even Pakistani intelligence proxies, paid to maintain the hatred and instability boiling. Protection forces are often on highest alert. All government buildings are heavily defended towards suicide- and vehicle-bomber attacks. The Supreme Court complicated and offices of the chief minister are barricaded and ringed by large earth-filled baskets named blast walls. Security-check posts and elaborate site visitors-suppression techniques are as common as visitors lights are elsewhere. The legendary Frontier Corps, beloved by Churchill and other British imperial adventurers, watch the roads like hawks. Martial Afridi and Shinwari tribal irregulars, in black or grey shalwar kameez battledress and touting heavy-calibre weaponry, appear alert to every single likelihood.

Placing aside the worry and paranoia engendered by the febrile safety scenario, Peshawar looks not to have modified significantly in the 16 many years given that I was last right here. The old Dean’s Hotel web site in the cantonment bazaar may possibly have been bulldozed and replaced with a buying centre, but the Pearl Continental remains the protect of the CIA and other assorted global security personnel. But get a closer search and a diverse reality emerges. Day and night, all over the place – in the backstreet gullies of Peshawar, at the bus station, in plain view of police stations, on grass verges, under railway bridges, on flat rooftops, close to the major gate of the Central Jail, on active roads – one can see hundreds of dishevelled males (even the odd girl and street urchin) smoking or injecting heroin. In 1 latest survey of standard injecting opiate customers in Pakistan 73 per cent of respondents reported sharing a syringe, and it is estimated that about a third of individuals are HIV-positive.

There was a time, in the 1980s of the military dictator Basic Zia ul-Haq, when Peshawar (and Pakistan) was pumped full of funds by America and Saudi Arabia to counter the risk posed by the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and propagate the mujahideen’s jihad against the communist kuffar, or non-believers. Pakistan’s economic climate was growing at a charge of about eight per cent a year, while its neighbour and enemy, India, was tied to the treadmill of Nehruvian socialism and moving at the tempo of a bullock cart. Foreign diplomats and individuals doing work for international aid companies had been not afraid to walk the streets of Peshawar and hardy travelers had been drawn to the city’s bazaars to buy gemstones, carpets and handicrafts. Peshawar’s tourist trade is dead these days. But the city’s clandestine drug economic system is booming. 1 can acquire a packet of grey-coloured heroin the size of a huge pinch of salt for as small as a hundred rupees, the equivalent of 66 pence. It is practically as simple as getting a cup of sweet green tea. Yet, with almost a quarter of Pakistan’s population living on significantly less than 125 rupees a day, it is an high-priced habit for the bad.

Early a single morning, as dawn breaks above the restive city, I go in search of Peshawar’s street heroin addicts. My dragoman, Muhammad Ali, whom I have identified for 20 years, accompanies me. Within minutes of currently being dropped off near Soekarno Square, in the Khyber Bazaar district, we find a group of 7 guys huddled on a flat roof – unkempt, half-starved, like a pack of pariah canines. Most of the guys are caught in the nightmare amongst exhaustion and the endless cycle of just one particular more hit. 1 leans against a minimal brick wall. One more sleeps squatting on his haunches. With jerky, robotic precision one particular of them unfurls a small strip of blackened aluminium foil and attempts to ‘chase the dragon’. Via the night and into the pre-dawn hrs he and his pack have smoked their heroin till none remains. And now, in mad, concentrated desperation, he is burning the tarnished foil with a match, hoping to extract the really final milligram of heroin, or powderi, as the narcotic is named right here. Quickly he will abandon his struggle, pick up his gunny and begin one more day of tramping by means of the city and rag-choosing. With luck he will earn the 300 rupees to feed his habit. Our intrusion is sundered by a volley of insults and the thud of a half-brick thrown from a neighbouring roof by a newly roused addict. Muhammad and I beat hasty retreat.

At Haji Camp bus station, Peshawar. Photograph: Eduardo Diaz

Throughout that day, and by way of days and nights past, we continue to uncover huddled groups all around the city. They are so commonplace as to be practically invisible to ordinary, industrious Peshawaris like grey ghosts floating in narcoleptic ether. The explosion of heroin addiction and the rise of Afghanistan-Pakistan jihadis are inextricably linked significant factors of the mujahideen Taliban fund their holy wars towards the kuffar by way of the drug trade. Afghanistan creates an estimated 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s supply of illicit opiates. About half of this is trafficked by means of its porous one,550-mile border with Pakistan. Powderi was always destined for the wider global industry, but in the procedure it has also entered Pakistan’s bloodstream. Heroin had been linked with injectable ‘white’ or ‘999’ item emanating from the Burma-Thailand-Laos ‘Golden Triangle’ and Hong Kong. But then a new, cheaper and smokable heroin, dubbed ‘Paki brown’ or just ‘brown’, came on to the European marketplace. It precipitated a sharp spike in addiction.

In 1985 there was tiny proof of public heroin abuse in Pakistan appropriate. But it was starting to get hold in the nominally Pakistan-controlled Federally Administered Tribal Areas among Pakistan and Afghanistan, a region traditionally forbidden to outsiders, where heroin, hash, other narcotics, and guns and ammunition were simply bought. In 1985 tribal drug dealers, attired with bolt-action rifles and a lot more modern Kalash­nikov AK-47 assault rifles, welcomed guests with broad smiles and copious cups of green tea. And tribal policemen, Khasadars, had been prepared to search the other way.

I keep in mind visiting 1 fortified drug den, managed by an Afridi clan leader, only a quick drive from Peshawar. A dealer sat on a rope charpoy-bed and dispensed powderi to pushing, desperate addicts. A guard and his Kalashnikov stored them in a semblance of order just before herding them to a large barn in the walled compound. Within scores of guys squatted and chased the dragon – burning the heroin on strips of silver foil till it liquefied and turned to an acrid vapour, which they sucked and inhaled through little tubes. It was the starting of Pakistan’s mass heroin addiction.

In the absence of alcohol, smoking hashish has been socially acceptable in numerous Muslim societies for hundreds of many years. And in Pakistan the transition from smoking charas to smoking powderi has been practically seamless. Back in contemporary Peshawar 1 heroin consumer, a businessman, tells me, ‘My pals and I often employed to meet right after work and smoke charas. It was our way of soothing. Then one particular day a single of the guys stated, “Try this.” It was heroin. The 1st time I smoked it, I felt as if I could do anything. I misplaced all my concern.’

There are a lot of legends about how – and why – heroin very first appeared on the North West Frontier. It is generally accepted that 1979 was the 12 months in which momentous events combined to generate a new front in the narcotics enterprise. The overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the advent of the ayatollahs signalled a key shift in the illicit sector. Almost overnight Ayatollah Khomeini ruthlessly cracked down on his country’s in depth heroin trade, sentencing drug dealers to capital punishment. Iranian chemists re­located over the border to Afghanistan, a habitually anarchic nation quickly to disintegrate into chaos and warlordism amid the welter of the Soviet Union’s Christmas 1979 invasion. And the rest is background.

Pakistan’s nationwide and provincial governments seem unable, or unwilling, to respond to the manifest crisis of the country’s narcotics addiction. Draconian laws are in place – with no distinction among soft and challenging drugs – and the sanction of the death penalty in situations involving one particular kilo or more. But the system is riddled with weakness – not least rampant corruption – and narcotics are not substantial on the political agenda.

In what can only be termed a flight of utter fancy, Pakistan aims to be drug-free of charge by 2020 below its 2010-2014 Drug Abuse Management Master Prepare. However in 2011 and 2012 the physique set up to coordinate this purpose did not even bother to meet.

Meanwhile, UNODC, which holds many of the keys to funding and influence in the fight towards narcotics, is hobbled by the protection predicament across the country and barricaded with embassies and other companies in a specific worldwide compound in Islamabad. UN personnel can’t leave their fortified village without clearance from their personal protection force. Any official journey outside the compound, – to Peshawar, for example – is monitored each 15 minutes. It takes me a week and a flurry of emails to organize a meeting with UNODC officials. A senior official begins to pontificate about ‘the programme’. He tells me that ‘national drug treatment method protocols have been instituted’ and that UNODC is ‘building capacity’. And he claims, repeatedly, that now, for the initial time, ‘the government of Pakistan genuinely owns the programme’.

But in a nation where the government cannot keep the lights on, I locate this mantra of ‘ownership’ deeply unconvincing.

Youngsters who are getting assistance to overcome drug addiction at the Gulloona day centre, run by the Dost Welfare Basis. Photograph: Eduardo Diaz

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has 17 drug-dependency units or solutions – run by the local government, NGOs and the personal sector – for its million drug end users. They can deal with a highest of 1,052 individuals at any time. However even this meagre figure could be inflated. About a third of these solutions are supplied by the Dost Welfare Foundation, a groundbreaking charity established by Dr Parveen Azam Khan in 1992 with funding from Britain’s Depart­ment for International Improvement, the Canadian International Growth Agency and UNODC. Dost, which means ‘friend’ in Urdu, functions with drug addicts, street kids, folks with HIV/Aids and prisoners.

Final yr it was forced to close its therapeutic hospital for drug addicts at Shahi Bala, on the western outskirts of Peshawar, because of a lack of funding. The facility is distinctive in KPK and a model of how to treat drug addiction, with large health care-employees-to-patient ratios, a rational and humane 3-month detoxification programme, vocational education services and healthful food grown in its very own garden to aid heal broken minds and bodies. When working it claimed a 65 per cent good results price, in contrast to the 90 per cent failure price of government-run facilities. But earlier this year Dr Parveen announced that the American Bureau of Inter­national Narcotics Law Enforcement (INL) is to fund three main a single-year projects, including a 180-area residential treatment centre at Shahi Bala, a task in five prisons in KPK, and a one hundred-bed therapy centre for kids in Peshawar, which incorporates a drop-in centre.

Dr Parveen Azam Khan, the founder and president of the Dost Welfare Foundation. Photograph: Eduardo Diaz

Khan, formerly the director of women’s overall health services in the province, has earned the soubriquet ‘The Angel of Peshawar’ for her religious devotion and pioneering perform. She is recognised as one of the top authorities on drug rehabilitation in South Asia. Now aged 75, Khan, the daughter of an aristocratic frontier loved ones that claims descent from Dost Muhammad, a 19th-century king of Afghanistan, radiates poise and integrity. ‘This is a conflict zone, the place 70 per cent of the men and women are living below the poverty line,’ she says. ‘Many people, particularly folks living in the tribal regions, have been traumatised by the war on terror and all the violence. It has undoubtedly led to a huge boost in drug use and addiction. Heroin is destroying our youth, killing them, criminalising them. They finish up in prison, mental institutions or dead.’

Khan’s work with drug addicts was originally inspired by a visit to wasteland near Peshawar’s Karkhano market place, a notorious nest of smugglers abutting the Jamrud entrance to the Khyber tribal agency, exactly where guns, ammunition, petrol and a panoply of other contraband goods are on sale. ‘We were shocked by what we noticed,’ she recalls. ‘There had been guys – and even girls and youngsters – smoking heroin. There were beggars and three dead bodies just lying between them. Maybe one hundred men and women have been employing medication there each and every day. That woke me up.’

Days later I see the a lot more prosaic encounter of heroin remedy in Pakistan. Peshawar’s public wellness technique has only one particular heroin-addiction referral unit – attached to the psychiatric wing of Lady Reading teaching hospital – with 14 beds. Individuals on a yr-extended waiting listing undergo a ten-day cold turkey regime before getting discharged. On the day I pay a visit to, unannounced, I find the doctor on duty asleep in the consultation surgical treatment.

I talk to 1 addict, 35-12 months-old Faisal Khan, the father of two kids, who shares his area with two other folks. The air is thick and dank, poisoned by the unmistakable funk of heroin, sweat and excrement. This is Faisal’s very first time in detox, he tells me by means of an interpreter. At residence he runs a lorry, which he either drives himself or hires out. He smoked heroin twice a day, he says, and invested around 1,400 rupees a week feeding his habit – about a third of his earnings. ‘My kids truly feel fantastic shame,’ Faisal says. ‘It’s not a good issue when we are smoking and sitting in garbage. I can not sleep. I do not want to eat. This is my sixth day of not smoking and nowadays I ate for the very first time.’

A man receives remedy for drug addiction at Lady Reading hospital’s rehabilitation centre, Peshawar. Photograph: Eduardo Diaz

Before I leave Peshawar I make one last go to to Gulloona, Khan’s drop-in centre for street children near Peshawar’s central bus station. Gulloona means ‘flower’ in Urdu, and it represents hope amid the grime and squalor of its surroundings. A canal, built throughout the British Raj, flows alongside. These days it is tiny more than an open sewer. Concrete urinals empty immediately into the water. Faeces and all manner of urban and industrial detritus float on the surface. Vagrant boys splash and swim in the water, defying the dangers with shrieks of joy. For them Gulloona is a safehouse exactly where they can get a hot dinner, obtain health care treatment method, probably even learn to read. Most of them, even children as younger as four, have direct expertise of medication: glue-sniffing solvents, charas, powderi. The centre, which serves 40 to 50 street children a day, is positioned down a narrow backstreet, behind a warren of tiny industrial units, repair stores and a junkyard. In front a broken pipe has spewed out a flow of raw sewage. But within every little thing is clean and ordered. Rest rooms for the youngsters, personnel offices and a tiny dispensary are set about a massive patio. At the back there is a little kitchen and a huge dining space, and upstairs a vocational sewing unit for young females.

I talk to 3 modest boys who have just completed their dinner: Shahid, aged 5, and brothers Hakim, seven, and Hikmet, 4. Every single youngster helps make amongst one hundred and 300 rupees a day (66p to £2) collecting rubbish, which they sell to the junkyard. Shahid, with his flattened nose, chapped lips and agitated manner, has the unmistakable features of a glue-sniffer. Hakim strokes his tiny brother’s head and admits he has previously smoked hashish. An older rubbish-collector, 18-12 months-old Kamal Khan, a smiling, strapping lad, says, ‘I hope God keeps me safe from the powder. Yes, I also smoked cigarettes, and I smoked hashish, and for 6 years I used to sniff glue. But then I had treatment method from Dost foundation for 3 months. Now I’m not taking anything at all. I’m on a distinct road.’

An additional achievement story is that of Tariq Shah, also 18, who began smoking heroin at the age of nine. It is hard to feel that this young man, with his clean-minimize Bollywood great seems, was chained up by his loved ones for three years due to the fact of his addiction to powderi.

‘Before I came to Dost I was dying,’ he says. ‘I came for therapy. Slowly my brain began to work again. The individuals here have provided me a great deal of assist, foods, everything. Now I perform as a tailor with my father. I owe almost everything to lady medical doctor Parveen she has rescued me from the quicksand.’

‘I don’t agree at all with people who say that Pakistan is a lost state,’ Khan tells me in parting. ‘We have great examples of recovery. I’ve by no means felt helpless and hopeless, except when we’ve acquired no funding. Each and every day for me is a golden possibility to do something.’

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