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Menace of narco-terrorism

Every survey made since promulgation of Prohibition (Enforcement of Hadd) Order, 1979 [“Hadd Order”] shows that this nation has been persistently sinking deeper into narco-terrorism-a term signifying the drug-terror trap. Terrorism and drug trade working in tandem since the Zia era have resulted not only in over 6.7 million addicts in 2014 but are also responsible for the emergence of many organised criminal gangs that deal in drugs and arms, kidnapping for ransom, targeted killings, speed money, extortion, and financing terrorists. This unholy alliance of organised crime and terrorist outfits is causing serious internal security threats to the State. Undeniably, the 11-year-old dictatorial rule of General Ziaul Haq brought in its wake many ills for Pakistan, but religious bigotry and narco-terrorism are the two cancerous maladies that every successive government has failed to combat effectively.

Domestic drug consumption remains an ongoing problem. In 2013, The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released the results of a nation-wide drug user survey, revealing that Pakistan is home to 6.5 million drug users who consume 59 MT of heroin and cannabis annually. After studying the data further, UNODC revised these figures in 2014 and now estimates that there are actually 6.7 million drug users in Pakistan with the same consumption rate. UNODC also reported that Pakistan lacks the capacity to treat drug addiction and to properly educate its populace about the menace of illicit narcotics-2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR).

If the figures made available recently by the official agencies are close to even half-truth, the monstrous legacy of Zia’s misrule should be identified as the biggest continual threat to Pakistan’s future. The other day, Sindh Rangers Director General, Major General Bilal Akbar, revealed that certain parties and groups had over the years been involved in corruption, land grabbing, smuggling of drugs, currency and Iranian oil, unlawful collection of Zakat, Fitra, sacrificial hides and protection money, targeted killings, illegal marriage halls and parking spaces, match fixing, cybercrimes etc. Claiming that a major Karachi-based political party had been patronising most of these criminal activities, he said “the ill-gotten money was being used in funding militant wings of various parties, terrorist outfits and armed gangs as well as private security of feudal lords.”

Statistic reveals that whereas in 1980 Pakistan had 5,000 heroin addicts (hardly any in 1979) out of a total of about 1,24,000 drug users, within eight years of Zia’s regime their number had gone up more than two hundred times to 1,079,630 and the total number of drug addicts reached the mark of 2,244,000. Since then there is an alarming increase of more than 10% per year and total number of addicts in 2014 estimated at not less than 6.7 million out of which heroin users are about 2.5 million. It does not require any expert opinion to convince a concerned citizen that this epidemic is ruining our society, especially the youth.

The clear increase in trafficking and local consumption of heroin was followed by the promulgation of the Hadd Order in 1979. That year Pakistan had a bumper crop of poppy on some 80,000 acres of land and the total yield was an all-time record of 800 metric tons. Figures obtained a day prior to the imposition of the Hadd Order, recorded opium selling at Rs 1,200 per kg in the Punjab. But a day after the promulgation of the Hadd Order, prices shot up to Rs 9,000 per kg in the Punjab but went down to Rs 300 per kg in the tribal belt.

Left with the surplus of opium their owners did not know what to do with their stocks. At that time the international drug smugglers came to their rescue. Within a few months there was a mood of jubilation among the growers that their opium stocks would not go waste and they would earn 10 times more if they had them converted into heroin. The birth of heroin in Pakistan and its local consumption portrays tragic consequences of short-sightedness of the decision-makers. Pakistan provides a horrible example of a country converted into a `Kingdom of Heroin’ within a short span of time-courtesy the tolerant eye and indifference of a martial law regime regarding the (ill)effects of its policies on the public.

UNODC, working in various forms in Pakistan for over 35 years, says that Pakistan is now the destination and transit country for approximately 40% of the opiates produced in Afghanistan. Most processing takes place in small, mobile laboratories in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas although increasing instances of processing on the Afghan border with the Central Asian Republics have been reported. The sub-region itself has become a major consumer market for opiates. Opiate processing on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border has created a trafficking and, importantly in the case of Pakistan, a drug abuse problem since the early 1980s. The UNODC estimates that 40 percent of the drugs (heroin and marijuana) originating in Afghanistan are routed through Pakistan heading to China, the Gulf States, Africa, and Europe. Additionally, poppy cultivation in some areas of Pakistan has increased in 2014 and the country is also becoming a major transit point for precursor chemicals used to produce heroin and methamphetamine.

In 2014, Pakistan’s drug treatment capacities remained insufficient to meet demand, with fewer than 100 clinics operating nation-wide. Very few public hospitals offer drug addiction treatment services, though Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the first province to take steps to integrate basic addiction counselling into its public health apparatus. Lacking government funding, over 90 percent of Pakistan’s detoxification centers are operated by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). As a result, cost remains the primary obstacle preventing widespread access to treatment, leaving 75 percent of opiate addicts without an avenue to seek help. Fewer than 30,000 drug users received detoxification therapy in 2014, the majority of whom were females due to a lack of institutional capacity to serve women.

An increasing number of Pakistan’s addiction centers are providing evidence-based treatment. In 2012, the Colombo Plan, a multinational organisation promoting development in the Asia-Pacific region, launched a “train-the-trainer” program for NGOs and government treatment specialists with INL assistance. During 2014, the Colombo Plan International Centre for Certification and Education of Addiction Professionals (CP ICCE) held two national-level trainings in Pakistan. These efforts could reduce remission rates, which are currently approaching 80 percent.

The 2015 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), annually prepared by the US Department of State, mentions that “money laundering in Pakistan affects both the formal and informal financial systems. Pakistan does not have firm control of its borders with Afghanistan, Iran, or China, which facilitate the flow of illicit goods and monies into and out of Pakistan. From January through November 2014, the Pakistani diaspora legitimately remitted approximately $18 billion back to Pakistan via the formal banking sector. Though it is illegal to change foreign currency without a license, unlicensed hawala/hundi operators are prevalent throughout Pakistan, and it is estimated that use of these operators accounts for over half of the total remittances. Unlicensed hawala/hundi operators are also common throughout the region and are widely used to transfer and launder illicit money. Some support the financing of terrorism.”

Pakistan is one of the world’s top transit corridors for opiates and cannabis, which are pervasively trafficked through the country’s porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran and globally distributed through Pakistan’s seaports, airports, postal services, and unpatrolled coastal areas. In 2014, Pakistan’s progress toward building a resilient, effective, and self-sustaining counter-narcotics capacity saw success in the form of multiple noteworthy seizures and positive anti-drug awareness activities. However, budget limitations and fragile political will continued to hinder counter-narcotics efforts, while law enforcement agencies remained largely preoccupied with more urgent threats to national security such as violent extremism.

At present, the daunting challenge faced by the national and international institutions is tackling terrorist financing. The dangers and implications involved in terrorist financing have direct bearings for the established legal and financial systems-in the absence of comprehensive study of terrorist financing suggesting ways to counter it effectively, it is not possible to uproot the menaces of terrorism, extremisms and militancy that are posing serious threats to politico-legal systems evolved by humanity at large after a hectic struggle over time. Unlike money laundering which is always preceded by an unlawful activity, terrorism may be financed from the proceeds of legal activities (humanitarian organisations, various associations, donations etc). This makes detection of terrorist financing very difficult, even more so if we bear in mind the fact that transaction amounts involved in terrorist financing often tend to be smaller than the amounts that under law have to be reported to the anti-money laundering office. As the measures taken to prevent money laundering are not sufficient in the fight against terrorist financing, they have to be supplemented by special measures prescribed by competent international bodies.

Terrorism and money laundering, intrinsically linked, pose considerable threats to global peace and security as well as destabilising political and financial stability of many nation States. This twin menace assumed dangerous proportions in the wake of the ghastly incident of 9/11 in New York. The international community is struggling hard, without much success, in monitoring and eliminating financial support by sympathisers to terrorist outfits. Besides external resources, enormous funds are generated by terrorist networks through legal as well as illegal means, concealed and laundered using existing legal financial framework or unlawful underground networks. The terrorist networks cannot be destroyed, or even made ineffective, unless concerted efforts are made at both national and international levels to efficaciously block their financial sources.

The United States and its allies have been engaged in what they call ‘war on terror’ (sic)-pointlessly and unsuccessfully. After 13 years of military warfare, spending trillions of dollars, they are finally bowing before forces of “terrorism and obscurantism.” Critics say that war against al Qaeda, Taliban and Daesh-(enjoying networking with many criminal groups) having hubs in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere-by the United States and its allies, is tainted with geo-political motives and no serious effort has been made till today to attack their financial lifeline.

In Pakistan, many militant networks are minting enormous money in the name of “religion” and through organised crime. This aspect remains inadequately investigated by domestic and international intelligence agencies. Since terrorist groups have not been uprooted financially, they are wining more and more ‘sympathisers’ all over the world with money power. Strangely, their main targets are not only the United States and Western countries but also Pakistan, India and Iran-even financially and militarily strong China.

Pakistan is one of the worst hit countries by terrorism and money laundering. There is sufficient evidence that militant groups working against the security and stability of the State generate huge funds through organised criminal activities and also get huge “donations” from “sympathisers” in and outside Pakistan. It is an irrefutable fact that certain laws protect illegal money, for example section 5 and 9 of the Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992 and section 111(4) of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001. These laws ensure unlimited flow of “remittances” and dealings in foreign currencies.

In the presence of so-called “protective” (sic) economic laws cited above, provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2010 have rarely been invoked. In fact, this has become a dormant law. Banks are not reporting any suspicious transactions under section 7 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010 or section 67 of Control of Narcotics Substance Act of 1997. This shows the slackness of institutions and agencies responsible for implementing these laws.

In addition to legal weaknesses pointed out above, during the last 30 years, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) have not been able to establish a joint task force to book and prosecute the men and networks involved in money laundering.

In the presence of numerous departments and law enforcement agencies, terrorist networks get on daily basis, millions through hundis and hawala in addition to extortion money and proceeds of drug-arms deals. Many of them are even getting funds through normal banking channels in benami accounts. The inadequate reporting of such transactions by banks to Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) established under section 6 of the Anti Money Laundering Act, 2010 is a serious cause for concern. The State Bank of Pakistan as a regulator, has failed to enforce this law-there should be monetary limit for banks to report all cash transactions as the expression “suspicious transactions” is vague and subjective.

In 2014, Pakistan continued its participation in the Paris Pact and Triangular Initiative, two UNODC-led mechanisms promoting international counter-narcotics co-ordination. Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) conducted joint counter-narcotics operations with foreign counterparts, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Kenya, and Italy. Pakistan continued to host over 32 foreign drug liaison officers as part of its Paris Pact obligations. Other than working with international drug liaison officers based in Pakistan, the ANF hopes to begin placing officers within the embassies of important drug destination countries.

Staffed at senior levels by Pakistan Army officers, the ANF is a civilian law enforcement agency constitutionally mandated to serve as Pakistan’s lead counter-narcotics entity. The ANF’s 2014 federal budget of $14.82 million was insufficient to operate and maintain vehicles, equipment, and office space donated by foreign partners. Nearly 80 percent of the ANF budget is used to pay salaries. Moreover, the ANF’s 3,100 employees were thinly deployed across some 40 stations and field offices spanning every province and administrative territory except the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The ANF has not operated in the FATA since mid-2012, when a court injunction challenged its jurisdiction. Pakistan Customs is the only law enforcement agency conducting routine counter-narcotics operations in every province and territory, including the FATA.

In 2013, the Ministry of Narcotics Control merged with the Ministry of Interior (MOI), placing the ANF under the oversight of Pakistan’s largest internal security bureau. Though the move caused some friction with senior ANF commanders accustomed to operating more autonomously, MOI oversight has the potential to improve long-term strategic and operational co-ordination among Pakistan’s 27 law enforcement agencies holding counter-narcotics mandates. During 2014, ANF chaired an Inter-Agency Task Force biannual meeting on counter-narcotics, which is composed of these 27 agencies. ANF also partnered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the UK’s National Crime Agency to operate Special Investigation Cells (SICs). In 2014, the ANF Academy provided instructions to over 575 trainees from across Pakistan’s law enforcement community. As part of UNODC’s Container Control Program, the ANF and Pakistan Customs jointly operated nine Port Control Units (PCUs), while Pakistan Customs continued to host regional training courses on risk profiling of containerised cargo at Karachi Port.

Pakistan’s main opium poppy growing areas remain in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), FATA, and north-eastern Balochistan. Insecurity in these regions has prevented reliable ground surveying, thereby making it difficult to determine precise cultivation levels. In 2014, the ANF reported 1,227 hectares (ha) of poppy under cultivation and eradicated 1,010 ha, leaving a balance of 217 ha that were not eradicated. The US government’s estimates for 2014 are not yet available. However, 2013 estimates indicated a significant increase in poppy cultivation, with 4,300 ha in traditional growing areas like KP, FATA, and Balochistan. Economic substitution mechanisms – such as alternative livelihood and development programs for farmers (including distribution of seeds, agricultural training, and construction of “small-scheme” irrigation mechanisms)-continue to effectively discourage poppy cultivation in some communities of KP and the FATA. However, Pakistan depends heavily on foreign assistance to implement and monitor such programs.

According to UNODC, 160 to 200 metric ton (MT) of Afghan heroin has been annually trafficked through Pakistan in recent years, including 2014. The ANF reported that over the first eight months of 2014, it seized 2.48 MT of heroin, 18.32 MT of opium, four kilograms (kg) of cocaine, and 38.52 MT of hashish. In October, the ANF confiscated 108 kilograms of heroin from the Lahore Airport, which was destined for Malaysia. Furthermore, Pakistan Customs seized 66 kilograms of heroin, 13.3 MT of opium, 38.53 MT of poppy seeds, 1.34 MT of hashish, and 1.5 kg of amphetamine crystals from January to August 2014.

From January to September 2014, Pakistani authorities arrested over 31,481 suspects on drug charges. Law enforcement agencies registered over 30,588 cases, with ANF registering 668 cases with a 90 percent conviction rate. However, almost the same percentage of cases is overturned on appeal. The vast majority of these cases involved low-level possession or small quantity courier trafficking. Suspects arrested by ANF-mostly small-time traffickers – were tried in special narcotics courts that only hear cases put forth by the ANF, and the ANF employed its own prosecutor corps to prosecute the cases.

On April 24, 2015 one of the largest hauls of heroin in international waters was seized based upon information provided by ANF to the United Kingdom. Working in tandem, the British and Australian Navies confiscated 1032 kg of heroin from the MV Laxmi Narayan cargo ship off the coast of East Africa in Kenyan waters.

The Government of Pakistan does not facilitate the illegal production or trafficking of illegal drugs, nor the laundering of the proceeds. However, corruption remains a major challenge to the practice of law enforcement. Although parliamentary oversight committees, an independent judicial system, and a critical free press exposed corrupt practices in 2014, the consequences for perpetrators were rarely severe. Accordingly, corruption continues to facilitate the movement of contraband, including in the form of bribes to public servants. Additionally in 2014, the Narcotics Control Division (NCD) discovered that members of their staff had embezzled funds. NCD referred the case to the Federal Investigation Authority and subsequently suspended the responsible employees.

Although Pakistan continues to face enormous economic and security challenges that often exceed narcotics trafficking in national security priorities, many of these challenges are interconnected. Pakistan could more effectively reduce drug trafficking if its law enforcement agencies co-ordinated more closely, shared information more readily, and expended limited resources more efficiently. Increased public awareness about the drug trade and its negative societal influences would further solidify concerted government action across law enforcement agencies.

Determined and practical efforts are needed to destroy the financial supply lines of terrorist networks. The strategy to fight terrorism has ignored this most vital aspect and, therefore, the powerful States, with all their military might and economic resources, have failed to win the war started by them in 2001.

Pakistan can eliminate the menace of terrorism by cutting financial links of the outlawed networks and improve the economic lot of the poor that are exploited by the militants with “money power”, which is their main weapon to wage their wars against the State and undermine the writ of the government.

(The writers, lawyers and author of books on narco-terrorism, money laundering and global arms-drugs economy, are Visiting Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS))

Humzima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq, "Menace of narco-terrorism," Business recorder. 2015-06-26.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social problems , Drug Trade , Targeted killings , Economic resources , Narco-Terrorism , Terrorism policy , National security , Terrorist networks , Domestic drug consumption , Pakistan , China , Iran , Afghanistan , Iraq , FATA , NCD , ANF , FMU , UNODC