|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | T V R SHENOY|
|July 11, 2001||
T V R Shenoy
The Agra tea party
What will Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf talk about over tea this weekend? Kashmir, that perennial bugaboo, is sure to be on the agenda, but there is little chance of any solution. (Maybe I should say 'no chance'!) Pakistan's commerce minister has declared that improvements in trade must wait for a solution to the Kashmir issue. That leaves little room for constructive conversation. Or does it?
There is one problem which India and Pakistan alike need to tackle urgently -- the burgeoning cross-border trade in narcotics. If the leaders can reach some agreement on this alone, the whole show would have been worth it. But even given goodwill on both sides, it will be a difficult task. And therein lies a tale...
In 1994, Nawaz Sharief gave an interview to The Washington Post. He claimed that General Mirza Aslam Beg, then army chief of staff, and General Asad Durrani, head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Bureau, came to him with a proposal in November 1990, shortly after he became prime minister. (This was his first inning, not the one ended by Musharraf.) Sharief claimed that they wanted him to raise money for covert operations through drug deals.
Nawaz Sharief's veracity is not Washingtonesque, and we must treat anything he said with some scepticism. His allegations were denied by generals Beg and Durrani. Yet, even if the precise details were wrong, many people believe that the broad pattern was correct.
Since an Indian voice may be taken as biased, permit me to quote some American texts. If you have access to the Internet, look at www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/pk.html (the official site of the CIA), or see what the American state department says at www.state.gov/www/global/narcotics_law/1999_narc_report/ml_country99.html.
For those who cannot browse the Internet, here is what the CIA writes of Pakistan: "[a] key transit area for Southwest Asian heroin moving to Western markets; narcotics still move from Afghanistan into Baluchistan Province".
The Department of State is equally blunt: "Pakistan remains an important producer of, and a major transit country for, opiates and cannabis destined for the international market... Morphine base is produced in the tribal areas of the NWFP [North Western Frontier Province] for refining abroad, and heroin is produced for domestic use and export. Political instability in the NWFP limits the Government of Pakistan's ability to take action against producers and refiners of narcotics in Khyber Agency."
The department continues: "Afghan opiates and cannabis flow in large quantities through Pakistan. While there are no hard data to quantify the traffic, substantial amounts of morphine base have been identified moving from southwestern Afghanistan through Pakistan's Baluchistan Province to the Arabian Sea... Most of these opiates are loaded either in Karachi or off the Makran Coast of Baluchistan. Additional opium from Afghanistan is transported to the NWFP, where it, along with Pakistani-grown opium, is processed into heroin for local and international markets. Pakistani/Afghani heroin is also transported to India."
There is no need for India to preen. The same document notes: "Essential chemicals for heroin production enter Pakistan in relatively small lots from India via train and cross-desert caravans, as well as from Europe through the port of Karachi." I am morally certain there are some Indian officials who make it possible for these chemicals to reach our neighbour. These men are probably to be found in the great port city of Mumbai and in the porous border areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
But the situation in India is not as bad as in Pakistan where hints of a section of the armed forces being involved in the drug trade have been available for decades. In 1976, Swedish authorities confiscated large quantities of hashish from two Pakistan Air Force planes, which came to pick up spare-parts. Ten years later, in 1986, a minister in the Junejo administration admitted to the National Assembly that 18 brigadiers had been sent to prison by foreign courts because of their involvement in the narcotics business. Sadly, nobody in Pakistan had the foresight, or courage, to tackle the problem in those early days.
Cynics may wonder why the current Pakistani government should combat the problem when its predecessors failed to do so for a quarter of a century. Well, Pervez Musharraf seems to have grasped the fact that the trade in drugs, however profitable in the short run, ends up infecting the country. In 1980, there were virtually no heroin addicts in Pakistan; in 1990, there were 1.2 million (roughly one of every 100 Pakistanis). Would anyone care to speculate what the number is today?
So what has the Musharraf administration actually done? Well, according to American sources, in the year 2000, Pakistan made progress to eliminating opium production by reducing poppy cultivation from 1,570 to 515 hectares, and potential production of opium fell by 70 per cent. Those are impressive numbers, and demonstrate what can be done given enough will. But halting production does not mean that Pakistan has ceased to be a conduit.
I should point out that it is not just India that is worried about what is happening on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. About a year ago, Kyrghyz President Askar Akayev expressed his own fears. The Taleban and their opponents, he said, "could join together to protect the drug trade which feeds them and which represents a threat to the whole Central Asian region."
On the eve of his visit to India, General Musharraf wondered aloud why Islamic movements were attracting so much hostility. He was speaking not just of South Asia, but of places like Macedonia. Here is an opportunity for the general to do something about the flood of bad publicity -- discuss Kashmir, yes, but please do something about the drug trade as well.
|Tell us what you think of this column|
ASTROLOGY | NEWSLINKS | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEDDING | ROMANCE | WEATHER | WOMEN | E-CARDS | SEARCH
HOMEPAGES | FREE MESSENGER | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK