COMMENTARY
 
For Drug Traffickers, Balochistan a Safe Haven
The Nation
March 7, 1995
Balochistan provides land and sea exist routes to international drug traffickers who operate in this province or in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Owing to the ineffectiveness of governmental control, for drug traffickers to use these exit routes to their best advantage is not so difficult.

Balochistan’s Makran Coast along the Indian Ocean is the most active zone for drug smuggling operations, in which Afghan and Pakistani drug barons are allegedly engaged in the trafficking business. Drug traffickers are seemingly scared of operating through Iran, for fear of being hanged by its revolutionary authorities. Otherwise, Iran would have provided them a relatively easier road access to Turkey and then to Europe, the final destination for drugs.

Here comes the strategic importance of the Makran coastal range for drug traffickers. To some extent, the port of Karachi also acts as a drug trafficking exit point, in the wake of the current lawlessness in Pakistan’s financial centre. Khyber Pass and Vash crossing point at the Kandahar-Balochistan border remain the two normal road passages for drug traffickers, stationed in Afghanistan and bringing purified drugs from there to the southern coast of Balochistan.

Even otherwise, much of the Durand Line remains open for any sort of smuggling. Among other means of road transportations, trucks are frequently used to traffic drug. On these, the agents of drug barons travel hundreds of miles—and often without any fear, since their safely is assured allegedly by the government officials, including those belonging to Anti-Narcotics Task Force (ANTF), Customs and Police departments, and the border security forces.

In some instance, state agencies are also helpless. For instance, the encounters between drug traffickers and jawans of the Frontier Corps (FC), patrolling along Balochistan’s borders with Kandahar, take place routinely. Many a times, the druglords of Afghanistan have kidnapped FC personnel men and taken them inside Afghanistan as hostages. They are released only after these barons are assured of “safe passage.”

Much of the poppy which after purification takes the shape of heroin and other drugs is still being grown in the war-ravaged Afghanistan. The rise of Taliban in southern Afghanistan has not made much of difference in the country’s poppy production capacity. In Helmand, for instance, the poppy cultivation remains as popular a profession as before.

The last of the drug processing factories in Balochistan were destroyed in December 1990, following a bloody skirmish between the FC and Notezai tribal forces. Such units, however, still exist reportedly in other parts of the lawless tribal areas. It is in the war-ravaged Afghanistan that heroin and other drugs are principally processed and produced. The drug barons are said to be benefiting the most form the prevailing anarchy in Afghanistan.

The operational ineffectiveness, willful collusion or helplessness of other state agencies aside, even ANTF has so far failed to make headway in checking the growing drug trafficking in the country. As a part of the Pakistan Narcotics Control Board (PNCB), the ANTF was created by the caretaker government of Moeen Qureshi in October 1993. The other three steps which the government had taken for the purpose were: the issuing of the Dangerous Drugs (Arms) Ordinance, 1993, under which drug traffickers can be hanged after being declared guilty of crime by the court of law; the extradition of five Pakistani drug traffickers to the United States who were facing drug charges in various US courts and, finally, the appointment of Maj Gen Salahuddin Trimzi as head of the PNCB and the ANTF.

One particular incident depicting the PNCB-ANTF failure—rather, ineffectiveness—was the arrest and, then, sudden release of Shorang Khan by the Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) in Karachi in June 1994. Known as the king of heroin in Karachi, Shorang Khan is of Afghan origin a familiar name as far as Balochistan’s Chamman district. Despite protests by Gen. Trimzi, the CIA released him.

In terms of the powers vested in it, ANTF can override the authority of any other state security agencies in its anti-drug trafficking operations. It can employ the Army commandos during the operations. The Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate assists it in tracing the international connections of drug traffickers based in Pakistan. For the purpose, ANTF can also receive information from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Interpol.

In recent years, even some arrested or convicted drug barons in the Frontier province escaped from prison. In November 1994, three drug traffickers, two Afghans and one Pakistani, escaped from Peshawar jail. They were to be extradited to the US. In October 1993, Ammanullah Kundi, related to a former Federal Minister, escaped from his hospital confinement in Dera Ismail Khan. He was serving seven years in jail, after the court had proven him guilty of smuggling heroin to Germany. He also feared extradition. No one has been aware of his whereabouts since his escape.

Similarly, Haji Ayub Afridi who allegedly runs a drug empire from his stronghold in the Khyber Agency is still at large. In 1994, the tribal jirga freed him from all the charges leveled against him by Pakistani government and American courts. Like Shorang of Karachi and the Notezais of Chaghai, he is on the government’s Most Wanted list of drug traffickers. The United States had demanded the extradition from Pakistan of some 20 traffickers. Five of them—including Salim Malik, Khalid Khan, Taweez Khan, Shahid Hafeez Khawaja and Mishal Khan—were extradited by the former caretaker government. The sixth one, Muhammad Azam, was extradited in 1994 by the Benazir Bhutto government.

Many of the arrests of persons already extradited to the US or to be extradited were made following the joint PNCB-FC action against the Notezais in October and December 1990. For instance, those among the Notezais arrested following the action, confessed the names of their copartners such as Salim Malik (already extradited), Anwar Khattak and Mirza Iqbal Baig (facing extradition).

A major obstacle to combating drug trafficking is the political clout of drug barons in provincial and central governments. Additionally, the continuing tribal warfare in Balochistan—between Hamidzais and Ghaibezais, Bugtis and Kalpars, Raisanis and Rinds. The government of Chief Minister Zulfiqar Magsi is considered to be very weak—a loose coalition, with majority of parliamentarians out of a total of 43, elected as independents. Magsi himself does not have any political association.

And in the police station of Tahl Magsi, the seat of his tribe, some 300 miles south west from Quetta, in an FIR registered against him by his uncle Sardar Yousaf Ali Khan Magsi, the Balochistan Chief Minister is accused of committing multiple murders, with court decision on the issue still pending. With such circumstances prevailing in Balochistan, which are nothing less than anarchic, the trans-national drug traffickers, based in this province or elsewhere, are having a field day.