Pakistan is today notorious for many things, but in the last 20 years, drug production and addiction has increasingly become just one of them.
The issue of drug addiction is often overshadowed by the many of the country's other human development problems, such as poverty, illiteracy and lack of basic health care. But the fact is, drug abuse is rapidly growing in Pakistan and in South Asia in general.
While Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Maldives all suffer from this, Pakistan is the worst victim of the drug trade in South Asia. Today, the country has the largest heroin consumer market in the south-west Asia region.
It wasn't always this way. Pakistan became a major exporter of heroin in the 1980s, following the influx of Afghan refugees escaping the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
The major consequence of this has been a significant increase in domestic consumption of heroin in Pakistan. Heroin was once upon a time a drug which was virtually unknown in the country until the late 1970s. Today, Pakistan is not only one of the main exporters of heroin, it has also become a net importer of drugs. It is estimated that about 50 tons of opium are smuggled into Pakistan for processing heroin for domestic use. Almost 80 percent of the opium processed in Pakistan comes from neighboring countries.
Widespread drug abuse may be indicated by the fact that almost five percent of the adult population is using drugs in Pakistan. As a proportion of drug abusers, heroin users have increased from 7.5 percent in 1983 to a shocking 51 percent a decade later in 1993.
Drug production for Pakistan's domestic market is estimated at close to $1.5 billion. It appears that only three percent of the gross profits from the illegal opium industry remain within Pakistan.
Like many of the country's other human development problems, the issue of drug abuse touches the most vulnerable: the majority of drug users in South Asia belong to the poorest strata of society. In addition, the presence of a large drug industry in Pakistan leads to a redistribution of income from the poor to a few rich individuals who control the drug trade. This not only makes the gap between the rich and the poor as well as income inequality even worse, it also erodes Pakistan's social cohesion and stability.
Although almost all South Asian countries have enacted strict laws for fighting drug trafficking and drug use, these measures have produced very disappointing results.
One problem is that corruption has also touched the fight against drug abuse in Pakistan and other South Asian countries, since drug traffickers often escape punishment by giving bribes to get out of being held accountable for their actions.
But Pakistan is not alone in fighting this disease. With the
globalization of the drug abuse problem in the last two decades, the situation has gone from bad to worse, so much so that the United Nations Commission on narcotic drugs no longer discusses individual situations. It has argued that the solution does not lie in the hands of individual countries. It has to be worked out through mutual efforts by South Asian countries.