The World Drug Report has stated that Pakistan is the main transit country for narcotics, heroin and opium in particular, produced in the neighbouring Afghanistan. According to a United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) estimate, approximately 43 percent of the Afghan drugs are trafficked through Pakistan. The family of narcotics to which heroin, morphine and other oft-abused substances such as codeine belongs is known as opiates. Heroin is processed in a way that allows faster absorption into the system, making it a more potent form of morphine, but both are refined from opium, a naturally occurring product of the opium poppy plant. Afghanistan is at the centre of the global trade in illicit drugs, with more than 90 percent of the world supply originating there. Within Afghanistan, the cultivation of poppy is concentrated in the south and west of the country, with Helmand province alone accounting for more than half of Afghanistan’s total production. As Afghanistan’s importance in the global opiate trade has grown, the trafficking routes out of the country have become increasingly valuable. The trafficking of opiates out of Afghanistan to the outside consumer markets is a highly lucrative business: the annual global market for illicit opiate drugs is estimated at $65 billion. The UN estimated that in 2009 the opium trade accounted for $2.3 billion of the Afghan economy, or about 19 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. Afghan opiates are trafficked all over the world, but the most important end markets are Russia, Europe, and Iran.
Pakistan is stated to be the main exit point for opiates leaving Afghanistan. The long border between the two countries is virtually impossible to control, and smuggling across the borders is very common especially for Taliban forces. Opiate production and smuggling through Pakistan have been essential support for the Afghan Taliban. Drugs travel from southern Afghanistan across the border to the city of Quetta, which is an important transit point for Afghan opiates. Another important route is south through the Indus valley towards Karachi. Karachi is an important organised crime hub, and drugs can be moved all over the world once they leave the port. Shipments of drugs are hidden in cargo containers, or smuggled aboard commercial airliners. The UNODC estimates the export value of opium trade at about four billion dollars, with a quarter of that being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords and drug traffickers.
Pakistan and Afghanistan enjoy a history that is based on give and take policy. For decades, both states have used each other’s resources for their respective advantages. Drug trafficking is one of those underhand deals that have been in vogue and going on for years between both states. For Afghanistan there is no other alternative as a large proportion of its economy depends on the cultivation and trade of opiates. Unless alternative sources of income generation are provided to local Afghans, there is little hope that poppy cultivation will be abandoned in a resource-hungry state like Afghanistan. Already Afghanistan is passing through a critical phase and sustaining on a poor economy. It is very difficult for the Afghan people to rely on honest means for earning their bread and butter, and even honest Afghans are tempted to become a part of this illegal trade due to poverty. It is the responsibility of the stakeholder states to play their respective role in bringing peace in Afghanistan and take steps to better the Afghan economy by creating job opportunities and setting up large business concerns. Effective international cooperation is required to deal with the menace of drug trafficking out of Afghanistan. And one of the foremost steps would be the blockage of all routes in Pakistan via which these drugs travel to the rest of the world. Pakistan should act as a responsible neighbour and friend, not as an opportunist entity that would turn a blind eye to smuggling of globally banned items through its borders and ports merely for some financial gains, and for the purpose of keeping its imaginary hegemony over Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that the reforms in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were significant for the development of the region and an integral part of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism. He was presiding over a meeting of the FATA Reforms Committee. He reiterated that the reforms in the tribal areas were aimed at bringing the long-neglected region on par with the rest of country. The reforms committee had prepared a report last week, concluding that a merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the only viable option for the development of the region. A five-year plan has been devised for this purpose.
Security has been given the highest priority in the anticipated FATA reforms. The report reads that without these reforms, the army may have to stay in FATA indefinitely, thus affecting the strategic military balance on the eastern front. Furthermore, a security vacuum created by the withdrawal of Pakistan army would create more space for terrorists and undesirable elements. The committee has suggested that to sustain the military gains in the area security reforms are essential for the “build, operationalisation and transfer phases.”
The five-year plan to bring the tribal areas into the mainstream is an ambitious one but it includes some much-needed initiatives that should have been taken much earlier. Some of these include the abolishment of FCR, reforms in judicial system, as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction process.
Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) belonging to FATA are languishing in refugee camps since the military operations started in the region. Rehabilitation of these people should be the utmost priority of the government. For that purpose, construction of health and education facilities as well as other infrastructure is necessary. According to the committee recommendations, foreign donors for the rehabilitations process could not be approached without legal reforms in FCR.
The recommendation on the part of the committee to gradually get rid of the FCR is appreciable. Furthermore, the gradual reforms of the jirga system are also substantial as a sudden abolishment of the system might have been a drastic step. The index of poverty and unemployment in FATA is much higher than the rest of Pakistan. There is hardly any private investment due to security situation as well as the FCR. Developmental funds approved over the years for the region have been wasted through corruption according to the committee report. Over the years, many such committees have been formed for the uplift of the neglected region, but nothing much has been achieved. This plan does include some initiatives that can provide impetus to the developmental work in the area, but it requires sincerity and persistence on the governmental level. Therefore, the ambitious plan would require transparency if it has to impart any results. For this purpose, the committee is right in suggesting that a FATA development council should be formed to oversee the progress.
Furthermore, all the official posts in FATA should be upgraded and brought at par with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Moreover, to boost economic activity the State Bank of Pakistan should urge banks to open more branches in the region. Quota of students from FATA should also be increased for a specific period until there is rehabilitation or construction of new institutions in the area.
FATAT has been ignored for far too long, and that is the primary reason for the creation of terrorist hubs and people joining jihadist organisations. A glaring lack of educational institutions and economic opportunities results in such steps from the local populace. All these things should be kept in mind, and the plan should be implemented sincerely if it has to bear any fruits.FATA is part of Pakistan, and it is about time the apathy is turned into sustainable concern focused on peace, progress and prosperity of the region. Unless the deep-seated sense of alienation and discrimination that has marked the lives of people in FATA since Pakistan’s inception is replaced by a real sense of belonging, there would be no tangible and long-lasting change in FATA.
Is MQM ready to rebrand itself?
Following the incendiary speech of Altaf Hussain on Tuesday night, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) finds itself in a difficult spot. That night was filled with drama as following Hussain’s speech a violent mob attacked the office of ARY, a famous media house, and it seemed that the law and order situation in Karachi was going to deteriorate very rapidly. However, this time the party workers were not able to spread chaos on the scale that they have allegedly perpetrated in the past. Moreover, the Rangers acted swiftly, and the senior leader of the MQM, Dr Farooq Sattar, was taken into custody by the Rangers and the party’s headquarters known commonly as Nine Zero sealed. When Sattar was released the next day, he distanced his party from all that was said by Hussain, and gave MQM a new direction, stating that the party would now operate from Karachi alone. Meanwhile, Hussain issued an apology for his anti-Pakistan remarks and said that he was under “acute stress.” In the latest development, Hussain has handed over charge of party affairs to the Karachi-based Rabita Committee.
In this charged atmosphere in which important decisions are being made regarding the future of the party, there is a lot of anger. First is the public of Pakistan that is naturally infuriated at what was said about the country. Some angry voices have called for a ban on the party altogether as it already has been embroiled in allegations of having links with the Indian intelligence agency, known by its acronym RAW. Then there are journalists who are incensed by Hussain’s calls for targeting them, and the subsequent attack on the ARY building. Moreover, the party has long been allegedly associated with militancy in Karachi, with many asserting that the MQM has the biggest militant wing in the city through which it sways a great deal of influence. It is true that the party has a lot to answer for, and it is time that it gives convincing explanations for all of these allegations.
However, amidst this virulent atmosphere it must not be forgotten that the MQM enjoys wide support in Karachi and Hyderabad, and it is the fifth biggest party in Pakistan. Moreover, it is the only party that does not have roots in the feudal structure of rural patronage politics as its membership is uniquely dominated by the middle class. The grievances that MQM was originally created to address were legitimate, and it was from grassroots mobilisation that the party came to achieve electoral success. Hence, restraint must be practised during this time that the party’s mistakes have cornered it to a very precarious position. Sidelining it completely and forcing it to shutdown would only add fuel to the fire, and may in turn exacerbate the feelings of alienation and injustice that formed the party in the first place.
It is indeed a positive development that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have opposed ban on MQM, instead asserting that the party should distance itself from Hussain, and its alleged ‘militant wing’. Given the past practice of political parties in which political gain trumped any considerations for addressing the issues within MQM, this position by the PPP and the PTI is laudable.
The challenge facing the MQM now is one of rebranding itself. Of course it will have to cut itself off from all of those elements that spread discord and violence. The MQM would have to come forward as a party that has learnt from past mistakes and is committed to the betterment of the country. Karachi has suffered long enough from the scourge of militancy, unrest, and violence. And it is now for the MQM to decide if it wants to play a constructive role in ending it. The entire nation is looking towards MQM, and now it has to show them that it is a party that is more than the individual clout of Altaf Hussain. And as all of this is shrouded in uncertainty, it remains to be seen if the MQM can survive this.