Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Opiates Business

Afghanistan remains a major producer and the hub of drug business extending into Iran, Central Asia and Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s geo-political location, the country has become the hub of drug business as well as a major transit point for drug trafficking in South Asia and Persia. Drug business, however, rarely thrives only on drug trafficking operations. Given the nature of crime, it thrives on supportive criminal practices and a larger crime tolerant environment. The difficult to monitor border with Afghanistan, high movement of people across the North-West Frontier, and vast stretches of desert and barren land across Kashmir to Gujarat and Rajasthan in India facilitates flow of opium and other substances. The economic harshness of the region and the extreme conditions in which people have to live in these parts also makes them easy drug-carriers and traffickers and even the elderly, disabled and women can be found involved in drug related criminal activity for income. The population involved in drug trafficking are fluidly organized across borders and are dependent on weaker border controls, governance and poor administration of justice. The drug trafficking routes and people involved are marked by a degree of violence and corruption unsurpassed by any other criminal activity. It is due to reliance on violence and corruption that the organized crime groups, attempt to build and maintain an environment in the region in which the illicit activities could be sustained.

There is an urgent need to address drug trafficking by bringing priority focus to illicit trafficking and border management, criminal justice, and reduction in drug demand and HIV/AIDS. The issue of illicit trafficking of drugs and humans who either are carriers or organizers of the crime cannot be checked without expanding the border controls measures among Afghanistan, Iran, India and Pakistan. As of now, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have opened a network of Border Liaison Offices to increase cross-border cooperation between law enforcement agencies. The law enforcement agencies, however, require considerable support, particularly, border police reform and structural and policy reform for enhanced coordination among various police service and to be effective.

Law enforcement agencies in themselves will not be able to address the problem till the criminal justice system of the countries joins hands to end the larger tolerance of drug and other crimes by bringing the criminals under the rule of law and ending the sense of impunity. It would be important to drive the criminal justice system reform agenda with an eye to individual and social reform though. The criminal justice system also needs to be accountable and mechanisms need to be put in place for ensuring civilian oversight and inspection of conduct. This process too requires other supportive features such as improved legislation which are compliant to the international normative instruments. This calls for passage and implementation of new legislation as well as amendment to the relevant laws to end the anomalies.

Being tough on drug trafficking and crime alone, however, will not end the demand for drugs or minimize the impact of these on socio-economic life, including family life and individual health. The above will require programmes and project which address issues of people’s livelihoods and which provide the policymakers and implementer with viable options and demonstrative models that can be put to practice. An environment of drug-trafficking and abuse is accompanied by wider socio-economic disparities and psycho-social and gender based vulnerabilities, which make exploitation of the poor, women, children and other vulnerable groups possible.

The countries in the region have low annual rates of economic growth and economic inequality is ever increasing. Weak leadership at the central/national and local levels and pervasive corruption are realities that have inhibit economic progress and further marginalize certain groups of people, while reinforcing an atmosphere of political instability throughout the region. These call for close collaboration among the government and private sector institutions to address persistent food insecurity, empowerment of groups of women and men who provide the deterrence to crime from family to community levels. Each country’s engagement in periodic recurrence of food emergencies that often befall on the countries in the region, will also help minimize the potential groups vulnerable to become involved in human trafficking or both drug and human trafficking.

While action is needed to address the priority issues of insufficient and weak transportation and communication infrastructures, major policy and bureaucratic obstacles would need to be addressed so traditional intra-regional trade and other forms of livelihoods are not affected adversely and poorer people left without any means to survive.

However, in the absence of policies & implementation mechanisms, an environment of distrust among the neighbouring countries, it is easily said than done. Vested interests within the governance structures, elite of the society and businesses more than often hinder progress of the interventions targeted to end drug trafficking and related crimes. These issues would be addressed better if small models can be established through regional cooperation. Such models can be built around better and greater investment in rural economies and collaboration among multiple actors, including the governments, private sector, and civil society organizations by giving them efficient tools to design targeted security policies and interventions for the most vulnerable. Small successes that show the link between a reduction in drug trafficking and crime, with social and economic and gender development and reduction in AIDS will go a long way in building a case for scale up interventions for reducing and preventing crime and violence.

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