How drugs reach Karachi from Helmand does not need a rocket science explanation. Palms are greased along the route and, therefore, it is of little wonder that drug prices at the destination are exorbitant.
Khurram Hussain Sahib, in an article titled ‘Hidden economy’, published in an English daily recently, raised important questions pointing to something sinister that goes on unnoticed. He says: “The State Bank operates 16 clearing houses in cities all over the country. Every month it releases data on how many cheques were presented for clearing in each of these, and what the total amount cleared by the cheques was. If you take this data, which stretches back to 1999, and plot it for each city in Pakistan, you notice something very interesting. Remove the cities of Karachi and Lahore from the sample for the time being because these are global cities in a sense with long distance connections. Compare only the regional cities and here is what you will find.
Following 9/11, half the cities in the total sample will show a sharply rising trend in the amount of money going through their clearing houses. For the other half, the line is flat. The cities that show a rising trend are led by Peshawar, with Faisalabad, Multan, Rawalpindi and Quetta in close succession. For Peshawar, the amount of money being cleared via cheques in the year 2011 crosses Rs 1.3 trillion! For Quetta, in the same year, the amount is just under Rs 900 billion, meaning between them these two regional cities are seeing almost two trillion rupees going through their clearing houses in one year alone. This figure compares with Faisalabad at one trillion rupees, Rawalpindi at Rs 1.4 trillion and Multan at Rs 826 billion.
But what are Peshawar and Quetta doing on this list? Faisalabad and Multan are regional hubs, productive centres, large seats of agrarian operations. Faisalabad hosts one of the world’s largest yarn markets, where settlements are made largely using banks and where more than five billion dollars of exports are produced. But in Peshawar and Quetta, there is no other accompanying trend, not in branchless banking, telegraphic transfers, bulk consumption of electricity. There is only one lone spike, showing an increase in clearing house transactions that keeps pace with the agricultural and industrial heartland of the country.”
The obvious question is: what is driving this spike in Quetta and Peshawar? Where is the economic activity that is sending such spectacular sums of money through the clearing houses of these two cities? And why does this money leave no trace on any other economic indicator of the city or the province? He nails it with, “These cities are engulfed by a very large hidden economy, from where a massive river of transactions briefly appears on the official record, then disappears from view again.”
There surely is something deeply rotten in the state of Denmark! There has to be a reason that a blind eye is turned towards it. It is this hidden economy that benefits some and in whose interests it thrives because there is incalculable money in the unrest that keeps certain quarters well fed as we saw in Balochistan’s coal mines’ protection money. The money that changes hands unrecorded in fact is at least five times more than the clearing houses’ transactions. What prompts such large volumes of money both in Quetta and Peshawar? One does not need to be a rocket scientist to understand this. It is the drug flow and arms smuggling from Afghanistan that is responsible for enriching those who have the authority and clout to facilitate transit onwards to other cities in Pakistan and the world.
But just a moment; it is not only Afghanistan that grows poppy and manufactures heroin. In March 2014, the Balochistan Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution demanding the government end poppy cultivation on thousands of acres of irrigated land in Qila Abdullah district, which shares a border with Afghanistan. The provincial minister, Dr Hamid Achakzai, of the Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) said that poppy was being cultivated with impunity: “Qila Abdullah is notorious for the open sale of hashish. There are around 120 heroin factories in the district.” He added that the police, Frontier Corps (FC), the anti-narcotics force and even Pakistan army were present in Qila Abdullah but still this illegal business is thriving. Still asking for a rocket science explanation?
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2009 report on Afghanistan’s drug trade estimated that around 40 percent of Afghanistan’s heroin and 30 percent of its opium pass through Pakistan to the rest of the world annually; this cross-border trafficking has a local value between $ 910 million and $ 1.2 billion. Another UNODC report says that around 6.7 million Pakistanis, six percent of the population, between the ages of 15 and 64 use drugs and 4.1 million individuals are dependent. Sindh is badly affected but Punjab has the highest number of drug users at 2.9 million in 2013.
How drugs reach Karachi from Helmand does not need a rocket science explanation either. Palms are greased along the route and, therefore, it is of little wonder that drug prices at the destination are exorbitant. Those making money by facilitating transit are as bad as the producers, marketers and vendors but, sadly, they are highly respected and ‘pious’ in the high-end housing societies they live in. Corruption here is institutionalised because institutions are behind it.
Balochistan has its Imam Bheel, who is a US certified drug trafficking kingpin; he has cosy relations with Dr Malik and his party. He wields clout and, therefore, the deceased deputy commissioner of Gwadar, Abdul Rehman Dashti, was murdered in Karachi on March 2012 but his next of kin still await justice. Kingpin Imam Bheel is the prime suspect.
The hidden economy is driven by greed and lust, and these two bottomless pits will never be filled. The hidden economy cannot thrive without institutional support, which may be there legally, constitutionally or illegally by force. Money, power and privilege corrupt everywhere but here it is more severe, and the more of it the possessors have the more evil and more sinister they become. Those who get to a position through theft, swindling, bullying, treachery or force, where power, pelf and privilege are theirs for the taking, not only refuse to relinquish it but desire it even more. No one can explain this affliction better than Sheikh Saadi who says:
“Sag ba darya-e-haftgana bashoi — Kay cho tar shud paleed tar bashad”
(A dog bathed in seven seas is not pure — For the wetter it gets the more impure it turns out to be (Muslims believe a wet dog is impure)).
Courtesy: Daily Times