The Taliban vowed to ban drugs, but the trade appears to be booming under their rule.
Seizures of illicit drugs at one of Pakistan’s main border crossings with Afghanistan have increased significantly in recent weeks to reach levels not seen before, according to the Pakistani government.
In December 2021 and January 2022, authorities at the Torkham border post seized over 524 kg of hashish, 255 kg of heroin, 280 kg of opium, and almost 22 kg of methamphetamine, according to data shared with TRT World by Pakistan Customs.
And since those statistics were calculated, a further 7 kg heroin and 2.5 kg meth were intercepted at Torkham on 8 January and an Afghan national taken into custody, this author reported.
The amount of drugs seized has “definitely increased” said Muhammad Tayyab, additional collector at Pakistan Customs. The seizures are “unprecedented” for this time of year, Tayyab told TRT World.
On 6 January, there were two separate heroin hauls, one involving 100 kg, the other 130 kg. The latter was a record amount for any drug intercepted at Torkham, Tayyab said.
There has been a spate of sizeable drug seizures since December, with over 104 kg hashish and 70 kg opium seized on the 19th, followed by 420 kg hash and 210 kg opium on the 31st.
Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) has also seized large amounts. In late December the agency intercepted over 2.2 tons of drugs, including heroin and meth, in operations across the country, followed by more than 3 tons in January.
Drug-trafficking from Afghanistan is increasing, according to Azlan Aslam, an official with the department of excise, taxation and narcotics control in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. “The seizures are rising as we are facing huge quantities of narcotics,” Azlam told TRT World.
The situation in Afghanistan is “fluid” and the state is experiencing a “lot of challenges”, said Akbar Durrani, who recently stepped down as Pakistan’s federal secretary of narcotics control. “That’s why such incidents are taking place.”
Afghanistan is the source of most of the world’s opium and heroin and manufactures cheap methamphetamine using the local ephedra plant, while also producing large amounts of cannabis resin, known as hashish.
The Taliban vowed to ban drugs, but the trade appears to be booming under their rule. Farmers have reported increasing opium poppy cultivation this planting season, and evidence points to more methamphetamine manufacture, too.
The Taliban did not respond to TRT World’s request for comment on the issue.
Illicit drugs are an economic lifeline for many Afghans as the country collapses into a desperate humanitarian crisis following the end of the NATO war and withdrawal of foreign aid, compounded by sanctions against the Taliban.
Trafficking from Afghanistan appears to be at high levels. There have been large, frequent seizures along the Balkan Route, used to smuggle Afghan drugs through Iran and Turkey to Europe, and Southern Route, via Pakistan and the Indian Ocean.
In December, police in southeast Iran reported that over 103 tons of drugs were seized in 8 months, while over 14 tons of narcotics were apparently intercepted in Bushehr province in the past 9 months, representing a 25 percent increase on the same period in 2020-1.
In late December, the US Navy seized 385 kg heroin and arrested Iranians on a vessel in the Arabian Sea that allegedly came from Iran, having earlier in the month found large amounts of meth and heroin while rescuing Iranian sailors from a burning vessel in the Gulf of Oman.
Drug seizures in Turkey also rose last year, according to the Turkish ministry of interior. The amount of heroin seized increased significantly from almost 14 tons to 20.5 tons in 2021, while 4.8 tons of meth were intercepted, up from about 4.2 tons the year before.
There have also been large drug hauls along Pakistan’s Makran Coast and in the Indian Ocean region. Last week the head of India’s Narcotics Control Bureau expressed concern about the risk of increased drug-trafficking from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.