Increasing counterterrorism and border security cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan has raised hopes for more effective anti-drug regional efforts.
Despite significant international investment to counter illicit drug production in Afghanistan, a recent U.N. survey found that the country had seen a surge in areas used for poppy cultivation for a third consecutive year.
Pakistani authorities said the increase in Afghan drugs coupled with the withdrawal of the bulk of NATO forces from the war-shattered country posed even a bigger challenge to their counternarcotics efforts.
Major General Khawar Hanif, head of the Pakistan Anti-Narcotics Force, told a U.N.-sponsored international conference in Islamabad that continued international involvement was needed to tackle the Afghan drug problem.
"Thankfully, the commitment of the present Afghan government with respect to border control arrangements and counternarcotic efforts is quite palpable," he said.
"But we believe that unless there is a wholehearted support from the international community proportionate to the drug problem, the region is going to remain in the same crisis," he said. "Abandoning our Afghan colleagues to deal with this overwhelming poppy cultivation and drug production is not an option at all.”
Pakistan shares a 2,500-kilometer, mostly porous border with Afghanistan. Hanif said the terrain added difficulty to the country's fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.
“A lot of divided villages on the borders facilitate movement across the border both ways — actually, you enter into a village from one country and get out in the other," he said. "There are up to 200 unfrequented routes in which practically there are no law enforcement agencies present.”
Pakistan and Afghanistan have exchanged high-level military delegations as part of joint efforts to enhance security and deal with militants involved in attacks on both sides of the border. A delegation of Afghan Border Police is in Pakistan for talks with senior security officials.
Cesar Guedes, a representative of the U.N. anti-drug office in Pakistan, said the alarming drug situation in the region required enhanced joint efforts.
"I think that is the key element for success in combating drug trafficking in this part of the world," he said. "The main producing country plus the main transit country need to strengthen their efforts effectively, very professionally and with all the sectors in both countries joining efforts to tackle this regional problem.”
Guedes said the preferred market of Afghan narcotics is Europe, and Pakistan serves as the main transit route.
"It is approximately 45 to 50 percent of the opiates produced in Afghanistan that use Pakistan as a preferred steppingstone onward to international markets," he said. "Then, about 30 percent goes via the Islamic Republic of Iran and the balance ... via the central Asian republics onward to Russia and Europe.”
Pakistani officials said the proliferation of Afghan drugs had also led to an increase in drug addiction in Pakistan.