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Pakistani Drug Addicts Await Afghan Crop

June 17, 2003

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Murad Ali injects Valium into his left arm in broad daylight near an open sewer in Karachi, cursing his fate for not being able to afford the stronger stuff he craves _ heroin.

Ali, an addict in his late 20s, hasn’t been able to afford heroin for the past year, largely because of a steep jump in prices after Afghanistan’s hardline Taliban regime all but eliminated poppy production in the last year of its reign.

But, heroin production is rising in Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban, despite efforts by the new government to crack down on production. This year _ after the best poppy harvest in 18 months _ Afghanistan is again expected to be the world’s No. 1 producer of opium with a harvest of more than 4,000 tons, according to a U.N. survey.

But that heroin still hasn’t been processed, and it hasn’t reached the streets of Karachi.

About 1.5 grams of low-quality heroin powder now sells for up to $1.60 on Karachi streets, up from 35 cents a year ago. While cheap by Western standards, it’s a lot of money for Pakistan’s poor.

``The stuff is hardly coming, and at a high price too,″ said a Karachi drug pusher operating in the old neighborhood of Lyari. He spoke on condition his name not be used.

Authorities say they have helped keep prices high by aggressively stopping cross-border trafficking, but they acknowledge they don’t stop all of it.

``Afghanistan has a bumper poppy crop this year,″ said Brigadier Liaquat Toor of the army-led Anti Narcotics Force of Pakistan. ``This is going to affect Pakistan.″

Added Ejaz Hashmi, a police official involved in anti-narcotics efforts in Karachi: ``Very strict vigilance is going on at the border and security agencies at several level are operating. Trafficking has been curbed to a great extent, but it can’t be stopped altogether.″

Pakistan is not only a key route for the international narcotics smuggling from Afghanistan, but is also a big market _ with its estimated four million drug addicts.

It is also a poppy producer, despite a massive crackdown on farmers in the country’s lawless tribal region neighboring Afghanistan.

In 2001, Pakistan managed to wipe out poppy cultivation, but high market prices of drugs attracted many farmers to resume production of the banned crop, said Thomas Zeindil, Pakistan’s chief of the United Nations Drug Control Program, or UNDCP,.

``Onions and vegetables cannot get them (farmers) the price they can get from poppy,″ Zeindil said.

Salim Azam, a doctor in Karachi, said high production of opium and heroin in Afghanistan could have a silver lining for Pakistani addicts _ who have increasingly been sharing syringes to cut costs, leading to an alarming rise in diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS.

Azam, of the Pakistan Society, an aid organization engaged in addict rehabilitation, said many addicts have switched to injectable tranquilizers or sedatives easily available on the local market.

``This is one positive aspect I am seeing in the high production of opium and heroin in Afghanistan,″ he said. ``We can treat and rehabilitate the heroin addicts but the spread of hepatitis is more dangerous.″

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