June 27, 2006

India, Pakistan peace boosting narcotics trade: UN

By Palash Kumar

NEW DELHI -- Peace on the India-Pakistan border has kept the guns silent for years now, but it has also led to a surge in the illegal drugs trade in a region called the "golden crescent," the United Nations said on Tuesday.

"Three to four years ago, when there was tension on the border, the average seizure of opium routed from Afghanistan into India, was about 50 kg (110 lb) per year," Gary Lewis, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said.

"Today, the seizure is about 300 kg a year. That's enough to say the confidence-building measures have led to an increased flow of drugs. But this is also because of increased opium production in Afghanistan, which is a country addicted to its own opium."

Lewis was speaking at a function in New Delhi to release the World Drug Report for 2006, which once again highlighted Afghanistan as the epicenter of the opium trade in the region.

Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan came close to their fourth war in 2002. But since 2004, they have been talking to resolve their historical dispute over Kashmir in the Himalayas.

The official said both India and Pakistan realized the drugs problem. Officials on both sides have held talks in recent months on how to control the narcotics trade.

The latest official figures available, for 2001-02, show 62.5 million Indians were abusing alcohol, 8.7 million were addicted to cannabis and two million to opiates. And the numbers are increasing, Lewis said.

This month, authorities in the western commercial hub of Mumbai seized 200 kg (440 lb) of cocaine, valued at $20-25 million on the international market.

"The bags of cocaine were concealed in a container of logs," Om Prakash, deputy director-general of India's Narcotics Control Bureau, who was also present at the function, told Reuters.

"This is the biggest-ever seizure we have done. Normally we seize about 3-6 kg of opium. This is 200 kg. Three people have been arrested and a thorough probe is on," he added.

Theoretically, Lewis said, if the consignment was meant for India, it means there are at least 6,000 cocaine users in India.

On Monday, the Indian government and UNODC launched a mass campaign called "I Decide," targeting the 10-25 years age-group.

The multi-media drive would use celebrities like film stars, school teachers, peer groups and parents to tell the youth "Drugs Are Not Child's Play" -- a current UNODC theme.