Pakistan’s Drug Crisis in Numbers

The Anti Narcotics Force grossly inflates the number of drug related deaths in Pakistan. In reality, the numbers are much lower.

PHOTO PACKAGE 4 OF 12   MORE IN IMAGEFORUM

Pakistani drug addict holds a syringe after injecting heroin on a street in "Kala Pull" (Black Bridge) district of Karachi on July 25, 2011. Pakistan has more than four million drug addicts in its population of 170 million, according to figures compiled by the country's Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF). Pakistan?s Central Secretary General of Council of Herbal Physician Hakeem Qazi M.A. Khalid said that around 50 billion rupees were wasted in drug addiction every year in the country and 130,000 people took intoxicants through injections while 80 percent addicts used the same syringes which were also cause of fatal diseases. Most of the heroin is smuggled from neighbouring Afghanistan through Pakistan's northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO PACKAGE 4 OF 12 MORE IN IMAGEFORUM Pakistani drug addict holds a syringe after injecting heroin on a street in "Kala Pull" (Black Bridge) district of Karachi on July 25, 2011. Pakistan has more than four million drug addicts in its population of 170 million, according to figures compiled by the country's Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF). Pakistan?s Central Secretary General of Council of Herbal Physician Hakeem Qazi M.A. Khalid said that around 50 billion rupees were wasted in drug addiction every year in the country and 130,000 people took intoxicants through injections while 80 percent addicts used the same syringes which were also cause of fatal diseases. Most of the heroin is smuggled from neighbouring Afghanistan through Pakistan's northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO PACKAGE 4 OF 12 MORE IN IMAGEFORUM Pakistani drug addict holds a syringe after injecting heroin on a street in "Kala Pull" (Black Bridge) district of Karachi on July 25, 2011. Pakistan has more than four million drug addicts in its population of 170 million, according to figures compiled by the country's Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF). Pakistan?s Central Secretary General of Council of Herbal Physician Hakeem Qazi M.A. Khalid said that around 50 billion rupees were wasted in drug addiction every year in the country and 130,000 people took intoxicants through injections while 80 percent addicts used the same syringes which were also cause of fatal diseases. Most of the heroin is smuggled from neighbouring Afghanistan through Pakistan's northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)

Two weeks ago, the South Asia Channel published an article on drugs in Pakistan that cited a figure given to a Pakistani Senate committee by the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF) director: 700 Pakistanis die each day due to drugs -- a figure equating to over a quarter of a million people every year. If you’re skeptical about this number, you’re probably right to be. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the global total is around 50,000 people lower.

The vastly over-inflated figure for Pakistan originates with the ANF -- the country’s drug enforcement agency -- and here, perhaps, is where the explanation lies. The ANF, backed by donors in the West and the UNODC itself, has taken an aggressive approach to non-violent drugs offenses, causing hundreds of people to be added to the country’s already bloated death row population (the largest in the world, at some 8,500 prisoners).

It is perhaps unsurprising that the ANF, who measures success by the number of death sentences, would overstate figures to try to justify their aggressive approach. But the ANF’s specious use of statistics is indicative of a far more serious problem; a problem created in large part by donors in the West who have for years encouraged a hardline approach to drug crimes. Instead of looking at drugs as a health issue -- and you can be sure that of the drug-related deaths in Pakistan and the world, the majority relates to drug dependency rather than crime -- the donors have approached it as a matter for strict law enforcement.

Two weeks ago, the South Asia Channel published an article on drugs in Pakistan that cited a figure given to a Pakistani Senate committee by the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF) director: 700 Pakistanis die each day due to drugs — a figure equating to over a quarter of a million people every year. If you’re skeptical about this number, you’re probably right to be. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the global total is around 50,000 people lower.

The vastly over-inflated figure for Pakistan originates with the ANF — the country’s drug enforcement agency — and here, perhaps, is where the explanation lies. The ANF, backed by donors in the West and the UNODC itself, has taken an aggressive approach to non-violent drugs offenses, causing hundreds of people to be added to the country’s already bloated death row population (the largest in the world, at some 8,500 prisoners).

It is perhaps unsurprising that the ANF, who measures success by the number of death sentences, would overstate figures to try to justify their aggressive approach. But the ANF’s specious use of statistics is indicative of a far more serious problem; a problem created in large part by donors in the West who have for years encouraged a hardline approach to drug crimes. Instead of looking at drugs as a health issue — and you can be sure that of the drug-related deaths in Pakistan and the world, the majority relates to drug dependency rather than crime — the donors have approached it as a matter for strict law enforcement.

In Pakistan, which retains the death penalty for drug offenses, an aggressive law enforcement led approach to drug offenses will necessarily result in increased death sentences and executions. It must be noted that the people who end up on death row are not kingpins. Rather they are exploited mules, scapegoats, or low-level users who are all easily replaceable in the global drug trade.

Pakistan hurtles forwards as one of the world’s most prolific executors with 200 hangings this year alone, leapfrogging Saudi Arabia. (Only Iran executes more drug offenders with 394 hangings half way through this year.) And Western donor states are complicit in this.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States are all key funders of the UNODC, which backs counter-narcotics programs in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere — and as a result helps send non-violent offenders, innocents, and juveniles to the gallows, all too often victims of a corrupt and dysfunctional justice system.

None of these countries can say they haven’t been warned. The ANF has described the number of death sentences it secures for alleged drug mules as its “prosecution achievements.” Clear numbers of the number of alleged drug offenders on Pakistan’s death row are hard to come by, but the best estimates put it at over 100. Yet still the UNODC support for counter-narcotics programs pours in to state drug agencies, unrestricted by conditions to ensure that it does not contribute to serious human rights abuses.

Worse, the ever-widening blanket of “national security” obscures information on the scale of the problem. The U.K. government uses this term to justify its refusal to disclose anything about its support for Pakistani counter-narcotics programs — not even the amount of public money it spends. What little information Reprieve has been able to discover has come via the UNODC, and shows that the figure is at least in the millions.

The hypocrisy is perhaps at its worst when it comes to Britain and its fellow European governments, all of whom strongly proclaim their opposition to the death penalty. Until recently, the United Kingdom even had a specific strategy on global abolition (although this was quietly scrapped by the Cameron administration). The European Union’s foreign service states that abolition of the death penalty “is a key objective for the Union’s human rights policy.”

Yet, as part of what appears to be an increasingly misguided approach in the “war on drugs,” the likes of Britain, France, and Germany undermine these policies by continuing to effectively export death sentences to the Middle East and Asia.

There is no denying that drugs cause real harm around the world, and action needs to be taken to prevent this. But the brutally punitive approach in Pakistan and elsewhere, supported by the West, is simply creating more misery and injustice. This is not an easy issue but without an open, well-informed debate and properly joined-up policy it is not going to be solved. Western governments should take the lead by coming clean with the public on the role they play and act to ensure that their counter-narcotics programs no longer support serious human rights abuses.

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Maya Foa is head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, an international human rights NGO with offices in London and New York City.

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