With the Taliban taking power in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of the United States, there has been an increase in the smuggling of dangerous drugs like heroin and crystal meth (ice) to neighboring countries, including Pakistan. However, Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir (POK) in general and particularly the Poonch district have become dangerous drug strongholds.
Interestingly, while Inflation is rising around the world yet the price of these dangerously addictive narcotic drugs is on a decline. That is why, in the Poonch region, considered as a symbol of resistance in Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir (POK), these drugs have become easily available to every section of the society. Drugs are readily available in higher educational institutions and even in the schools. As a fallout, large number of young people who are addicted to drugs are increasingly turning towards extremism and resort to criminal and violent activities. A special anti-drug campaign was launched by the administration and though there were reports of marijuana and heroin being seized in these operations, yet not a single operation has yet been conducted to seize the most rapidly spreading and dangerous narcotic drug ice (crystal meth).
What is ice (crystal meth) and where is it produced?
Ice is a crystal type white object equal to a large grain of sugar or salt, which is then heated by passing through a thin glass. Usually the drug addicts use thin glass pipes to smoke ice, however some drug addicts also inject it into their body. Ice or crystal meth is the common name of a chemical called ‘crystal methamphetamine’, which is made with ‘pseudoephedrine’. Ephedrine is an essential component of certain medicines, which is extracted to produce crystal meth (ice). Medicines with ephedrine are purchased in bulk from the market and ephedrine is extracted to produce ice.
However, the rapid increase in the use of ephedrine to produce narcotic drug crystal meth (ice) has been due to ephedra, a plant grown in Afghanistan. According to a BBC Urdu report, several small factories in Afghanistan convert ephedra into crystal meth. In the past, there were hundreds of factories in Taliban-dominated areas, which were an important source of income for the Taliban. However, these factories have increased manifold since the Taliban came to power. Heroin and ice are smuggled from Afghanistan to different regions via Pakistan and Iran. Until a few years ago, heroin was known as an expensive drug and ice (crystal meth) was relatively cheaper. Over last few months the demand for ice has increased tremendously. Heroin prices have fallen dramatically. Ice and heroin are considered as expensive narcotic drugs yet both are easily available.
Ice usage and effects
Jamil Hussain (name changed) from Titri Note border area of Poonch has been an active ‘jihadi’ in Afghanistan and Kashmir, in the past. “Ice was first produced from medicines”, he said. “I don’t know how to prepare, but it was used as a medicine by ‘militants’. It was such a powerful medicine that it would make it very easy for a person to go through anything after using it. Jamil said that this drug is also used for suicide attacks. “Now it has become very common and young children can be seen using it.”
According to narcotic experts, ice doubles the body’s energy for a short interval. A normal person can stay awake for 24 to 48 hours, but after ice intake the person becomes twice as active during which time sleep vanishes. Ice (crystal meth) over-activates the nervous system for some time and for a few hours the brain starts working very fast. But as soon as the intoxication descends one feels extremely tired and lazy.
Continuous use of ice adversely affects the nervous system. Gradually the memory fades and motor movements become awkward. Illusion, attention deficit, memory loss, waning of decision making ability, rapid weight loss and sleeplessness occur. Changes occur in the body, including infertility, which increase violent sexual orientation. People go the extent of self-immolation and indulge in violent activities.
How does ice reach Poonch?
“Now marijuana buyers are steadily declining,” said Salim (name changed), who is a marijuana vendor in the suburbs of Rawalakot. Young people prefer ice and heroin. When asked for the reason, Salim said, “The reason is clear, ice and heroin were extremely expensive drugs, they are no longer expensive now. But these drugs are much more dangerous than hashish. The more dangerous the intoxication, the greater its pleasure,” explained Salim. “Now heroin is available for as less as Rs. 50 to Rs. 100 which is not enough to buy even a cigarette of marijuana. Ice starts from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000 per gram. Until recently, one gram of ice was not available for Rs. 8,000, but now even for Rs. 1,000, one can get ice which is enough to give high to an individual.”
A local speaking on conditions of anonymity said, “Now, in Rawalakot, Hajira and other suburban villages and towns there is no marijuana dealer (youth selling marijuana at the village level commission) who is not selling ice. You may not get marijuana but ice and heroin are available at all times. Regarding the modus operandi of drug supply, the local said: “There are different ways, but every method and way goes through the government. I don’t know if these people are doing it deliberately, or a few people are in this business but the whole structure is connected.”
“Non-customs vehicles are also loaded with drugs when they are brought to Jammu and Kashmir from other border areas including Balochistan,” he explained. Those vehicles cannot pass through Pakistan legally, therefore, they are brought through ‘improvisation’ and weapons and drugs also become part of this improvisation.
“Besides, those who participated in ‘demonstration’ in Afghanistan are also involved in this work”, he said. Their transportation is also illegal and they also bring these drugs along with them coming from Afghanistan or border areas to Jammu and Kashmir. They are the first to bring this ice and heroin. Ice is considered as a ‘medicine of sacrifice’.
A local dealer from Khai Gala, Rawalakot explained on condition of anonymity that “…one of the simplest ways to bring ice here is to melt and bring it as packs of mineral water bottles. But to convert this ice from liquid to crystal form requires some expertise. Medicines such as Pynadol are bought from the market and used for this purpose.”
The Khai Gala dealer further explained: “Nowadays a certain type of energy saver bulb has disappeared from the market as they are bought by ice addicts. Some shopkeepers have even started making and selling glass like bulbs used for drinking ice.
Why aren’t the government campaigns effective against drugs?
Recently, the divisional administration of Rawalakot had launched an anti-drug campaign. Meanwhile, several persons were also arrested for marijuana trafficking. There have also been reports of drugs being recovered from some educational institutions. During raids at business spots in the city, a large number of flavoured tobacco, razla paper and electric cigarettes etc. were seized as intoxicants. The export of heroin has also been reported in a few incidents.
“However, no one involved in the sale and delivery process of crystal meth (ice) has been arrested so far. The police themselves provide us with drugs. How can the government campaigns eliminate the menace of drugs?” said a drug dealer from the neighbouring village of Tarar.
Continuing his point, the drug dealer explained, ”The ‘dealers’ in all the villages are selling marijuana, ice and heroin. So now everyone sells everything, and more than half of them are sold by the policemen. The policemen themselves are victims of ice. So if we stop selling ice, police will put us in prison and get us punished. But once a year some marijuana cases are made. They (police) get their job done and we also come out on bail. When drugs are recovered from the students of the University of Poonch they are blackmailed by policemen and huge money is extorted from them.”
The local police shrugged off all involvement. “I don’t know why ice dealers are not being caught,” said a policeman, speaking on condition of anonymity. However, allegations of police involvement in drug trafficking in an organized manner are baseless. There may be some elements, this society is such that no department can be cent per cent correct.”
Increase in extremism and violent activities due to proliferation of ice (crystal meth)
As the infiltration of ice is increasing, so is the attraction of young people towards extremism, as well as an increase in violent activities. There has been a marked increase in the incidents of violent attacks, murders, blackmails, kidnapping and torture of female students.
There is also an increase in the recruitment by extremist organisations. Further, in addition to social and economic problems, the use of ice (crystal meth) among young people affected by arms culture gives them a pseudo sense of bravado. ”This region is considered a symbol of resistance,” says Basharat Ali Khan, former union president of the Jammu and Kashmir National Students Federation, “…but it is now being drowned in drug addiction as part of an organized conspiracy. In the past, when a proxy war was launched in the name of ‘Kashmir Militancy’, the heroin culture was deliberately made public within the region.
“A large number of resistance youth who are aware of the policies of the state were made heroin victims in an organized manner,” said Basharat Ali. He further explained “…extremism and terrorism were promoted by ruining their lives as well as the politics of the region. Now, once again, the same method is being followed after the Taliban captured Afghanistan”.
“As this region is politically active, its youth cannot be easily used for state purposes. Therefore, a conspiracy has been planned to paralyse and cripple the younger generation. All these means of smuggling must be eliminated immediately. The state will not allow a needle here if it wants, but from stolen vehicles to non-customs paid vehicles, weapons and drugs all are available. It is well known how they are getting all these things here. No one wants to speak and raise their voice, because the business and interests of many powerful circles are all linked to this inhuman racket,” added Basharat Ali.
“We will not allow the younger generation to be ruined under any circumstances. We will stop this organized conspiracy. We warn that if the poison is not stopped from reaching and selling here, a full-fledged protest movement will be launched against it,” explained Basharat Ali.