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new internationalist
issue 317 - October 1999


Killing the ‘living dead’
A special report on the Pakistani drugs trade

In Karachi, Pakistan, they are called the ‘living dead’; scavenging for food in the dirtiest of the open garbage heaps, or squatting cock-style in rows in front of cheap hotels in congested market places just in case a customer buys them a free meal. They can be seen sitting in groups on pavements, or even inside the manholes of the underground drainage lines, inhaling the lethal whitish fumes. They are called heroinchis, or heroin addicts, easily identified because of their dirty shalwar-kamiz (baggy Pakistani shirts and trousers), unshaven faces, the lost gaze in their eyes and the pale colour of their skin.

‘Between themselves these two million heroin addicts puff away 130 metric tons of the deadly white powder each year,’ says Pakistani psychiatrist Dr Saleem Azam. The last national survey showed that the number of heroin addicts had grown seven per cent per year between 1988 and 1993, and Dr Azam conservatively estimates the same growth rate from 1993 onwards. In reality, this translates into 16 new heroin addicts each hour.

A significant percentage of the heroin addicts are street dwellers, and at least ten per cent of such addicts are children. Entire families are vulnerable to the deadly addiction in Pakistan today – already eight per cent of the total heroin addicts are women.

There is a diabolical link between heroin addiction and peddling. A study showed that 76 per cent of all heroin addicts retail the drug to support their addiction. ‘The addict buys an extra packet for 50 rupees and sells it for 75 rupees ($1.5), earning half the money for the next packet for himself,’ Dr Azam says.

Curing the addicts and bringing them back to sobriety may remain an elusive dream. Detoxification takes about 15 days and is done in centres where the addicts are kept locked up. The cost of the treatment is at least $10 per day, which means that in a country where the average per capita income is $483 a year, nearly 99 per cent of the addicts cannot afford to come to these centres.

There are five rehabilitation centres of any repute for heroin addicts throughout Pakistan which in total can handle fewer than 3,000 patients at a time. Those who run the centres concede that less than five per cent of all who come quit the drug for good, while 95 per cent get hooked again.

In most cases, heroin is sold in Pakistani cities under the watchful eyes of the police, who have a stake in the local drug trade. In Karachi’s oldest shanty area of Lyari, drug peddling is a thriving business and continues in the presence of the police, who also seldom intervene in gunfights between rival drug gangs.

Public opinion is unanimous in blaming the military junta that ruled Pakistan during the 1980s for the heroin curse. During the bloody communists-versus-Mujahideen war in Afghanistan – the former helped by the erstwhile Red Army and the latter aided by the American CIA – the West looked the other way while heroin addiction made inroads in Pakistani society. It is an open secret that the Afghan Mujahideen transported the first consignments of the deadly powder to Pakistan in the early 1980s when Afghanistan was under Russian occupation.

Hope is fast fading that the war against heroin, even if started in real earnest, can ever be won. Afghanistan produced over 3,200 tons of opium in 1998 – up by 16 per cent from the year before – and the area under cultivation rose to around 64,000 hectares in 1998, an increase of nine per cent as compared to 1997. The ruling Taliba’an sees no evil in poppy cultivation, arguing that Islam allows doing forbidden things when human lives are under threat.

Reports say lush green poppy fields can be seen in Afghanistan’s Kandahar valley, once a store of apples, grapes and other fruits. The apple production in this area before the war (which began in 1979) was so huge that villagers even used the fruit to clean themselves after attending to a call of nature. But now it is the poppy that is the most favoured cash crop – one kilogram of poppy fetches the farmer around $50. The farmers say that no one in their right mind would replace poppy with wheat, which would sell for less than a dollar.

Commanders of assorted factions of the Mujahideen groups, notably the ruling Taliba’an, hold a big stake in heroin smuggling. ‘Armed to the teeth, the smugglers move in convoys of the latest model four-wheel vehicles, fitted with state-of-the-art communication equipment. When we see them coming our way, we have to make way for them,’ says a major in the Pakistan army’s Frontier Corps, that guards the borders with Iran and Afghanistan. In Iran, the carriers get paid in bag-loads of dollars and the heroin is then transported in other vehicles to Turkey and from there smuggled across Western Europe. Other convoys snake through smuggling routes in Pakistan’s southwest and reach Karachi. A part of the heroin is consumed locally here and the rest is shipped to Europe via East African ports and the free port of Dubai in the Gulf.

Ahmar Mustikhan

Condor dragged into court
Estela Carlotto and Rosa Roisinblit from the Plaza de Mayo Grandmothers are taking South American dictators to court in conjunction with crusading Judge Baltasar Garzon (who is conducting the case against former Chilean dictator Pinochet). During the Argentine organization’s 20-year existence, the Plaza de Mayo Grandmothers have initiated investigations and charges related to the murders, kidnappings and changes of identity of the estimated 200 children born in prison to women who subsequently disappeared during the years of the military dictatorship (1976-83). Plaza de Mayo Grandmothers say ‘a systematic, co-ordinated and multinational operation committing crimes against humanity’ called Operation Condor will be uncovered through their evidence. This will allow Garzon to extend his investigations beyond Pinochet to ex-dictators in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay who took part in the operation.


Damned and defiant
The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has announced a satyagraha (a struggle for truth) in response to the decision by the Indian Supreme Court to allow the Gujarat Government to raise the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river by five metres. The NBA claim this is going to cause immense flooding and the displacement of over 2,000 families. A programme of peaceful resistance has been organized including a yatra (a mass walk) through the valley, an 11-day fast and nationwide protests. The Madhya Pradesh Government supports the opposition and has filed a writ demanding a full review of the dam, arguing that a lower dam height is needed. Villagers in the submergence zone have resolved to face the rising waters rather than leave their homes, declaring in a joint pledge: ‘We will drown, but we will not move.’

Camille Warren

Swapping genders in the sewage
The 90-per-cent drop in numbers of Atlantic salmon over the past 20 years may be due to ‘gender-bender’ chemicals in sewage and industrial effluent, according to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans in New Brunswick. The physical changes which normally occur to allow salmon to adapt from freshwater to seawater are regulated by oestrogen. But fish from areas sprayed with an insecticide which contains ‘gender-bending’ nonylphenols did not undergo this necessary development and died once they reached seawater. Spraying this chemical has been discontinued but the Department has evidence that similar concentrations of nonylphenols come from sewage, pulp and textile plant runoff.

New Scientist Vol 162 No 2189

Bombs away
Since the Second World War the US has bombed 21 countries: China (1945-46 1950-53), Korea (1950-53), Guatemala (1954, 1960, 1967-69), Indonesia (1958), Cuba (1959-60), Congo (1964), Peru (1965), Laos (1964-73), Vietnam (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-70), Lebanon (1983), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986) El Salvador (1980s), Nicaragua (1980s), Panama (1989), Bosnia (1995), Sudan (1998), Afghanistan (1998), Yugoslavia (1999) and Iraq (1991-99).

Middle East Realities

Government, not activists, found guilty
Citing international law, a district court in the state of Washington, US, found eight nuclear disarmament protesters not guilty of charges stemming from a protest at Naval Submarine Base Bangor, one of two US Trident submarine bases. The activists faced a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and $1,000 in fines if convicted of the mis-demeanour charge of disorderly conduct.

Attorney Ken Kagan, who represented seven of the defendants, argued that the defendants believed they had lawful authority from international treaties which oblige the US to forswear first-strike weapons – an example of which is the Trident submarine. According to the US Constitution, any treaty signed by the United States Government becomes the ‘supreme law of the land’. Juror Merkle comments: ‘If the Government is making (nuclear weapons), then they’re committing the bigger crime.’

Jeff Shaw

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Big Bad World Cartoon by POLYP [image, unknown]
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Cartoon by POLYP [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Young but not innocent
Young but not innocent

A teenager in Rio de Janeiro is twice as likely to be murdered as one in Bogotá, Colombia, which is considered Latin America’s most violent city, according to a UN study. In the past, violent attacks involving teenagers were limited to the streets, and usually were fights between rival groups during neighbourhood dances in Rio de Janeiro’s poorer districts.

One in five violent attacks now takes place in school, according to police, who in April logged 20 reports of physical violence and death threats among public and private secondary school students. In the southern state of Paraná, considered a model of public safety, some high schools have eliminated free time between classes to prevent student violence. The presence of armed guards has become routine in many São Paulo secondary schools, where drug trafficking aimed at young people is high.

Latin America Press Vol 31 No 21

Learning to listen
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been negotiated over the once controversial Voisey’s Bay mining plans. When the Voisey’s Bay Nickel Company bought the rights to mine in northern Labrador in 1996, the local Innu and Inuit fought to protect their land through protests, legal action and by participating in the environmental assessment of the proposed mine.

Now an MOU has been signed between the Innu Nation, Labrador Inuit Association and the federal and provincial governments. This recognizes that the two aboriginal groups had never lost the title to their traditional land and must be involved in the assessment process for mining plans. After deliberations, a panel including native representatives ultimately recommended that the mine proceed, as long as 106 other recommendations were implemented. Innu Nation President David Nuke says: ‘The full involvement of the Innu Nation in developing the process and appointing the Panel made a real difference in how this process was perceived in our communities. The Innu people are very pleased that the Panel not only listened to us, but heard what we had to say.’

Transcripts of the public hearings and the complete panel report can be found on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website: www.ceaa.gc.ca

Further information is found on the Innu Nation website: www.innu.ca

Another corporate clown sells junk to kids.


Former Ronald McDonald is out for revenge
A former Ronald McDonald of Canada, Geoffrey Giuliano, has quit his job feeling that he is not ‘McDonalized’ enough to continue. He publicly apologized for participating in the campaign to hook North America’s youth on McDonald’s food which he feels is contrary to the purpose of life. Initiation into Hindu religion and vegetarianism led Giuliano to quit the job, he says. Instead, he plans to create a new non-profit character promoting non-violence and vegetarianism and to write a book on his McDonald’s experience titled Confessions of a Corporate Clown.

Down to Earth Vol 8 No 3


Atoll of accidents
The US Army’s Johnston Atoll Chemical Disposal System on a tiny atoll between Hawaii and the Marshall Islands will be closed down. But the clean-up costs are considerable. A nuclear missile failed to lift off from the Johnston pad and exploded scattering non-critical plutonium along a thousand-metre length of shoreline. Over 25,000 50-gallon steel drums of Agent Orange were stored and destroyed on Johnston Atoll leaving a dangerous residue of dioxin. Also a large tank of diesel has been leaking into the atoll. The Honolulu City Council protested in 1997 that Johnston’s operation record had been ‘marred by numerous accidents, including fires, explosions and releases of dangerous nerve agents’. Washington promised to close the facility by 2000 and destroy the remaining chemical weapons in the US. The US army has said it will stay on the island for another year to restore the land to ‘a con-dition that will not harm future inhabitants’.

Pacific Islands Monthly Vol 69 No 5

Hard day’s work
Over one million work-related deaths occur annually and hundreds of millions of workers suffer from workplace accidents and occupational exposure to hazardous substances worldwide. Jukka Takala Chief of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Health and Safety Programme says that more people die at work than from road accidents, war, violence and HIV/AIDS. A quarter of the deaths are due to exposure to hazardous substances. And work-related deaths are expected to double by 2020.

Working children are particularly affected – 12 million children are involved in accidents every year, around 12,000 of them fatal. The ILO says: ‘While it is impossible to place a value on human life, compen-sation figures indicate that approximately four per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) disappears with the cost of diseases through absences from work, treatment for sickness, disability and survivor benefits.’ The GDP lost in work-related injuries and diseases is more than the total GDP of Africa, the Arab States and South Asia and equals more money than all the aid to the Majority World.

Go Between No 75


‘Unfortunately, as police, we wear uniforms
and the criminals always spot us.’

District Head of Police Francisco Luna, offering an explanation
for rising crime rates in Mexico City.

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New Internationalist issue 317 magazine cover This article is from the October 1999 issue of New Internationalist.
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