Drugs, and AIDS, we are often told, are a Western problem: the pure and spiritual East is drug-free, especially Islamic countries. But reality has a way of catching up with such myths. The Iranian President Khatami has brought into the open the extent of the drug problem in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iranian press reports have revealed that the country has about 2 million opium and heroin addicts. Over the last ten years, Iran has executed about 5000 pushers. More than 90,000 people - i.e. 60 % of the prison population - are in prison on drugs offences. But, as the journal Economist said, "the number of addicts continues to rise." Why are Iranians so susceptible to drugs? Surely, Islam is enough to give their lives some meaning. The Economist speculates that " the main reason, perhaps, is that Iranians are suffering from a prfound sense of powerlessness." The remedy? Democracy, of course.
"AIDS is set to explode in Pakistan as long as the authorities do nothing to address demand for cheap heroin streaming across the border from Afghanistan " according to health workers quoted in an item from the news agency, Agence France Press ( AFP). Out of a population of approximately 140 million, Pakistan has an estimated 4 million drug addicts, which, according to the latest UN figures, makes " it one of the most drug-addicted countries in the world ". About half of those are addicted to heroin, and the rate is increasing by some 100, 000 a year, according to Saleem Azam of the NGO, Pakistan Society, a drug rehabilitation center. Azam thinks about 10 people die every day from drug-related illnesses.
Pakistan's neighbour, another Islamic Republic, Afghanistan, is the world's largest producer of opium, with a record crop in 1999 of 4600 tonnes. In 2001, the UN thinks that the Taliban" may have cut poppy cultivation by 70 %." Pakistan is also cracking down on drug production, and yet addicts in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, say that "heroin is everywhere." and very cheap, costing as little as 50 rupees (less than an Amercian dollar) for a full syringe.
The World Health Organisation estimates that there are about 74,000 HIV/AIDS cases in Pakistan.
Despite its much publicised drug enforcement policy, Pakistan's attitude is ambiguous to say the least. The independent research institute, Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues has pointed out that the Pakistani army's intelligence service (ISI) used, at least up to the late 1990s, drug money to finance the work of about ten Muslim fundamentalist organisations operating out of Kashmir and Xinjiang (China).
[Sources: The Economist, March 31st, 2001; AFP, Nov.26, 2000;
Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues:Paris.]