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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

PAKISTAN: Poppy growers clash with paramilitary forces

ISLAMABAD, 29 April 2003 (IRIN) - Tribesmen in Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan, on the border with Afghanistan, have fired on paramilitary troops trying to destroy their poppy fields. "One Frontier Corps man was killed in the clash that took place on 26 April," Brig Sikander Ali of Pakistan's anti-narcotics division told IRIN in the capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday.

The incident occurred in the Pinakai valley in Gulistan District. Local newspapers reported that weapons such as Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars and rocket launchers were used. "We know that these tribesmen have these types of weapons due to their location and proximity to the border," he said.

The poppy eradication process, which started on 15 April, was concentrated in Qila Abdullah, where about 90 percent of the crop was growing, 70 km from the provincial capital, Quetta. "Obviously there will be resistance, but we are taking this matter seriously and we have to eradicate the fields," Ali stressed.

Haji Wali Muhammad, a tribal elder, told IRIN from Gulistan that farmers in the region turned to poppy cultivation because of a lack of infrastructure and a dearth of national or international assistance. "There are no schools, the hospital is not working and drought has destroyed our orchards," he said.

A severe regional drought for the past few years has hit local farmers hard by destroying their fruit orchards. Muhammad maintained that most of the farmers were willing to destroy their opium crop provided they receive some assistance in return.

So far, 1,100 acres of a reported total of 1,500 acres of poppy fields have been destroyed by the authorities. "These are approximate figures, as this is also the first time that poppy has been reported to be growing in this province," he said.

Poppy reduction in Pakistan reached its peak in 2000, when the country brought the level of cultivation down to six mt from 800 mt in 1980. In 2001, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) declared Pakistan poppy free. However, there are fears that with the fall of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, cultivation could resume in Pakistan. Small amounts of the crop are still believed to be growing in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Afghanistan is currently the largest producer of opium in the world, with 70 percent of the opium and heroin reaching European markets originating from it, despite the fact that the Taliban had banned opium production fairly successfully. According to UNODC estimates, there were between 69,000 and 79,000 ha of opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in 2002. This compares to the levels reached during the 1990s, and higher than forecast by the agency.

However, even with the ban remaining in place under President Hamid Karzai's government, many farmers in Afghanistan are refusing to give up the lucrative crop. According to Ali, the Pakistani government has introduced poverty reduction schemes in areas across the country where poppy was being cultivated.

Opium is currently being sold in Pakistan for 30,000 rupees (US $500) per kg, with prices fluctuating throughout the year, generally falling during the harvest between April and June. During the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan a kg of opium could fetch up to 60,000 rupees due to the ban.

As a result, Pakistan is one of the hardest hit by narcotics abuse in the world, with more than half a million heroin addicts at present, increasing vulnerability to blood-borne diseases such as HIV.

Themes: (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Food Security

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003



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