Ayub Afridi

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Ayub Afridi,
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)

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Ayub Afridi

World Geopolitics of Drugs 1998/1999

Publishing Date: Friday, September 16 2005

This article is extracted from Pakistan Country Report, World Geopolitics of Drugs 1998/1999, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands

The military regime resulting from General Pervez Musharraf's coup on October 12, 1999 has made the fight against corruption its number one priority. On November 15, 1999 Reserve Lieutenant-General Muhammad Shafiq, governor of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) - the smuggling hub in Pakistan - announced during a press conference in Peshawar that "the war on drugs is part of the campaign against corruption." Recent years have been marked by a decline in drug seizures in the country. In 1998 seizures of opium dropped to 5 metric tons compared to 8.5 tons in 1997, while heroin fell from 5 tons to 3 tons, and hashish from 115 tons to 65 tons. The levels during the first 11 months of 1999 remain more or less on a par with 1998, including seizures of 10 tons of opium, 3.5 tons of heroin, and 60.5 tons of hashish. Authorities explain the stagnating trend by asserting that the heroin laboratories formerly located in Pakistan's tribal zones have now been transferred to the Afghan side of the border, and that the 10,000 liters of acetic anhydride which were seized in 1998 (coming from Hungary and India) were destined for use in those laboratories. Another explanation for the lower number of seizures is that a large part of the heroin (65% according to UNDCP) produced in Afghanistan is now allegedly exported to the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States to the north.

But these two assertions need qualifying. Numerous laboratories continue to operate in the inaccessible areas of Pakistan's tribal agencies. And the Balkan route remains the main channel for shipping Afghan heroin to Europe. Moreover, health services admit that the number of heroin addicts in Pakistan has now reached two million, which means that their annual consumption represents a minimum of 100 tons of pure heroin. If we add to this figure the quantity of drugs which transits through the country, the level of heroin seizures is relatively low.

This situation can be explained by the fact that the Pakistan's military intelligence agency has for the past 15 years used heroin trafficking from Afghanistan as a source of funding far secret operations aimed at destabilizing India through the Muslim rebellion in Kashmir. The government that took power following the recent coup has an interest in demonstrating its willingness to move ahead in the fight against drugs in an effort to defuse international hostility. But in a country where the formal economy lies in tatters and the government has pursued a costly military nuclear program, it must be difficult to do without drug revenues. It has been noted, for example, that the majority of the drug barons freed on bail under the Nawaz Sharif government have not been bothered by the authorities since the October coup.

A Question of Alternatives

Another explanation offered for the declining seizures (and this one can hardly be contested) is that local opium production has dropped considerably over the past three years. A policy combining alternative development and law enforcement - a course aided by the effects of drought - has resulted in a drop in opium cultivation from 9,441 hectares in 1992 to less than 300 hectares in 1999, according to official estimates. As every year, Pakistani authorities launched a campaign in the spring of 1999 to eradicate the last remaining pockets of illegal crops in north-west Pakistan's Dir district, which produces 60% of Pakistani poppies.

But whereas in 1998 the destruction of 185 hectares led to serious disturbances, the campaign this time around was much calmer, despite the fact that 200 armed farmers from the Nihag Valley attempted to block the advance of the 420-man paramilitary militia protecting the workers who were destroying the poppy crops by hand. Peaceful demonstrators coming from the village of Budalay-Daskor also occupied the main street in the district capital of Wary. Tribal chiefs such as Malik Faiz Muhammad and Makik Haroon Khan warned that if the fruits of development did not come to all the villages, their inhabitants would revert to poppy production as early as next year.

Whereas the authorities assert that not more than a few dozen hectares of poppies remain in the entire Dir district, observers believe this figure does not take into account the 70 to 80 villages in the inaccessible upper reaches of Nihag Valley. Despite these last pockets of resistance, the project funded by UNDCP since 1985 - including irrigation, road and terrace construction, alternative crops (onions in particular), livestock, electrification, etc. - has attracted development to the region and encouraged a decline in poppy production with minimal force by authorities.

However, this success has been possible due to the explosion of poppy crops on the other side of the border in Afghanistan, a factor which offers the real alternative, but to traffickers rather than farmers. Moreover, observers note the appearance of new poppy zones in three tribal agencies, which enjoy semi-autonomous status. These are in Khyber (Tirah Valley), Bajaur, and both North and South Waziristan. Members of the Afridi Pashtun tribe have always refused to let the Tirah Valley be linked to the rest of the country by a road suitable for motor vehicles. A few years ago, a government attempt to build a road passing through Shin Qamar, 50 kilometers west of the North-West Frontier Province capital of Peshawar, led to skirmishes between government militias and tribesmen, which resulted in approximately 10 dead. Besides poppies, these inaccessible zones also produce enormous quantities at hashish, of which Pakistan is one of the world's leading exporters.

Manoeuvring by the Military and Intelligence Services. Ever since the military took power in Islamabad, narcotics are more than ever a motivation in the border conflicts between Pakistan and its neighbors and, on the domestic scene, a factor in the great game involving various ethnic groups, tribes, and religions. The new military regime is still too recent to be able to accurately evaluate the main focus of its manoeuvrings which, for the most part, occur behind the scenes.

In late February and early March, a spokesman for the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), a branch of the Army, announced that the largest seizure ever of arms and narcotics had been made at hideouts in Baluchistan. The action allegedly occurred in the mainly Pashtun district of Chaghai, near the Makran region close by the Iranian and Afghan borders. No number was supplied concerning the seizures, which reportedly resulted in no arrests, and seem to have involved Pashtun tribes from Kandahar, Afghanistan, the native area of the Taliban's leader (Emir) Mullah Omar.

Shortly before, the Iranians issued an official protest against the infiltration of 100 drug traffickers from the Notezai, Rind, and Sanjrani tribes into Iran in November. Some 37 Iranian border guards lost their lives in the ensuing confrontation, after which large quantities of opiates were confiscated. Following the Iranian protest, the Pakistani Army laid siege to a region inhabited by the Bugti and Marri tribes, which had absolutely nothing to do with the affair in question. On the other hand, these tribes have traditionally maintained good relations with Afghan and Russian Communists.

It is also notable that the offensives launched in Kashmir by Islamic groups supported by the Pakistani military are on each occasion preceded by intense activity by armed groups of Pashtun and Baluch irregulars along the Afghan and Iranian borders, and in particular in the villages of Dalbandeen, Rabat, Qila, Nushki, Nokundi, Saindak, and Chatt. Added to this is the fact that Saudi Arabians are building a veritable chain of mosques and Koran schools in this region whose exteriors resemble fortresses more than religious establishments. It was precisely in this region that the ANF seized 25.427 tons of drugs between January 1999 and March 2000, including 16.320 tons of hashish, 7.630 tons of opium, and 1.417 tons of heroin.

The Return of Haji Ayub Afridi

The saga of Haji Ayub Afridi is a good illustration of the troubling links between traffickers and politicians in Pakistan, as well as the shady deals made by the United States with both sides. One of Pakistan's most important traffickers, Haji Ayub Afridi, returned to Pakistan on August 25, 1999 after serving a three and a half year sentence in a U.S. prison and paying a $50,000 dollar fine. From his refuge in Kabul and with an Afghan passport, Afridi voluntarily traveled to Dubai, from where he boarded a cargo flight to the U.S. in December 1995 after "negotiating" with American authorities. Hardly had his feet touched Pakistani soil when the ANF arrested him and detained him at first in a secret location for six weeks. He is today imprisoned in Karachi and awaiting trial for the export of 6.5 tons of hashish seized at Antwerp, Belgium, in the 1980s. Even those close to him do not hide the fact that he also became an important heroin trafficker during the war in Afghanistan.

Haji Ayub owns a palace reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights in Landi Kotal, part of the Khyber tribal agency not far from the Afghan border. A warrant for police to bring Haji Ayub before the court was first issued in 1983 following the discovery of 17 tons of hashish in a warehouse in Baluchistan. Three years later he was the subject of a wanted notice issued after a smuggler arrested in Belgium denounced him as his supplier. At the time he was under the protection of authorities in the tribal agency, which in theory he could not leave. The military coup against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on August 6, 1990 allowed him to be one of eight deputies elected to Parliament from the tribal agencies (FATA) and to consequently benefit from parliamentary immunity. He ran under the ticket of the Islamic Democratic Alliance, the coalition of the new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. On May 16, 1992 he was even part of a delegation of 60 Pakistani tribal chiefs which traveled to Afghanistan to mediate between antagonists there.

But sensing that the military was not going to tolerate for long the corruption and chaos which characterized Nawar Sharif's first government, the barons of the tribal zones, including Haji Ayub, switched their support to the opposition headed by Benazir Bhutto, and participated in the manoeuvres which allowed the Pakistani President, Ishaq Khan, to dismiss Prime Minister Nawar Sharif on April 18,1993. This favor earned him a new immunity. However, his candidacy in the following elections was rejected and he was forced to go into hiding, dividing his time between Pakistan's tribal areas, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates. He was approached by the Americans (with Benazir Bhutto herself acting as intermediary), who allegedly promised him a lenient sentence most likely in recognition of "services" he provided during the war in Afghanistan. In the end he accepted to go to the United States.

Numerous observers believe that Haji Ayub's arrest reveals ulterior motives on the part of Nawaz Sharif. The move violates international norms according to which a person should not be judged twice for the same crime. But these observers suggest that Nawaz Sharif may hope to use Haji Ayub's testimony to implicate Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, imprisoned on corruption charges since October 1996, and Rehmat Shah Afridi, director of the Frontier Post, a newspaper favorable to the opposition, who was arrested in April 1999. Arrest warrants were issued for Haji Ayub and a half-dozen members of his family in July 1995 by a special court in Peshawar, which also called for the seizure of Haji Ayub's assets, estimated at $2.7 million. The case has dragged out in the courts aver since, which observers attribute mainly to the resources at the defendants' disposal. Some think the charges may one day be dismissed by the statute of limitations.


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Ayub Afridi,
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)