ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 16, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 29

Pakistan willing to help Lanka fight drug menace

By Rohan Abeywardena

A key Pakistani Government Minister handling internal security this week offered to adopt additional stringent measures to combat smuggling of heroin to Sri Lanka from Afghanistan via his country, if Colombo makes the necessary requests. Interior Minister (retd. Gen.) Hamid Nawaz told a group of visiting senior Sri Lankan Journalists in Islamabad that through mutual consultations additional measures could be adopted to combat the menace as the two countries already had extensive partnerships in defence and other issues.

Gen. Nawaz made the announcement when The Sunday Times pointed out that Sri Lanka’s jails were overflowing with drug offenders and much of the drugs reaching the country came from Afghanistan via Pakistan.“Despite our best efforts smuggling of heroin from Afghanistan through Pakistan continued”, he said adding however, “this year’s figures are very much less than those of the previous year.”

He said due to stringent and vigorous measures adopted on poppy cultivation, Pakistan has already been declared a drug free country by the UN. The problem, Gen Nawaz said was that Afghanistan continued to grow the poppy crop and Pakistan had to share a porous border of more than 2000 kilometres with that country containing some of the toughest terrain. Afghanistan said to be the largest producer of narcotics in the world is estimated to have harvested about 8200 tonnes of heroin in this year alone.

“We have a dedicated ministry to fight the menace and we have put in charge a dedicated force, the Anti-Narcotic Force with specialists drawn from the Army and its Director General is a serving Colonel in the Army. It has done exceedingly well,” the Interior Minister said. Besides, he said the Pakistan Coast Guard too had been vigilant and it had detected one tonne of the narcotic only a few days back.

Like other Pakistani leaders we met during a seven day tour of the country, including caretaker Prime Minister Mian Muhammadian Soomro and Foreign Minister Inamul Haq, Gen Nawaz too expanded on the need to develop tourism between the two countries. Besides Pakistan being the cradle of possibly the world’s oldest civilisations of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, it had also been a vast seat of Buddhism, especially during the reign of Emperor Asoka, when it even extended to Afghanistan to an area known as Ghandara. Artefacts excavated from these ancient civilisations and from ruins of Buddhist places of worship are found in museums in Lahore, Peshawar and Takshasila (Taxila). Many of these artefacts depict Lord Buddha’s life story carved in stone in great detail exactly as it is found written in books.

Much of the Buddhist treasure trove is yet hidden. One such example is the Jaulian Monastery - a seat of learning located on top of a hill about six kilometres northeast of the Taxila museum that we journalists visited on Wednesday. Its caretaker told us that though the site had been listed in the World Heritage List in 1980 and excavation work started as far back as 1916, only five percent of the original monastery had been so far excavated. The place along with the entire area had been sacked by the White Huns of Central Asia in the fifth century, burying it ever since.

Ge. Nawaz said visitors from 24 countries, including Sri Lanka, are provided visas on arrival. Sri Lanka was placed among Category A countries, whose nationals can go to the Pakistan High Commission/embassy in their country and obtain visas without having their applications referred to Islamabad for approval.

As for the internal security situation in Pakistan, Gen Nawaz said contrary to exaggerated reports that appeared in the foreign media, the law and order situation was so good in the country they can go ahead with the elections on January 8.“Perception outside is far from reality on the ground here,” he said.

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