Saturday, 24 August, 2019

Iran pays heavy cost to secure West from drug trafficking

Drug trafficking represents a major challenge for Iran.

The geographical location of the country, particularly its porous 1,923 km-long Eastern border with Afghanistan – the world’s largest illicit opium producer – and Pakistan, has turned it into a major transit country for illicit drugs to the West and elsewhere.

Iran’s eastern border areas are known for frequent clashes between security forces and well-armed drug traffickers, while addicts are often seen on the streets of Tehran and elsewhere.

In 2009, an U.N. report said Afghanistan-grown poppies fuel a $65 billion heroin and opium market that feeds 15 million addicts, with Europe, Russia and Iran consuming half the supply.

In response to these challenges, Iran has built one of the strongest counter-narcotics enforcement capabilities in the region over the years.

According to the UNODC World Drug Report 2014, Iran accounted for 74% of the world’s opium seizures and 25% of the world’s heroin and morphine seizures in 2012.

Iran spends millions of dollars annually on border control, including for the construction of expensive barriers along its borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan to reduce the supply of drugs seeping from its eastern borders

The country has deployed 50,000 Revolutionary Guard border agents and invested about $1 billion in land barriers. Securing its borders will remain difficult; its Afghanistan-Pakistan border spans 1,923 km and another 1,892 km when including Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea. Often using motorized or animal caravans, smugglers can be heavily armed and dangerous.

Border security has come at a heavy cost in blood.

Iran reports that since 1979, 3,700 Iranian border agents have been killed and 12,000 wounded in the line of duty.

Iran’s counternarcotics strategy has demonstrated some effectiveness, yet the challenges remain daunting.

In 2009, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), credited Iran with “holding back a flood of heroin” and in 2010, UNAIDS praised Iran’s prison Harm Reduction programs as an ‘evidence-based approach marked by tolerance, pragmatism and compassion.’

“For well over two decades, Iran has played a critical role in interdicting illicit Afghan opium, heroin and morphine base from traversing its territory and entering Europe via Turkey and the Balkan Route,” Gary Lewis, the UN resident coordinator in Iran, told Al-Monitor.

“The role of Iranian law enforcement in the fight against trafficking has been under-recognized for many years for certain reasons, but this needs to change.”

For those unaware of Iran’s war on drugs, the key question is: Why are Iran’s anti-narcotics operations important for the world?

First and foremost, a committed and capable Iran, with the support of regional and global players, can significantly reduce the inflow of opiates from Afghanistan to international markets in Turkey, Europe and North America.

Therefore, the benefits of further collaboration with Iran on the anti-narcotics issue goes beyond enforcement at Iranian borders. Such an increased capacity could enable the Iranian authorities to prevent homegrown networks from smuggling meth and crystal meth abroad — drugs that are increasingly being produced, consumed and transported within Iran itself.

Opiate abuse is a global problem that needs a global solution, with the UNODC reporting that there are now 16.5 million opiate users worldwide. Indeed, the impact of Afghan poppy cultivation can be felt as far away as the streets of North America. Lately, there has been an increase of transshipments of Afghan heroin to Canada, a concern that is being addressed by Canada with support from the United States. Today, about 90% of heroin on Canadian streets comes from Afghanistan.

The logic is clear: The world has an opiate problem, and it needs to address it before more families get shattered and more lives are taken.

Iran, as one of the world’s primary frontiers in the fight against opiate and illicit drug trade, should be actively encouraged and assisted to take a more prominent role.

Sources:

Drug trafficking and border control (UNODC report)

Iran key player in global war on drugs

Iran has 130,000 new drug addicts each year: report

Iran’s Response to Drugs from Afghanistan

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