Pakistan sees surge in methamphetamine seizures

By Amin Ahmed

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan experienced a significant increase in methamphetamine seizures bet­ween 2016 and 2018, and quantities of the drug seized increased more than 21 times from about 133kg in 2016 to 2.9 tonnes in 2018, reveals the ‘Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment 2020’.

The report published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Thursday says the spike in seizures in 2018 is attributed to a single large seizure of over 2.5 tonnes of crystalline methamphetamine, leading to the arrest of an Afghan national.

The large number of seizures made at an international airport suggests that onward trafficking, for example, to the Near and Middle East, plays an important role.

Metham­phetamine appears to be emerging in the South-West Asia region along popular opiate trafficking routes. It seems likely that in Afghanistan the existing trafficking networks for opiates are also used for methamphetamine and some traffickers trade both.

The UNODC report says the synthetic drugs market in South-West Asia has grown in recent years, with methamphetamine seizures more than tripling from 1.9 tonnes to a record 6.1 tonnes between 2016 and 2018. Furthermore, in 2019, methamphetamine seizures of 13.6 tonnes were reported by Iran.

This amounts to more than double the seizures reported in South-West Asia in 2018, indicating a continued expansion of methamphetamine supply in the region. Though methamphetamine manufacture, use and trafficking have long been present in South-West Asia, this sudden surge of seizures in recent years is noteworthy.

The quantities of methamphetamine seized have increased significantly across all countries in the region. In Iran, there has been a resurgence in methamphetamine seizures since 2016. Despite an initial decline between 2014 and 2016, methamphetamine seizures in the country increased almost seven-fold from approximately 1.8 tonnes in 2016 to 13.6 tonnes in 2019, amidst a decline in the number of clandestine laboratories that have been dismantled since 2013.

In 2018, Iran reported that most of its methamphetamine seizures originated from Afghanistan and were either trafficked directly from Afghanistan or via Pakistan with a majority of it intended for markets outside the country. This surge in seizures was accompanied by a decrease in wholesale prices of methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine seizures also increased significantly in Afghanistan from about 9kg in 2014 to over 1.3 tonnes preliminarily reported in 2019. In Afghanistan, methamphetamine has been seized in tablet and crystalline form. Methamphetamine tablets typically contain a variety of other substances, including heroin and MDMA while crystalline methamphetamine is reported to be of high purity.

Amphetamine seems to have become entrenched in the regional market. In 2015, seizures of more than three tonnes of amphetamine were reported. Since then, seizures of the substance hit a peak of more than 3.8 tonnes in 2016 before decreasing and levelling at about two tonnes between 2017 and 2018.

Between 2018 and 2019, several amphetamine seizures made at international airports in Pakistan were intended for Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, in terms of weight, seizures destined for the Middle East represented a very small proportion of the total amphetamine seized by Pakistan.


Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2020