Nepal is becoming a major transit point for illegal drugs between Asian nations and rest of the world

KATHMANDU, MAR 11 –  After the decades of 1970s and early 1980s, Nepal is again on the verge of becoming a major transit point for illegal drugs trade between Asian nations and rest of the world, police have warned.

Besides the poor security system at the country’s only international aerodrome, Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), police attribute this to Nepal’s growing air connectivity to the outside world, especially following expansion of international flight routes by India in 2010.

India’s extension of its international flights has provided an easy option for traffickers to ship opium produced in the Asia’s Golden Crescent region to lucrative markets overseas, according to SSP Nawa Raj Silwal, head of Narcotic Drugs Control Law Enforcement Unit (NDCLEU). Golden Crescent, overlapping the countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, refers to one of the Asia’s two largest heroin and opium-producing regions that came into existence from the time of Second World War in the 1940s.

War-ravaged Afghanistan produces more than 80 percent of the world’s opium and white heroin, which has a lucrative market in the European and American nations. And Nepal is emerging as a “risk-free” transit point for traffickers to ship the drugs to the international market, says Silwal, referring to expansion of international flight routes by India.

“After India opened up a number of new flight routes, traffickers turned their eyes towards Nepal, owing to our poor security management at TIA,” said Silwal. He explained that the traffickers are now barging opium and heroin produced in Afghanistan, first overland to Pakistan and then to Nepal by air. They then use local couriers to smuggle them into India, before shipping the consignment overseas.

“However, having said that, we don’t mean to put the blame on India for expanding flight routes,” he said, stressing on the need to increase vigilance on their part to tackle the challenge.

The NDCLEU record shows over 30kg of heroin and opium was seized from TIA and other parts of the Capital in last two years.

In the most recent drug-related case, the police apprehended Suparong Tamang, 36, and seized 1.2 kg of white heroin from his rented room in Samakhusi on January 10. The drug, valued at Rs 12 million in the international market, was concealed in 103 capsules made of paper and plastics. Subsequent to the arrest, the police found out that the drug was smuggled into Nepal from Afghanistan, en-route to India.

That came hot on the heels of the arrest of Thai national Suparerat Mcintosh at TIA on January 7 as she was trying to smuggle 1kg of cocaine, worth US$200,000, out of the country. It was the first ever seizure of pure cocaine in Nepal – a worrying indication that Nepal being used as a transit point by international drug traffickers.

Having embarked on her journey on December 18 from Bangkok, the police said, Mcintosh travelled to many countries, including Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Qatar before coming to Kathmandu on January 2.

SSP Silwal believes Nepal has not only been used as a transit point for opium trade, but also for trafficking other kinds of narcotic drugs.

The history of drugs trade in Nepal traces its roots back to the hippie culture in the late 60s and early 70s–narcotics trade was ruled illegal in Nepal only in 1978. The hippies, who used to come here in hordes at the time, took advantage of Nepal’s relaxed law both to indulge in drug abuse and its trade.

“Since then, Nepal started to be used as a transit point for drug trafficking,” Silwal observed. “Even after an Anti-Drugs Act was issued by the government in 1978, the trend continued until the early 80s when American and European anti-drug enforcement agencies came to Nepal and coordinated with NDCLEU. We were then successful, to a large extent, in curbing the drug trade.”

However, Silwal admitted that the onus lies on the Nepali law enforcement agencies to beef up security mechanism to prevent the country from slipping back to its forgetful past. “The situation may get even worse if we don’t act upon it, soon.”by ANKIT ADHIKARI from ekantipur

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