Tall story of hashish and camels

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The Independent Online
IT SOUNDS like an Indiana Jones movie: drug traffickers on camels firing rocket-launchers in a battle with the valiant men of Pakistan's anti-narcotics task force. But Indiana would have captured the smugglers as well as their contrabrand.

The story told by Pakistani customs officials goes like this: the crack new anti-drugs force, funded by the US, recently had a tip-off about the whereabouts of 400 camels carrying 50 tons of hashish across the lawless deserts of Baluchistan. When they ambushed the caravan, fierce fighting broke out.

So heavy was the smugglers' firepower that they all got away. They left behind the camels, hashish and their weapons, but not one of the miscreants was captured. It was the same the last time there was such a clash in Baluchistan. The authorities seized a mixed haul of heroin and hashish, also weighing 50 tons - but no smugglers.

So is your average Baluch tribesman so wily that he can elude any pursuer? Sadly, the tale probably bears the same relation to the truth as any Steven Spielberg blockbuster. Pakistan exports 30 per cent of the world's heroin, and a hefty proportion of its hashish, and is awash with drugs money. Drugs barons have top-level connections, and can arrange almost anything.

The US and other Western countries have been pressing Pakistan for years to clean up its act. Several countries, including Britain, have stationed anti- drugs officers in the country to co-ordinate the fight against smugglers. But corruption is so widespread that they are fighting a losing battle.

Every now and then, when the demands for results grow deafening, officials arrange another 'record seizure' from the smugglers. This never amounts to more than a fraction of the traffic, but everyone is kept happy. And if certain people working in Pakistan's customs service ever fancy a career change, they could probably make it as Hollywood scriptwriters.