Gulf’s Narcotic Noose

The emergence of the Dark Continent on the key intersection of intercontinental drug trafficking has sounded off alarm bells in the power corridors of the world.

By Faryal Leghari (At Home)

Published: Sat 26 Dec 2009, 10:04 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:50 AM

It is even more alarming for the neighbouring Gulf States that have, owing to their geostrategic position, long lured organised crime syndicates for use as an ideal trans-shipment zone. This is despite the deterrent of capital punishment for traffickers, and one that is often implemented in some states. Besides, the influx of narcotics, even if it is meant for onwards shipment has a definite fallout in terms of drug usage in the region.

Not only are the implications grave in terms of soft security, what is more worrying is the establishment of a nexus between terrorists, organised crime syndicates and drug traffickers. The head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costas in fact urged the Security Council member states to fight this network before it gets out of control. With some West and East African states undergoing political and economic instability, organised crime syndicates have been enjoying a free hand at running a variety of operations. This includes drugs and human trafficking and illegal weapon trade among others. Besides, terrorist groups are believed to have forged ties with corrupt and criminal elements and are using these channels to fund their activities.

The UN report highlights the Saharan belt network that almost spans the breadth of northern Africa. Coastal states in West Africa provide an ideal zone for South American cocaine shipments that are brought in from Venezuela. On arrival, the cocaine is transported by networks inside Africa for cross-continental deliveries to the east and the northern ports for Europe. States like Guinea-Bassau in the northwest provide an ideal re-launching hub for these illicit consignments. A lack of state institutions, security apparatus and ineffective governance has led to lawlessness and the establishment of a thriving smuggling zone. The east is no better. With states like Somalia battling an extremist Islamist insurgency, instability is on the rise. On the threshold of becoming a failed state, Somalia faces a bigger problem at sea. Its pirates have gained worldwide notoriety for their aggressive hostage taking of international ships and oil tankers for millions in ransom. Plus the eastern coast receives a far more lethal narcotic—heroin coming from Afghanistan. Trafficked by sea or air from South West Asia, these shipments often exchange hands with other couriers in the neighbouring Gulf States. Traffickers, particularly favour Yemen for routing shipments to Africa and Gulf States. It is largely because of the lack of effective security to control illicit trafficking that is inadvertently aided by the political instability inside the country.

The efforts of trafficking groups to explore the market potential in the Gulf States have posed a serious security challenge for the region. Targeting a largely affluent population base, particularly among the youth, the aim is to establish a thriving consumer base. Unemployment and ample financial resources are the pulling factors for traffickers.

The transit drug trade, in particular, has hit hard at UAE and Saudi Arabia. The spiralling rise in drug abusers in Iran is testament to the fact that even transit states inevitably see large-scale drug abuse among its population. Iran and Pakistan’s drug abuse population that is n millions is directly attributed to them sharing borders with Afghanistan and bearing the brunt of the transit opiate trade.

Besides heroin, hashish from South West Asia and synthetic drugs including amphetamines from the Far East and Europe are also being trafficked to the region. Saudi Arabia in particular is battling a widespread addiction of Captagone—a stimulant drug that falls under banned substances—whose abuse is rampant among its younger population. Heroin abuse in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is also on the rise. While these states have beefed up security at entry points and are committed to intelligence sharing with states that serve as origin points, the situation credits more concerted efforts. The good news is that there is a discernible change in form of public awareness campaigns warning of dangers of drug abuse and provision of health services for the cure and rehabilitation of addicts. Once a taboo subject, drug addiction is now deserving due attention. It is heartening to note that the Gulf States with help of international organisations have taken the anti-drug drive to the public sector. Not only is drug abuse a major socio-economic liability it directly impacts law and order, thus meriting additional efforts at fighting the malaise.

The use of the narcotics for funding terrorism and anti-state insurgencies is no secret. It is now an established fact that the Taleban-Al Qaeda alliance has been effectively using the prolific opium income to fund their fight against the coalition forces. While Africa ticks away as a potential time bomb in terms of instability it serves an ideal recruiting ground for terrorists. Intelligence reports of the growing influence of Al Qaeda and affiliated groups in Yemen and Somalia have already upset the regional equilibrium.

There is apprehension about increased narcotics trafficking in the region, given the intelligence coming in of terrorist groups collaboration with drug traffickers. Afghanistan and Africa might not be sharing borders with the Gulf, but they are geographically proximate to bear directly on the security front. This calls for additional resourcing to counter the challenge. Any effective counternarcotics and counterterrorism strategy owes its success to intelligence and stringent security measures. While the situation in the Gulf is still under control, it does require a more integrated regional strategy, one that will be the most effective countermeasure.

Faryal Leghari is Assistant Editor of Khaleej Times and can be reached at

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