Adonis Diaries

Ally in War on Drugs? Iran is the Western States Stalwart ally

Posted on: October 23, 2012

Is Iran the West Stalwart Ally in War on Drugs?

Iran may be the most efficient State in combating the trafficking of drugs, but the USA is still the primary country consuming drugs.

Without the heavy consumption in the US market for all kinds of drugs, the cartels will be in a bad shape and revenue will drastically dwindle.

Sitting next to the half-open door of a Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopter, the general who leads the Islamic Republic’s antinarcotics department pointed toward the rugged landscape of Iran’s volatile southeast, where its border meets those of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Abedin Taherkenareh/European Pressphoto Agency

Iranian border guards displayed packets of seized drugs near the border with Afghanistan.

 published on Oct.11, 2012 in the HIRMAN JOURNAL:

HIRMAN, Iran —

“This is where the drug convoys for years crossed into our country, almost with impunity,” Brig. Gen. Ali Moayedi said in Persian. Below him, sharp-edged mountains gave way to desert lands scarred for mile after mile by trenches nearly 15 feet deep and concrete walls reaching a height of 10 feet.

The earthworks were built by his men in recent years in a determined effort to stop the most prolific flow of drugs in the world, a flood of heroin and opium bound for the Persian Gulf and Europe.

Iran, as the first link in that long and lucrative smuggling chain, has for decades fought a lonely battle against drugs that its leaders see as religiously inspired, saying it is their Islamic duty to prevent drug abuse.

Nearly a decade ago Sistan va Baluchestan Province was an active battlefield, where more than 3,900 Iranian border police officers lost their lives fighting often better-equipped Afghan and Pakistani drug gangs along nearly 600 miles of Iran’s eastern border.

In those days, smugglers with night-vision equipment would roll over the border in all-terrain vehicles with heavy weapons, actively engaging Iranian law enforcement forces wherever they found them. Security forces were at times dying by the dozen each day.

Now, the country has made a huge turnaround. Its forces are seizing the highest amounts of opiates and heroin worldwide, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which has advised Iran through out the period.

Tehran has long been shy about inviting reporters to these borderlands, particularly during the difficult years when the police were dying in droves. But now, with the prospect of negotiations with the West over Iran’s disputed nuclear enrichment program, experts say, Iran’s leaders are eager to grab credit for their efforts.

During previous negotiations Iranian diplomats often pointed at Iran’s high human costs from trying to stop the drug trade, and one influential political adviser, Hamid Reza Taraghi, said that Iran expected to be politically “rewarded” for its efforts.

Up in the air, General Moayedi pointed to the Pakistani-Afghan side of the border, which he said once crawled with smugglers. “Do you see?” he exclaimed, pointing through one of the round windows of the helicopter. “There is nothing there!”

White watchtowers stood like chess pieces at mile intervals along the Iranian side of the border, facing the complete emptiness of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The smugglers still can come all the way to Iran; nobody stops them on their side,” Mr. Moayedi said as his aviator sunglasses reflected the intense sun. “But we have made it nearly impossible for them to enter our country.”

Squeezed between a tall plainclothes officer and General Moayedi’s personal bodyguard, Antonino de Leo, the Italian representative for the United Nations drug office in Tehran, showered the Iranians with praise — “because they really deserve it,” he said.

Mr. De Leo, in mountaineering shoes and backpack but remaining true to his stylish Italian background with a white flannel scarf around his neck, is very different from his uniformed Iranian counterparts. But, he said, “I need these people and they need me.”

At the same time that the Iranians were netting eight times more opium and three times more heroin than all the other countries in the world combined, Mr. De Leo said, his office was the smallest in the region and he had to cut back some programs, like drug sniffer dog training, because Western nations had cut back on financing.

“These men are fighting their version of the Colombian war on drugs, but they are not funded with billions of U.S. dollars and are battling against drugs coming from another country,” Mr. De Leo said.

While his colleagues in Afghanistan received $40 million a year in direct aid for counternarcotics programs, he said, they treated 100 addicts last year while Iran was treating hundreds of thousands. His budget was barely $13 million stretched over four years. “It’s all politics,” he said.

When the helicopter landed here at a fort in this desolate landscape it was too close to a party tent, blowing off its roof and setting off panic among the soldiers who had spent four days preparing for the V.I.P. visit.

Zahra, the 11-year-old daughter of one of the 3,900 policemen killed on border duty, welcomed the general, saying she missed her father but was happy that he was with God. Her mother, dressed in a black chador, nodded approvingly.

Armed soldiers stood guard as General Moayedi and Mr. De Leo inspected intercepted packages of opium, heroin and morphine. “There are 100,000 NATO troops based in Afghanistan,” the general said. “Why are they not stopping the flow of drugs into our country?

He gestured at the latest models of pickup trucks, used to patrol the long straight roads along the fortified walls, and said Iran could easily fend for itself. “But as others sleep comfortably in other countries, my men are here during the hot desert days and cold nights, trying to intercept drugs that would otherwise end up in the West. We are making a sacrifice.”

Mr. De Leo, who is one of the very few Westerners in Iran in direct, daily contact with top law enforcement officials, said his office was under pressure from Western activist groups like Human Rights Watch, which have expressed alarm over the sharp increase in hangings of convicted drug dealers.

Hundreds have been executed in recent years, making Iran the second leading country in the world in death sentences, after China. Mr. De Leo said that he, too, was bothered by the increase in executions, but that the punishments were meted out by Iran’s judiciary, not by its police force.

And though Iran routinely puts drug dealers to death, it also has a range of modern drug rehabilitation programs for its hard-core addicts, who number 1.2 million by official count. The addicts are treated as patients and given methadone and other treatments rather than prison sentences, Iranian families of addicts and foreign diplomats say.

General Moayedi said that he did not concern himself with politics, and that in any case he considered the fight against drugs to be a religious duty.

“But,” he said, “imagine if we just let all those drugs flow freely through our country, toward the West. I guess then the world would understand what we have been doing here for all these years.”

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