Enhancing Pakistan’s Maritime Response: UNODC Country Office together with INL hosted a side-event during 66th CND Session

15 March 2023, Vienna, Austria – UNODC Country Office Pakistan (COPAK), together with UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) hosted a side event in the margins of the 66th session of the CND in Vienna, Austria on 14 March 2023. The side event showcased the successful implementation and operational impact of UNODC’s first-ever maritime security project in Pakistan entitled ‘Improved National Response against Drugs and Contraband Trafficking in the Maritime Domain’ (October 2020-March 2023) – funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), United States of America. 

While warmly welcoming the participants, Mr. Jeremy Milsom, Representative of UNODC COPAK apprised the participants that UNODC had closely engaged with the Ministry of Narcotics Control during the design of this project in early 2020. “It is heartening to learn about the record drug seizures made by the Pakistani maritime law enforcement agencies (MLEAs) recently. UNODC feels proud to have successfully implemented this project aimed at addressing Pakistani MLEAs’ priority needs in technical capacity-building and promoting their partnership domestically and with counterparts of several Indian Ocean Region countries”, said Mr. Milsom.

In his remarks, Mr. Alan Cole, Chief of UNODC’s Border Management Branch apprised the forum that he had conceived this project in follow-up to a fact-finding mission to Islamabad and Karachi in February 2020. “We observed a strong interest on part of the Government of Pakistan to step into this new area of collaboration, focusing on a collaborative response against the growing regional and global maritime trafficking of Afghan-produced heroin towards Eastern and Southern Africa and from there to much of the rest of the world”, said Mr. Cole. He also highlighted the exponential rise in drug trafficking through maritime routes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, and the operational results contributed to by the project.

Through a comprehensive presentation, Mr. David O’Connell, GMCP’s Programme Coordinator updated the participants about the successful conduct of several project interventions under its three intended outcomes, viz: 1) Improved interagency coordination between Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies; 2) Enhanced cooperation between Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies and their regional counterparts; and 3) Increased capability of Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies in detecting, deterring and disrupting drugs and contraband trafficking through coastal areas and maritime domain. 86 officials of the Anti Narcotics Force (ANF), Pakistan Customs and the Pakistan Coast Guards benefitted from the national and regional Table-Top Exercises; a national interagency roundtable workshop for developing interagency guidance on ‘Handling of stateless/unflagged vessels – for disrupting trafficking and smuggling’; one Southern Route Partnership (SRP) Meeting in Tanzania; and study tours to the Regional Maritime Information Fusion Centre (RMIFC) Madagascar and Regional Narcotics Information Fusion Centre (RNIFC) Bahrain. In the addition, the project delivered five Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBBS)’ training courses and six Bulk Carrier Search Courses (BCSC) in Seychelles and South Africa, where 74 maritime law enforcement (MLE) officials (including twelve Master Trainers) of the ANF, Customs, and PCG were trained. Moreover, the Pakistani Master Trainers have recently delivered three BCSC and one VBSS course at PCG’s Marine Wing Karachi, while one VBSS course is in progress. Conducted under UNODC’s mentorship, this in-country training will train 60 fresh trainees of the three MLEAs, thereby ensuring national sustainability. Mr. O’Connell also apprised the forum about a constant increase in maritime interdictions by the Pakistani MLEAs since 2022, whereby remarkable quantities of heroin, methamphetamine, and hashish were seized by the Pakistani MLEAs. “22 targeted joint maritime interdiction operations have been conducted by various Pakistani MLEAs since January 2022, where 30.9MT of drugs were seized and 93 traffickers were arrested and prosecuted to achieve a legal finish, in compliance with national and international maritime law”, he said.

In her remarks, Ms. Elizabeth Hilburg, Foreign Affairs Officer of INL South Asia thanked the Government of Pakistan for its concerted counternarcotics efforts, with Pakistan as one of the main transit countries neighboring Afghanistan. She recognized the close partnership between the Government of Pakistan, UNODC, and the INL, and successful project implementation and its contributions towards enhancing Pakistan’s operational results. Ms. Hilburg also appreciated the role played by the ANF and other Pakistani MLEAs and noted that there was a need to further enhance Pakistan’s technical capacity – to proactively detect, deter and disrupt drug trafficking more effectively.

In her remarks, Ms. Humaira Ahmed – Pakistan’s Federal Secretary for Narcotics Control thanked UNODC and INL for their vision and maritime capacity development support through this project. “The project has substantially improved Pakistan’s interagency, regional, and international partnerships and joint responses against common threats and challenges. We also thankfully acknowledge the enhancement of Pakistan’s capacity to deliver in-country MLE training through the training of the Master Trainers under this project, which is a major step towards Pakistan’s self-reliance in imparting specialized MLE training”, said Ms. Ahmed.

In his closing address, Mr. Nawabzada Shazain Bugti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Narcotics Control mentioned that the nexus between drug traffickers and other transnational criminals was continuing to threaten peace and stability in South-West Asia. “Our quest is to curb continuing attempts by drug traffickers to exploit Pakistan’s geographical location, particularly the access it provides to international maritime routes. I am highly impressed with UNODC’s capacity development strategy under this project and strongly feel the need to continue such initiatives through UNODC’s technical expertise, supported by the INL”, said Mr. Bugti.

UNODC’s capacity development initiatives complement the Government of Pakistan’s policies and strategic priorities, focusing on drug supply reduction, drug demand reduction, rule of law, criminal justice, and counterterrorism. UNODC’s interventions are dynamic and flexible and embed international best practices on human rights and gender inclusiveness and strive to improve the Government of Pakistan’s regional and international cooperation, under the United Nations principles of common and shared responsibility.