Opium in Pakistan


When the Indian sub-continent was divided in 1947 into the two Dominions of India and Pakistan, Pakistan had many problems of administration to face which were at that time more pressing than the setting up of a machinery to control the opium traffic. But this traffic is of such importance both in the life of the country and in its international relations that it was not long before the outlines of a system of control began to be formed.


Author: A. E. Wright
Pages: 11 to 15
Creation Date: 1954/01/01

Opium in Pakistan

C.M.G., O.B.E., F.R.S.A. A. E. Wright

When the Indian sub-continent was divided in 1947 into the two Dominions of India and Pakistan, Pakistan had many problems of administration to face which were at that time more pressing than the setting up of a machinery to control the opium traffic. But this traffic is of such importance both in the life of the country and in its international relations that it was not long before the outlines of a system of control began to be formed.

In India the Centre had the constitutional duty of controlling the growing of the poppy and of making and distributing the opium to the provincial authorities, who in their turn controlled the retail sale to consumers through licensed shops and dealt with the preventive work which was necessary to check illicit distribution and addiction. The new State of Pakistan accepted this organization of functions.

But there was at that time no opium department under the Central Government of Pakistan, and the main growing areas were in India. Under an agreement made with India, opium was to be supplied to Pakistan from the factory at Ghazipur, in India, until March 1948. This supply was intended to maintain the existing trade, through the Central Government, which would purchase the opium, to the Provincial and State Governments, which would see to retail distribution through their licensed shops and would deal with smuggling.

A spur was applied to the organization of an opium department in Pakistan and to the desire which was already present to attain self-sufficiency in respect of this commodity by the virtual failure of the supply from India for a time. Pakistan had to take rapid steps to explore the possibilities of growing the poppy and of making her own opium: meanwhile other sources of temporary supply outside the country were also sought. In addition, the obligations of the new State to the United Nations were reviewed in order to ensure that the opium administration which was to be set up finally should be able to carry out those obligations fully.

The use of opium on the Indian sub-continent had been an ancient tradition, and there had been relatively little addiction as addiction is understood in the West. Indeed most of the use had been rather in the line of what is now called "quasi-medical use" than in that of true addiction. Medical facilities and medical education among the people were not as developed as they are in the West even in 1947, and the use of opium as a specific against abdominal illnesses, pain, and some fevers was general, especially in rural areas, and above all in those areas where excessive rainfall and flooding had rendered dysentery, malaria and kala-azar endemic.

Nevertheless Pakistan, as successor to the Government of India, determined to follow the policy of gradually reducing the use of opium and of trying to exterminate addiction properly so-called. But it was recognized that this process must be gradual; that as the executive power rested constitutionally with the Provinces and States, a policy would have to be worked out in consultation with them and after due consideration of their views; and that that policy must always regard the obligations of the country to the United Nations.

The problem therefore had a number of aspects, all of which had to be taken into account. There had to be an adequate supply-about 500 maunds a year-which had to be ensured from abroad till production could be organized in the country: eventually the supply from India was restored on a basis which recognized that the demand would be reduced progressively: experiments in cultivation were begun, while the Central Government took over the control of policy in general in the Revenue Division of the Finance Ministry. The question of forming a Narcotics Board, as had been suggested by the League of Nations, as a central authority for the control of the opium traffic was considered, and a decision was postponed till the major administrative difficulties of setting up an opium department were settled.

The control which the Government exercises is by licensing the growing of the poppy over an area which is calculated as adequate to ensure a supply sufficient for the needs of the country. The cultivators who grow under licence also come under the supervision of field staff maintained by the Government, and when the opium is ready the lancing is supervised and the product is bought for cash on weighment by Government field staff. From then, the opium is in the hands of Government until it is sold to the consumer from the Government excise shop. The field officer, who is an employee of the Central Government sends the crude opium to the central factory where it is brought to the strength and consistency required by the local Governments who buy it for their shops. Indents are dealt with by the factory, which comprises a manufacturing section, a store and a laboratory.

Manufacture is simple. The crude opium is kneaded and exposed to the sun in large flat pans. The process continues until the opium is a dark brown colour and until the consistency has been raised to 90 per cent. The opium then has a wax-like appearance. It is moulded into square cakes, stamped and wrapped in oil paper ready for supply. A certain portion of the product is also put on one side for manufacture into medical opium powder.

The Government of Pakistan had to find areas where soil and climatic conditions were suitable for the growing of opium. They had to find a staff who had the necessary knowledge and experience for the field work, and they had to persuade cultivators to take up the licensed cultivation of opium as a cash crop-in substitution for other crops or as an alternative to them where this was possible.

A nucleus of staff was found from the Muslim officers of the old Opium Department who had opted to serve Pakistan. But the first experiment in production took place in the West Punjab, at the suggestion of the Government of that Province, under the aegis of the Cooperative Farming staff of the provincial Government. It was thought that conditions for the cultivation of the poppy appeared to be favourable in the West Punjab and the Central Government agreed to the experiment. It should be noticed that the cultivation of the poppy in what is now East Pakistan had been prohibited by law since 1839, and it was not felt that experiments in that area had any reasonable prospect of success.

In 1948, therefore, 491 acres were planted with poppy seed in the West Punjab; but the experiment was a failure. The crop failed entirely in 231 acres and the yield in the remainder was only 31.313 seers (a seer is a little over 2 lbs.) of raw opium at 70 per cent consistency. It would not have been over-optimistic to have expected a yield of 3,000 seers from the acreage planted. Early in 1949, the Central Government was able to send experienced staff to give instructions in the best method of lancing; by that time it was too late for their directions to make a material difference in the yield.

The experiment was analysed, and the conclusion was reached that the failure was due to a number of causes. Inexperienced supervising staff, late sowing, poor seed, and lack both of knowledge and of real enthusiasm among the cultivators were the main reasons.

The first experiment took place in the Montgomery District (see map) and not deterred by the failure the Central Government now decided to take up the battle themselves, still in the Punjab. In the second experiment 824 acres were eventually sown, although the original intention had been to place as much as 4,600 acres under cultivation; an area which it was thought would meet the whole need of the country. If it be thought that this was over-ambitious as an experiment in a rather difficult form of agriculture which had been hitherto virtually unknown in Pakistan, it must be remembered that necessity was driving the Government. It was thought at this time that there might be no supply from India at all, and the prospects of obtaining a supply from other overseas sources were not good.

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Pakistan. Raw opium from field being received by officer

The second experiment also failed. Cultivators were not enthusiastic; sowing was again late; only a poor quality of seed was available, since standard seed could not be procured from India, while the water supply in the main canals was disrupted at the time at which it was most needed. Abnormal weather conditions were encountered in the winter, with rain and hail which did much damage to growth and to standing crops. About 300 acres failed altogether, while the rest of the land gave a yield of only 254.555 seers of raw opium.

Nevertheless, the conclusion was reached from the two failures that it was practicable to grow opium in West Pakistan, granted certain conditions. Soil and climatic conditions were normally favourable; better supervision could be provided and if cultivators could be supplied with first quality seed and would themselves take a live interest in the crop, it was felt that a successful result could be obtained. A third experiment was therefore sanctioned for the year 1950/51; again the West Punjab was to be the scene.

For a number of reasons, there was yet another partial failure, the product being 784.68 seers of opium at 70 per cent consistency from 982 acres of cultivation. The seed was again not satisfactory, and cultivators who lacked the skill and knowledge to make a success of the growing and of the delicate operation of lancing did not show the interest that was needed for satisfactory results. But the necessity to produce opium still existed: a supply from India had been restored, but both on grounds of conservation of exchange, and of the need for self-sufficiency it was decided that the effort could not be given up. But the Government of Pakistan decided also to shift its ground to two new areas-the North West Frontier Province and the State of Bahawalpur.

The new experiment was limited in extent: an area of 59 acres in the Mardan district of the N.W.F.P. and of 50 acres in Rahimyarkhan in Bahawalpur State were sown. 19 acres and 21 acres in Mardan yielded 154.312 seers of raw opium at 70 per cent consistency, while at Rahimyarkhan the yield was negligible. An analysis of the Mardan experiment showed that the yield per acre of productive land was 4.7 seers, while some fields gave 8 seers, and two gave as high a figure as 16 seers, an acre. It was therefore decided that in 1952/53 cultivation would be carried on again in the N.W.F.P., on an extended scale, and that the experiment in Bahawalpur State would not be repeated.

In 1952/53, therefore, 756 acres were cultivated successfully in the N.W.F.P. and certain adjoining areas in the north of the Punjab, producing about 128 maunds of raw opium at 70 per cent consistency. This represents between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of the total demand of the country, and the result may be treated as a considerable success when it is remembered that the demand is to be reduced year by year under the policy of steady diminution of supply which has already been accepted by Pakistan. The average yield was 6.75 seers an acre, which is satisfactory. During the current season, again, which began in October 1953, cultivation was started in the N.W.F.P. and the adjoining areas of the Punjab. 2,000 acres have been sown. Results will be known by the end of June 1954. At the time at which this paper is being written it is anticipated that the cultivation will be successful, and it is already hoped that all the demand in Pakistan will be supplied by local cultivation by 1956/57. Meanwhile the supply from India for the balance of the demand is assured.

As an essential part of the plan for the production of opium in the country, a factory was set up in the suburbs of Lahore in 1950. The factory manufactures excise opium and opium powder for medical use by the process which has already been described. The laboratory has been equipped to carry out qualitative and quantitive analyses of all types of opium and opium products and it can also manufacture crude morphine. This factory was equipped locally by local manufacturers of machinery and equipment, and is able to prepare all the opium which Pakistan requires.

In addition, experimental cultivation of different varieties of opium is being carried on on a small scale by the Government Forest College at Abbottabad and at the Punjab University.

It may be asked whether this persistent effort, and the setting up of regular cultivation and manufacture by the Government of Pakistan are worth while, when the country is committed to the United Nations policy of eradication of addiction and, under the 1953 Protocol, elimination of quasi-medical use in a limited time. But there is no doubt that the effort was both desirable and necessary.

There is a large legitimate demand in the country-it has been estimated in this paper at 500 maunds a year. If this demand is not met under proper control, it will be met by smuggling opium over the mountain border in the North West. The elimination of the social use of the drug will take time. During that time it is essential that growing, transport and manufacture should be under strict Government control. On the supposition that in 15 years the drug can be eliminated from all but medical use, it will still be necessary to manufacture a certain amount of opium for medical use, and to manufacture derivatives for medical use. What has been done, therefore, is not merely necessary under present circumstances: it looks to the future also.

Side by side with its efforts to introduce a properly regulated system of growing and distribution, the Government of Pakistan and the Provincial and State Governments have held their legal system under review since 1947, by correspondence, by meetings and in early April, by a full scale conference held at Lahore.

At the time at which Pakistan came into being, opium smoking was not legally prohibited in any unit of the country. There were only restrictive enactments in the Provinces and States. On the advice of the Government of Pakistan, the units of the Federation have passed legislation to prohibit the smoking of opium in 8 out of 9 units. Legislation in the remaining unit will be placed before its Legislature in the autumn of this year. In respect of opium eating, it has already been indicated that there is not a great deal of addiction, as the term is understood in the West, but that the drug is taken by the mouth by ancient tradition in many parts of the country as a medicine. There is not much evidence as to the extent to which this practice is deleterious. It is hoped to have an inquiry made into this aspect of the problem in the near future. Meanwhile, efforts are also being pursued to improve the standards of medical services throughout the country, as a sine qua non for the removal of the old traditional medical use of opium. This will take time: but there is a measure of agreement among the Provincial and State Governments, and with the Central Government, that legislative steps must also be initiated for stricter control of the opium eating habit, in whatever form it manifests itself, and that the control should be under medical supervision, so organized as to stop the spread of the habit and gradually to eliminate it. The drafting of a set of Rules under existing legislation is being dealt with by the Central Government, in consultation with the Provinces and States. These Rules will be designed to limit the issue of excise opium-other than that which is used for medical purposes properly understood-to consumers who are registered with and have a ration card issued by the local medical authority. After a fixed date no further consumers may be registered: automatically, in time, the registered consumer will disappear.

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The provision of statistics of the traffic in opium to the United Nations is the responsibility of the Central Government of Pakistan. But it will have been seen that while the provision of material in respect of the cultivation and distribution of opium so far as those functions are exercised by the Central Government is simple, material in respect of distribution in detail and of consumption must derive from the Provinces and States. These units also provide information on the illicit traffic, which falls within their jurisdiction, as does the revenue derived from the sale of excise opium. The question of organizing a fully fledged central authority which would have the sole function of dealing with international and internal relations on opium has engaged the attention of Governments in this country for some time. It is now held strongly and definitely that there should be such an authority, although its functions could not be allowed to impinge upon any functions which the Constitution lays upon Provincial or State Governments. The plan for the formation of a Central Narcotics Board is therefore being pursued, with the intention that such a Board, one of the main duties of which would be to watch the implementing of United Nations engagements and the provision of statistics should come into being as soon as possible.

Finally, a word should be said on the illicit traffic as it affects Pakistan. In 1947, apart from uncontrolled growing in Pakistan itself, which was not of great importance, there were areas outside the administrative control of Pakistan where a good deal of opium was produced. In India there is a system of regulation on which the Pakistan system which has been described in this paper is largely based. In the tribal areas adjoining the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the ordinary law of the country did not apply, and there was no restriction on the cultivation of the poppy, for consumption or export. Beyond the borders of tribal territory, again, there were countries where the poppy was extensively cultivated. Opium came into Pakistan by devious routes over a frontier which was largely mountain and desert, and found a lucrative market both in the country and beyond it. There has been, in fact, from very early ages an opium road which leads into Pakistan from the North West, and through it into India and beyond.

It is hoped that the introduction of cultivation sufficient to meet all the legitimate needs of the country will help to check the illicit traffic by supplying the market: in addition, the main producing area in tribal territory has now come within the scope of the central scheme of licensed growing, which represents a signal advance in control. Active preventive operations on their borders and in their territory are also being carried on by the Governments which are mainly concerned, those of the N.W.F.P. and the Punjab. It is hoped, further, that the application of the policy of restriction leading to elimination gradually will not create an increased demand on the illicit market. Festina lente is in this respect a prudent and a necessary policy; the people of the North West are well aware of the economic advantages of sale to the Central Government at a fixed price; and of the profits of smuggling-at a risk-if the policy of the Government is not a wise one.

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Poppy crop under cultivation

Out of the confusion of 1947 has emerged, therefore, in this sphere as elsewhere in Pakistan, a coherent policy: a plan which takes account both of obligations in the international sphere and of the internal constitution of Pakistan; and a determination to carry out this plan. There have been many obstacles and many setbacks; but the indications for the future are that Pakistan is in a fair way to attain a type and degree of regulation which will be in the fullest accord with accepted international practice.