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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
India and Pakistan mull drugs war
by Paul Anderson
BBC correspondent in Islamabad

Shashank (L), Indian Foreign Secretary and Riaz Khokhar, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan
Confidence building has been under way since the start of the year
Senior Pakistani and Indian officials have been meeting in Islamabad for talks on drugs trafficking.

The talks are the first they have held for more than seven years.

They are part of a series of confidence building measures between the two countries.

But growing opium production in Afghanistan means the talks have an urgency in their own right.

Production rise

These are the first talks since India and Pakistan suspended a committee to tackle drugs production and smuggling in 1997 because of political differences.

Since then much has changed. In the year 2000, Pakistan was declared opium-free after a major eradication campaign.

Production has started to creep up again but to nothing like the level of the 1980s when 30,000 hectares were under poppy cultivation.

The big problems for both countries - and come to that the world - is Afghanistan.

Poppy cultivation has sky-rocketed there since the Taleban, which all but banned it, was ousted two and a half years ago.

Each new yield - and farmers are harvesting twice a year - is bigger than the last.

Opium production this year is expected to pass four 4,000 tons providing three quarters of the world's needs.

Much of it is smuggled through Central Asia to European markets, but some also come through Pakistan and on to Mumbai in India.

That has been the main focus of the two-day talks in Islamabad.

So, too, the smuggling of chemicals from India normally used for textiles and heavy industry.

Regionally they are produced only in India.

But because the chemicals are also used in the process of transforming opium into heroin, they are being smuggled across Pakistan to laboratories in Afghanistan.

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