How serious is the drug threat to your country?
Iran has long borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. From there, drugs are smuggled to my country and then transferred abroad. My country seriously fights this smuggling. Over 30 years, we have lost 3,700 law enforcement offices in this fight. Almost 12,000 were disabled. On the other hand, we have had serious achievements. Notably, 90% of opium confiscated in the world was deterred in Iran. But the number of drug addicts is growing. We currently have about 1.5 million of drug addicts.
Is Iran satisfied with the moves of the NATO forces in Afghanistan in relation to anti-drug efforts?
Every year, Iran confiscates more and more opium from Afghanistan. We have a question: with almost 200,000 NA TO servicemen in Afghanistan, how is it possible to produce and smuggle almost 8,000 metric tons of opium a year? The equipment in opium-producing labs is being modernized. We are very concerned about the trend.
Afghan peasants should have an alternative to growing poppy. To do so, it is necessary to use those significant sums that come to Afghanistan for its economic recovery and fight against drug production. Besides, Western countries should purchase agricultural produce of Afghan peasants. For example, isn’t it possible to organize serious imports of Afghan fruits? The strategy of the West is incorrect, if there is one at all.
Are there plantations to grow raw materials for drug substances in Iran?
No, there are none.
How can you explain the fact that drug consumption in Iran, which is a Muslim country, has become a national threat?
Drug addition doesn’t recognize any ideology or any religion. It is a bad habit, a disease. Those who make money on it are people of very different religions. There are mafia structures everywhere, both in Iran and in European countries. They do not care who will become a drug addict, a Muslim or a Christian. But I think that religious beliefs can influence a young person and prevent him from giving in to a bad habit.
Does practice prove your opinion?
In Iran, we view drug addiction as a disease, not as a crime. A young person develops a bad habit under certain circumstances. It is sad, and we treat such people. We have an extensive experience. The first thing that needs to be done is to change a patient’s way of thinking. And we are willing to share our experience with interested countries, because we have serious medical know-how.
What is the government strategy in fighting this evil?
Iran has developed a concept for fighting drug addiction. It is called the Balance Strategy. Its idea is to reduce both supply and demand. That is, we should pursue a policy that will not create a temptation to grow, produce and sell drugs in the country. Secondly, we need to toughly control borders against smugglers. Our spending on border control amounts to $600 million annually.
But is it possible to make the border impenetrable?
We are building fences along our entire border with Afghanistan. We are also building borders with Pakistan, and it’s been a year since we have been building fortifications on the border with Turkey. Trespassing cement walls and check points on the border are quite difficult; besides, there are deep trenches dug out. Last year, we lost 78 border guards in combat operations against smugglers on the Afghan border alone.
How are the offenders punished?
With long prison sentences and also death sentences. The latter is for mafia chiefs and smugglers’ leaders. It is also applied to foreign citizens. We do not make any allowances for them. There is almost no corruption among officials, because they can also be subjected to tough punishment.
Drug trafficking brings serious earnings to terrorists. What can be said in this respect with view to Iran?
This is not typical for my country. But we cannot conduct operative work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so we believe that these moves should be more closely coordinated with our colleagues. To do so, we have set up a trilateral commission with representatives of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Its headquarters is in Tehran. Our specialized divisions took part in joint operations with Afghan and Pakistani structures last year. Iran currently chairs the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
Do you coordinate your efforts with Russia?
Russia is an important market for drug dealers. According to our information, it annually consumes 70 metric tons of heroin. The bulk of drugs come to Russia via Tajikistan. And we have a mutual understanding with Moscow that it is necessary to control drug routes more toughly. We have had a number of successful joint operations. And we have a plan of action.