Beyond the welcome end

THE saga of the five Pakistani pilgrims arrested in Jeddah four months ago on charges of drug smuggling has ended on the right note. The three women and two men finally arrived home in Karachi in the small hours of Sunday after they were released when their innocence was proved.

Protracted negotiations between the Saudi and Pakistani authorities facilitated the process of their repatriation. It is also believed that as a quid pro quo two Saudi men in Pakistani custody were handed over to their government.

While it comes as a matter of great relief that justice has been done to the five innocent pilgrims who unwittingly carried slippers stuffed with heroin provided to them by their travel agent, one hopes that both the governments will look into the strategy they adopt to check drug trafficking. There is need for greater coordination between them at the investigation and intelligence levels. Simply relying on hauling up passengers carrying drugs and handing down harsh penalties is not a viable approach as it is more a band-aid to a problem that runs deep.

Given the gravity and quantum of this illicit trade, the idea should be to check the problem at its source and before it proliferates beyond control. If intelligence agencies are quick at tracing the big culprits and masterminds who actually earn the millions, the real culprits will be nabbed and not the small fish who end up being caught and punished.

With others there to replace the carriers, little impact is made on the trafficking side. For instance, in this particular case, the travel agent and his wife who supplied the slippers were arrested and then released on bail, but the mastermind has not been taken into custody as he went into hiding.

Meanwhile it is also important that the government, media and NGOs should get involved in creating awareness about drug trafficking. It is not simply the question of teaching people about the dangers of addiction and the hazards of smoking heroin. Would-be travellers and others also need to be warned about the risks of becoming carriers – even unknowingly due to their own ignorance.

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