05/07/17 Wiqas Ahmad

This week on Century Of Lies, we hear from Wiqas Ahmad, a drug policy reform activist and youth advocate based in Pakistan. Plus, skeletons in Congressman Tom Marino's closet have popped the White House's trial balloon about Marino becoming the next Drug Czar, and a leaked White House memo reveals that the Czar's office may be for the chop.

Century of Lies
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Wiqas Ahmad
Download: Audio icon col050717.mp3



MAY 7, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

WIQAS AHMAD: My name is Wigas Ahmad. I am a youth activist and advocate for young people in Pakistan, especially, I'm working for young people who are living with the stigma -- stigma of gender identify, stigma of drugs, and stigma of health, which is HIV AIDS. So I'm working for young people in Pakistan, and -- yeah.

DOUG MCVAY: What is -- so tell me about the work you do in Pakistan. You're doing organizing around -- for, with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and around drug use. I caught part of your panel a moment ago, but I walked in midway through, so, I hate to ask you to repeat yourself, but could you tell me what you were just telling folks in the other room?

WIQAS AHMAD: Yeah, actually, you know, there, we were discussing about the situation of Pakistan. As you see, in Pakistan, I'm working as an ambassador for SSDP in Pakistan, as well as I'm working for Youth Rise and International Working Group. It's a global -- both are global networks.

In Pakistan at this time, 8.9 million drug users are living, according to UNODC. Yeah, it's a big number, but internationally, when we see mostly about the Pakistan, so they're publishing different news about the militancy and those people who are dying from the militancy, but we don't publish about the drug war happening in Pakistan. Because of the drug war there are more than 700 people dying daily. It's the report of, like, UNODC, and this is international reports that there are 700 people dying daily, 700 drug users dying daily.

So, it's a big number, but, it needs international highlighting, and, yeah. There is, like, in local media, there is -- they are published in different newspapers, but internationally it needs highlight, that this number should be highlighted, and this needs a big support, to stop this war on drugs and the criminal policies, and policies should shift from the criminal to the health, public health policies, and to the human rights based policies, where the drug users have access to their basic human rights, to live equally and to not isolate, because in Pakistan the maximum number of drug users living in isolation and in exclusion from their communities.

There are pressing criminal charges from the government side, and there are also, like -- there are three type of challenges to drug users. One is from the government, the government policies and war on drugs. Second is from the religious people. They consider it as a sin. They consider it against Islam, and because we are living in a Muslim society, they consider it against the religion and even when you're talking about the human rights of drug users, they are looking at you, like, are you a Muslim? Also, third, is misinformation or wrong information in the community, the perception built by wrong information in the community.

So, these three challenges are killing daily a lot of young drug users.

DOUG MCVAY: The -- when they talk about drug users, this would be any illicit drug? So it would include hashish and marijuana as well as hard drugs, or are we looking -- is that mostly just people -- are they counting, basically, in talking, about people using hard drugs? I mean, is there are larger number who are doing other stuff?

WIQAS AHMAD: Yes, it includes all type of drugs. Because, if you see, marijuana, cannabis and poppies coming from Afghanistan though Pakistan for international -- a spreading international market, and especially in the city where I'm living, Peshawar, it's on the border of Afghanistan. So, we see there are a lots of people suffer in the cities, just because of this war on drugs.

DOUG MCVAY: It's a Muslim society, so I presume alcohol is not exactly widespread, or is that a -- have we here in the US managed to corrupt people that way as well?

WIQAS AHMAD: Yeah, it's a very good question, it's a very good question. Actually, in Pakistan, they ban alcohol. They consider it a drug in the religion, and that's why they have banned it in the country, but in Pakistan, there are some areas, like Sindh. Sindh is a province in Pakistan where Karachi is the main capitol of that province. There is allowed alcohol for non-Muslims. Right? But, their local high court, Sindh High Court, just about a month ago, I saw in the news that they ordered that it shall be stopped and it shall be illegal if someone's doing the business of alcohol in that area, even if they are non-Muslim.

But, then, just two, three days ago, our Supreme Court issued an order, that we cancel that order, which was issued by the Sindh High Court, and they said that Sindh High Court doesn't have authority to publish such orders. So it was a good sign, a good move. But, yeah, when it's banned, so, like, there are a lot of alcohol drinkers in Pakistan, and they don't have access to a quality of drinks, or quality of wines, so, yeah, it's a big challenge.

DOUG MCVAY: So, well, in the US, when we banned it, we just -- people just made stills and brewed their own, which, which, yeah, tends to be dangerous, because you might have adulterants. Is that, I mean -- wow. Do they -- we called them moonshiners. Do you have, do people produce alcohol for themselves if it's, since it's illegal.

WIQAS AHMAD: Yeah, when it's illegal, international and the quality for coming to Pakistan, so people are producing these products locally, and they give them different names, and, like Tara, and they are so many names for the local products, even sometimes they smuggle international bottles and just mix morphine and different tablets and water in them, and then they are selling in the name of international brands in the Pakistani communities. So the product is still coming to the Pakistani community, but it is not that much pure and that much a quality product.

So that's why it's -- it's also a big challenge from a health perspective, if you see that are people use these -- like those people who drink wine, and alcohol, so they consume also those unhealthy substances by the name of other quality brands.

DOUG MCVAY: So, tell me about the -- tell me a little about the work that you're doing with Youth Rise. That's an organization I'm somewhat -- I'm a little familiar with, but I know you do, the Youth Rise does work internationally, and, well obviously among young, but --

WIQAS AHMAD: Actually, our organization is working globally for drugs and harm reduction. We are more focusing on the young people to reduce harm related to drugs, and for that purpose we are sensitized -- we are doing different sessions with the young people, we sensitize, doing sensitization of parliamentarians. We helped a theater program, there our volunteers are going to different communities to promote awareness about the harm reduction community, and through their theaters, and their different plays, they, our activists are using social media as a tool to promote awareness and to connect the different young people. Yeah.

And recently, we are working to establish a help line for the drug users in Pakistan, because it's very much important to have a help line for those people who use drugs to excess. Because, in Pakistan, if you see, on one side there are 8.9 million drug users, but there are only, in government, there are 30,000 beds in the government hospitals for drug users.

So on one side, 8.9 million people, and on the second side, the help facilities for our drug users are only 30,000. So it's very shameful what our government does, well, like, that is a big number. So, yeah, but, if you see that, there is an opportunity as well for Pakistan if they legalize these drugs. So, on one side, the 8.9 million citizens will have access to a quality product. Secondly it will do very much better for the country's economy. Third, it will also help people to get access to quality of education about drug use.

As I mentioned that in the FATA, if you go to -- this is an area on the border of Afghanistan, if you go there, you will see people using drugs like family, parents, sharing drugs with their children. And there is no issue, because there are no government policies working, neither Afghanistan government policies nor implementing our Pakistani, they have their own traditional policies, and those policies, when they're supplied -- they produce drugs for different communities, in the same time in their communities, when you visit there, so, parents teaching their children, as well.

Their grandfather and their brothers, teaching their children about the health education for drugs and to take the quality product, and they -- even -- there is so much experience, when you show them a product, they will tell you that which quality -- what is the quality of this product. So, it's regarded -- there is no policy, so there is health education, which is traditional health education, but secondly, there, the people, the drug users, have access to a quality product. There are no drug users who are living in the streets of that area.

So, it's like a model, but still the war is continuing there, media don't have access to that area, to the FATA area, and most of the time I request to those media people, to journalists, to go and see the situation of FATA. Apart from the drug war, apart from the militancy and those things, you can check the people, those who use drugs, you will never see an isolated person, a person excluded in those communities, because there is no stigma or discrimination against drug users. They're considered as part of their traditional community system. Yeah.

DOUG MCVAY: That's what I -- wow, see, that's my -- you heard me ranting a minute ago, the, I firmly believe that a lot of this is just based on the, you know, we just, we don't accept the humanity of other people, whatever difference it is, whether it's where you come from or the color of your skin or maybe it's just the, you know, I chose to use this drug. Okeh, well you're no longer human. And, and that -- doesn't, that's not the problem there, they accept the humanity of people around them. That's --

WIQAS AHMAD: Yeah. In FATA area, especially like -- from FATA, there is about two kilometers away my city, Peshawar. There you will see hundreds of people living under the bridges, under the streets, taking drugs and excluded from their families, and their families hurt them, their community hurts them, their government have strict regulations, government throwing them -- throwing water on them sometimes, sending them to jails, and like every bad society and government can do, they are doing with them. But, on the other side, there are, only two kilometers away there is the FATA area, and there are like -- the situation is better, even though the drug is coming from that area.

So, there -- when there is legalization, there is responsibility. And when there is responsibility, there is acceptability, and there is respect for human rights. So, we need to legalize drugs fast so it will bring all these to society, to be more respectable, and they'll live and become a good taxpayer for our countries as well.

DOUG MCVAY: Yeah, it's brilliant. Do you have any closing thoughts for our listeners? And I know, we're -- we're in between sessions and there's loads of people coming by, so, any closing thoughts.

WIQAS AHMAD: Yeah. I will say that, most of -- when you're in Pakistan, people ask me, you are working for drug users, for drugs to be legalized, but drugs kill people. So, I want to tell to the listeners that drugs do not kill people. It's the stigma, it's the exclusion from society, it's the discrimination, it's the war on drugs that kills people daily. In other words, drugs themselves do not kill people. So legalize the drugs.

DOUG MCVAY: Thank you so much.

That was Wigas Ahmad. Wiqas is a youth activist from Pakistan who's working in health and education with a focus on young people to have access to all their rights, including health, education, and enjoying a peaceful life. He started his activism at a very young age by joining the school scout team and volunteering with his village social organization Youth Welfare Society. Wiqas is the current Executive Director for the Initiative for Youth and Sustainable Development in Pakistan and is a part of several different international and national networks like Youth Peer Education Network, International AIDS Society, Youth Rise, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

You are listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Well, you'll recall, the White House floated a trial balloon, the possibility of US Representative Tom Marino, a Republican from Pennsylvania, with some incredibly outdated ideas about drug policy, was potentially going to be named as the new Drug Czar. No official announcement ever got made by the White House. The trial balloon went up and it looks like there are enough skeletons in Congressman Marino's closet that that trial balloon dropped like it was made of lead -- the proverbial lead zeppelin.

Well, Tom Marino's withdrawing his name from consideration, considering it wasn't really ever put forward that's interesting but never mind. So, we're left with Richard Baum, who is the Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Baum has been there for 18 years, and what's really intriguing to me at least is that there is very, very little that you can find -- video, audio -- by Richard Baum. It's amazing. I am looking, and when I can finally find something, I'll get it for you.

He attended a UN University event in 2015, that had to do with the upcoming UNGASS. Recording of that event? Nowhere to be found. Again, if someone out there could please find any recordings of this guy, and get them over to me, I would be very grateful. We'll find out more eventually, in fact we'll find out what exactly the White House has in mind for the Office of National Drug Control Policy over the next few months. A memo was recently leaked -- by the White House, by the drug control policy office, oh heavens, who knows. It's Washington, the leak probably came from several different sources.

On Friday May Fifth, the White House press briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this leaked memo, and so let's listen.


MARGARET TALEV: Thank you, Sarah. Really interesting and I thought surprising story on Politico, saying that there's a plan by the Trump administration to gut the national -- the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and I'm just wondering if you could tell us, is that report correct? And why? Is the thinking to, I mean, obviously he cares about the opioid addiction problem, he talked about that and brought Chris Christie into the mix. What would be the reason for gutting that office? Is it to move it somewhere else? I've got a French election question also. I'll wait, though.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, my first piece of advice would never be to use Politico for a source of -- for your story, but in terms, when it comes to the opioid epidemic, I think the president's been extremely clear, this is a top priority for him. I certainly wouldn't get ahead of the conversations about the budget. We haven't had a final document, and I think it would be ridiculous to comment on a draft version of something at this point.

MARGARET TALEV: Would you loosely address the idea that he's contemplating a substantial cut to that office, and to move that sort of work outside of that office?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to comment on ongoing discussions. Again, there's not a final document. When there is, we'd certainly be happy to discuss that. I think the bigger point here is the president has made very clear that the opioid epidemic in this country is a huge priority for him, something he is certainly very focused on tackling, and something that I think was ignored by the previous administration that won't go ignored in this one.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Margaret Talev asking a question of Sarah Huckabee Sanders regarding the leaked memo from the Office of National Drug Control Policy that indicates that the ONDCP, the drug czar's office, may be for the chop.

Again, another trial balloon. We don't know what all is going to happen. And what's important is, it's not like the drug war is centered in the drug czar's office. That's a mouthpiece, but the real work still gets done by the Justice Department, and Health and Human Services on the other side, on that soft, or demand reduction, side, the one that really works. The criminal justice stuff, that's still headed up by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, and his extremely backward views on drug policy are already wellknown by listeners to the Century Of Lies, we've played plenty of his stuff in the past.

As more news comes out, we'll be reporting it. In the meantime, the one thing we do know: Congressman Tom Marino will not become our next drug czar, and the drug czar's office is going to be fighting for its continued existence. Expect to see a lot of Democrats coming forward to talk about how wonderful the drug czar's office is, expect to see Republicans sitting back and just letting the other side do their work for them, as they continue mounting a drug war.

While we have time, let's hear from one of our old friends, Sanho Tree. Sanho gave the keynote address at the close of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference this year in Portland, Oregon. His address dealt with the dictator of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. So, let's hear a little bit of what Sanho had to say.

SANHO TREE: All right, and you know the way Donald Trump tweets stuff, that he probably shouldn't tweet? Duterte says these things on camera over and over again, including just -- admissions that boggle the mind. For instance, he admitted recently that he had been taking fentanyl, and using it, and abusing it. Fentanyl. Right? Which is, you know, many times more powerful than heroin or morphine, and he's been using this at a high dose because he has chronic pain and other health issues, his doctor prescribed one quarter of a patch. Right?

And he's been -- then he told his doctor, well I told him I was taking the whole patch. Quadruple the dose, and his doctor said this is abuse levels. You have to stop. And he said this, all of this in front of cameras, in a press conference, not realizing the irony that he was putting people to death for using methamphetamine, shabu it's called in the Philippines. And that's the primary drug we're talking about here, while he himself has been under the influence of very high doses of fentanyl.

But, and this is the same person that Donald Trump congratulated, the first people, first international leaders he called in December, before he even was inaugurated, Donald Trump called Duterte and congratulated, and they talked to each other, and he congratulated Duterte on his drug war, he said you're doing it the right way.

So, I'm not very hopeful in terms of getting US policy to put pressure on the Philippines, and there are limitations to what we can do, because the Philippines is also making a strategic pivot towards China and away from the US. But, at the same time, there are other issues at play, so that there's a Trump Tower in Manila. Of course there is. And, so, one of the first things Duterte, President Duterte does, is appoint the developer of Trump Tower of Manila to be his special representative to the United States. Talk about cashing in on business connections, right?

And so, it's more important than ever to really pressure the State Department to take on -- take a more firm position on these things, even though the State Department is relegated to, you know, it's been marginalized under Secretary Tillerson. But, what we have in the Philippines is a combination of two vicious forces. One is the long term dehumanization of drug users, and the drug trade, that the winds of drug policy reform and of harm reduction have not blown through the Philippines. It's neither a source country or a transit country to the US, in terms of drugs, so there's not a whole lot of focus from the US on that, and from other countries as well.

And so you've had long term dehumanization of people who use drugs, as well as long term scapegoating, and so President Duterte basically projected a host of social ills and said, you know, these are the people who are responsible for this. Scapegoating -- do people know where the term scapegoating comes from? The Old Testament. They would literally, in the old days, they'd confess the sins of the village onto a goat, and chase the goat out of the village. Presto, your sins are cleansed. Right? That's where scapegoating comes from.

And when you've had that kind of dehumanization combined with vicious scapegoating, it's a formula for a classical pogrom. People know what pogroms are? It's not a term used much anymore, but in Czarist Russia, there were many pogroms against Jews, and it was a vicious way to dehumanize and to attack and to marginalize and to drive people out and to steal and to kill, and to do horrible things, and one of the things that made it possible was vicious propaganda.

So the Czar's secret police wrote a famous pamphlet, full of lies, of course, called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Right? Which is one of the most anti-Semitic texts ever written. And it became used during, you know, during Hitler, and others have used it since. But, we have Duterte now, issuing those kinds of lies at the presidential level. It matters what a president says, what a head of state says, whether it's Trump or Duterte, and when Duterte says well, if you use shabu or meth for more than six months your brain shrinks to the size of a walnut and there's no saving you, you have to be killed, there's no point in salvaging you, and, you know, this is the kind of dehuman -- that's what dehumanization allows.

But, it's also a form of, this kind of scapegoating that I think Craig Reinerman, Professor Reinerman from Santa Cruz, UC Santa Cruz, one of the great drug war sociologists, he had a lovely quote, and I don't like to read long passages but this is -- this one is really just so succinct. He said, "Drugs are richly functional scapegoats. They provide elites with figleaves to place over the unsightly social ills that are endemic to the social system over which they preside. They provide the public with a restricted aperture of attribution in which only the chemical boogeyman or lone deviant come into view, and the social causes of a cornucopia of complex problems are out of the picture."

This is what the drug war's -- is played out, this is how it's being played out in the Philippines. And Duterte also lies about, he makes facts up, much like our own president. But, the Philippine DEA estimates there are 1.8 million drug abusers in the Philippines, however they define it. Duterte magically picks a number out of the air, and he boosts it up to four million. And he's got a six year presidential term, which he's only just started, and he has vowed that he is not going to stop until the day he steps down.

And so, it got so bad that -- there was a vicious murder of a South Korean businessman recently by the Philippines narcotics police, who had used -- this is, these are the elite police. They used a fake drugs search warrant to raid his business, they kidnapped this South Korean businessman, they took him back to the national police headquarters, their inner sanctum, where he, you know, no one's supposed to be able to get at him. And then they suffocated him, they strangled him, they killed him.

Two weeks later, and then they issue ransom note to the family, demanding payment. And the family paid without proof of life. They were finally exposed. This caused such a scandal in the Philippines, it dented Duterte's popularity for a while, he's still quite popular. But he, and that kind of atrocity, forced him to call off the police for a while, and say, we have to figure out what's going on here, and we're going to suspend police operations. He brings in military and the Philippines DEA to come in and fill in in the drug war while the police are sidelined.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Sanho Tree, director of the drug policy project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. Sanho was speaking at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference in Portland, Oregon, recently, on the Philippine dictator Rodrigo Duterte. #BoycottThePhilippines #DumpDuterte

And well, that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programming is also available via podcast, the URLs to subcribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.