A 2015 UNODC report suggests that the global opium poppy cultivation in 2014 reached the highest level since the 1930s — mainly attributable to the fact that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan itself reached historically high levels. There were some 224,000 hectares (about 864 square miles) under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan last year.
As further reported by the UNODC, a large portion of these drugs finds their way through the international market from a number of trafficking routes, with the prominent ones running over Iranian soil. This growing threat cannot be overlooked, and Iran’s blocking and interdiction role can no longer be underestimated.
“For well over two decades, Iran has played a critical role in interdicting illicit Afghan opium, heroin and morphine base from traversing its territory and entering Europe via Turkey and the Balkan Route,” Gary Lewis, the UN resident coordinator in Iran, told Al-Monitor.
Prior to his current position, Lewis worked for 20 years with UNODC in several African and Asian countries, among them Pakistan and Iran where he worked closely with law enforcement authorities in border regions. He told Al-Monitor, “The role of Iranian law enforcement in the fight against trafficking has been under-recognized for many years for certain reasons, but this needs to change.”
“Although Iran is currently cooperating with Pakistan and Afghanistan through the so-called Triangular Initiative linking the three countries, a broader level of international cooperation with drug law enforcement agencies — in a new spirit of mutual cooperation — would be beneficial for drug control worldwide,” Lewis says.
UNODC already reports Iran as accounting for the largest proportion of opium (74% of the world total), heroin and morphine base (25% of the world total) seizures.