ISLAMABAD - The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) Tuesday informed a Senate panel that heroin and other narcotics in large quantity were frequently smuggled to the UK via PIA planes for the last many months.

The Senate penal was also informed that the ANF chief would soon visit the Heathrow Airport to exchange some important information with British authorities.

Two senior officers of the ANF told the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that the seizure of heroin from the PIA aircraft earlier this year was destined to be smuggled only to the UK and the smuggling was going on for the past some time.

“The ANF unearthed the smuggling racket from the Pakistani side and we have conveyed to the British authorities that the ground staffers at the London’s Heathrow Airport were also involved in this crime,” ANF Director Brig Basharat Malik told the committee that met under the chair of Senator Rehman Malik.

“We have held a meeting with the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and shared some important information with them but after the visit of the ANF’s director general to Heathrow, the racket from the British side would be unearthed,” he claimed.

The ANF officer said that the racket from the Pakistani side involved an Afghan national, two Pakistanis, the serving and retired officials of the Pakistan International Airlines, a retired official of Airport Security Forces (ASF).

“A total of 14 accused have been arrested while two are on the run,” he said, adding that the ground staff at the Heathrow Airport involved in the smuggling was also apparently of Afghan origin but their final identity could be ascertained after a second meeting with the UK authorities. The officer said that Pervaiz Messiah, an employee of the state owned airlines’ sanitary staff, was the main coordinator of this gang who made all arrangements for the placement of heroin bags inside the planes. “The employees of the airline’s IT department were also found involved,” he said.

The penal was told that a committee under the chair of Secretary Aviation Division was scrutinising the working of all departments, around 32 in number, working at Pakistan’s airports to identify loopholes as well as issues of lack of coordination to check the smuggling. The answer came after a lawmaker questioned that which agency or the department was responsible for checking the smuggling at the airports as a number of departments used to work there.

The ANF officer said that the force was only responsible for narcotics smuggling but there should be a strict mechanism of surveillance as well as scanning as explosives and weapons could also be summoned in the presence of weak arrangements.

Brig Basharat said that the ANF first seized 15kg of heroin from a PIA plane parked at the hanger of the Karachi airport on April 3, 2017, before the seizure of 11kg heroin from a PIA plane at Heathrow Airport on May 15 this year. Then, a 14kg of heroin was seized on May 23 at the Islamabad airport followed by a 2.4kg of heroin on May 31 from another plane. “We had an intelligence of this smuggling pattern and had started a covert operation even before the seizure of narcotic in London.”

Senator Javed Abbasi asked for the mechanism of clearance of planes before the takeoff. The ANF officials said that the force lacked modern technology and gadgets for scanning at the airports and had already placed a demand to the government. They said the force had no GSM locator, has a staff of around 3,200 against a demand of 10,000. They, however, said that a complete curbing of narcotics smuggling was difficult and quoted an example that narcotics from a plane of British Airways had also been seized in the past despite the high precautionary measures adopted by the developed countries.

Brig Basharat also said that the PIA was responsible for the security of planes parked at hangers. Committee Chairman Malik directed the department concerned for the installation of CCTV cameras at the hangers of all airports. He also directed the Secretary Narcotics Control and ANF to submit their requirements, both manpower and financial needs, to the committee so that these could be demanded from the government.

The ANF officer said that there was a need to amend the anti-narcotic law as the present law only awarded punishment to those who possess narcotics and not to those who were planners or coordinators.

Senator Muhammad Saif pointing towards the weak security arrangements at the airports remarked that he used to visit the airport regularly with a weapon in his possession but no one ever stopped him.

The acting Secretary Narcotics Control Division said that a survey report of the UNODC, released in 2013, pointed out 6.7 million narcotics or drug users in Pakistan though many categories of the drug users were not part of this report. “So we have a fresh survey of drug users in the country,” he added.

Director FIA Mazhar Kakakhel gave a briefing to the committee about the ongoing forensic audit of the housing societies throughout the country on the directions of the Supreme Court. Though a complete data is being collected, the record received by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) shows that there are total 4,793 housing societies in the country, the FIA director said in his presentation to the committee. Out of these, 561 are cooperative housing societies, 1,914 are registered with the SECP and 2,318 are others while 43 are located in Islamabad, the presentation said.

Kakakhel said that the forensic audit of 88 housing societies has been started. Besides that, the FIA has conducted 52 inquiries against housing societies and 14 FIRs have been registered, he said, He deplored that the SECP had no record of the land of those societies registered with it.

Senator Abbasi viewed that corruption of worth billions of rupees was committed in the affairs of the private housing societies and asked the FIA to see the report compiled by his committee in this regard.

The chairman said that the committee would get a detailed briefing about the housing societies and the other issues on the agenda related to the Ministry of Interior after Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal would make sure his presence in the next meeting.

Senator Shibli Faraz came down hard on SSP Islamabad Police Sajid Kayani and shouted at him what he said the police failed to trace at least two incidents of theft at the residence of his late father—famous poet Ahmed Faraz. He later walked out from the meeting when the SSP said that the senator’s brother was a complainant in one of the cases.