Two days before Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto leaves for a U.S. visit, her government handed over two alleged heroin kingpins to the United States and a court opened the way for more quick extraditions.
Haji Mirza Mohammed Iqbal Baig, once reputedly the head of Pakistan’s largest drug syndicate, and his lieutenant, Mohammed Anwar Khattak, were flown to the United States on Sunday night aboard an American aircraft, said officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, the capital. The two Pakistanis’ names appear in more than 100 U.S. narcotics cases.
“There is a lot of evidence that these guys are big-time heroin dealers. We’re happy to bring them to justice,” a U.S. drug official in Islamabad said.
In Washington, Justice Department officials said the men were due to arrive Monday night in Hawaii and will be flown to Travis Air Force Base in Northern California’s Solano County before being transferred to New York for arraignment.
Baig and Khattak are wanted on various federal charges, including conspiracy to smuggle heroin into the United States. They had already been convicted by a Pakistani court in the 1985 seizure of more than 17 tons of hashish in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
The drug dealers’ extradition, which the Clinton Administration had sought since 1993, is the latest of several tough-on-crime measures by Bhutto’s government that--by design or not--have especially pleased the United States.
On Feb. 7, Pakistani and U.S. agents joined forces in Islamabad to arrest Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing. He was flown to New York to stand trial.
Such actions will undoubtedly be cited by Bhutto, who leaves for the United States today, as proof of her determination to do her part in combatting the global narcotics trade and Islamic terrorism, two major U.S. security concerns.
Next Tuesday, Bhutto is scheduled to meet President Clinton at the White House. She has been seeking more U.S. help--including the lifting of a law that has barred most American aid to Pakistan since October, 1990, because of the Asian country’s nuclear weapons program.
Late last year, U.S. drug czar Lee P. Brown warned Bhutto that Pakistan could lose badly needed World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans unless the country, the world’s No. 3 opium producer, did more to stem narcotics production and trafficking.
U.S. drug officials have praised what has happened since. On March 23, more than 2,000 paramilitary troops staged an unprecedented drug raid in the remote, lawless Khyber region bordering Afghanistan. They seized 6.3 tons of highly refined heroin, as much as Pakistan normally confiscates in a year.
Baig and Khattak had been served notice earlier this year that they could be extradited to the United States. Pakistan’s law allows citizens in such a position to file a petition in court opposing extradition.
On Sunday, their petitions were rejected and they were quickly put on a plane for the United States.
Special correspondent Jennifer Griffin in Islamabad contributed to this report.