"For 200 years in Pakistan, 333 government-supported centers sold opium freely," says the Begum Shafiq Zia-ul-Haq, wife of the president of Pakistan.
"For most of those years, the opium users were functioning members of society," she says. "The poppies were a traditional crop, grown on certain land, which would only produce poppies.
"A few years ago, the production of opium reached 800 tons. In 1979, my husband outlawed these centers, in accordance with Islamic principles," Zia says, speaking in Urdu, with Shahida Azim, the ambassador's wife, as translator.
Now the production of opium has been reduced to only 45 tons, with financial help from the United States and other countries to aid in economic subsidies to the farmers and to help them find substitute crops. But Zia says the problem is not solved.
"Westerners set up laboratories to process the opium into heroin, which is far more lethal than opium," she says. "Since 1981 the virus of the addiction spread among our young people. Though we have been able to destroy most of the laboratories, we have 150,000 heroin addicts in a population of 90 million. Opium comes in from other countries -- the major source is Afghanistan. The cost is 100,000 times cheaper in Pakistan than on the street in the United States."
Zia wore gold bracelets that covered her wrists, and a sheer purple scarf, a modernized version of the traditional Moslem veil. Their 12-year-old daughter is still at home, but two daughters and two sons are grown and away from home, in Germany and New York.
The Zias don't live in the Aiwan-I-Sadar, the official residence, built for entertaining, with its staff of 16 gardeners, six cooks and 25 cleaners. They live in a house, "not special, not a palace, a simple house. My husband does not want to be different from the way the people live. Our 100-year-old house was built by the British for the commander in chief. It does have beautiful gardens." At home, Zia makes do with two cooks, four waiters and four other helpers.