Colonel B. S. Nagial (Retd.)
Narcotic trafficking, which started as an organised cross-border crime, has become a severe security threat for many countries worldwide due to its illicit relations with Terrorist organisations. The Golden Crescent is a major producer of opium. Opium farming in Afghanistan augmented by 32% over the previous year to 233,000 hectares, thus rendering the 2022 crop the third largest area under the ambit of opium farming since monitoring began. Opium prices have increased, resulting in the announcement of the cultivation ban in April 2022. Pakistan is the transport hub, with drug networks operating from the country using its drug routes to reach international markets. It is a serious threat to India because these drugs are the primary source for funding Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in this country. India is the only legitimate supplier of opium to the international pharmaceutical industry.
The Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier’s economy depends on the production of poppy and cannabis. The drug money is being floated unorganised but systematically into the Indian money market, thereby detrimental to financial institutions. Consequently, the illicit drug trafficking from Afghanistan and Pakistan threatens India’s polity and economy. This demands serious consideration from policymakers and law enforcement agencies before it gets too late for action.
Narco-terrorism denotes the connexion between narcotics and terrorism. As the roots of terrorism in India are generally beyond its borders, therefore it is imperative to look into the growing illicit narcotics trade in Pakistan, which funds terrorist activities conducted in India. Afghanistan and the NWFP of Pakistan are the principal manufacturers of opium worldwide, which encompasses enormous sums of money in the worldwide market. The Pakistani government and non-government organisations utilise the drug earnings to strike at the very foundations of India.
Funding terrorism is a costly affair. Money required for terrorist activities does not come through legal sources. It is channelised through illegal and unofficial means. Narcotic drugs are more expensive than other consumer products in the world market. It realises colossal amounts of money, and that too in hard cash.
The term narco-terrorism was first referred to in the US when drug contrabandists in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua and other Central American countries controlled the illegal trade as a profession and ran a corresponding government.
The organised crime network’s linkages with terrorism threaten India’s National Security because India’s proximity to the Golden Triangle makes her susceptible to the operation of narcotics and drug production. Recently, it has been observed that those who promote terrorism in India from across the border are using the proceeds of such drug sales to finance terror activities. Drones are being used for drug trafficking from across the border. Punjab has become a significant problem; many drugs enter the Attari border. The money generated through them finds its way into Kashmir for funding terrorism. There have been many seizures off the coast of Gujarat, and several arms and drug consignments have been seized in the island territory of Lakshwadeep. There seems to be an emerging nexus between the Afghanistan-Pakistan. The seriousness of this problem is so severe that it affects the maritime environment and threatens India’s coastal security and drug abuse, a social problem that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed in his Mann ki Baat.
A large number of the youth in India are into drug abuse. AIIMS, Delhi had, conducted a detailed survey in 2019 concerning drug abuse in the country. The study’s results revealed the extent of the problem in India, where 31 million users of cannabis, 23 million users of opioids and 11.9 million users of pharmaceutical sedatives are addicts. 2.06% of the population is affected, the average of which is far greater than in Asia and the world. It has adversely affected the State of Punjab, J&K and the Northeast Region of India.
It is a lucrative trade for drug traffickers but a death knell for society. An addict requires a 0.5-milligram dose per day, that is, 360 metric tons of opioids per year, for all the addicts in India, which is one metric ton per day. They cost 2-3 crores per kilogram, which is Rs. 1,45,000 crore of business annually. Against which the seizure was only 2.4 metric tons of heroin in 2019 which is hardly 7% of the whole. After the NCB and state police forces were sensitised to the results of this survey, seizures went up to 7.1 metric tons in 2021, which is 19.7%. It is only the tip of the iceberg, and much work towards enforcement is required urgently.
Drug trafficking is a borderless crime, and its extent makes it very difficult to control. There is also a new trend of using drones to drop off drugs across borders. The drug lords of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran work together to push heroin through the Arabian Sea. Acetic Anhydride manufactured in India is shipped illegally to Pakistan and Iran and used to make heroin. After the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and the subsequent strengthening of security along the border, it became tough for the drug traffickers in the northwest to smuggle drugs across the border, so they shifted to the maritime route. For the last four years, the NCB has worked closely with the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, whose coordination with the Coast Guards of Sri Lanka and Maldives resulted in many seizures at sea.
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) supports the drug lords in Pakistan, and the money generated through their activities is being used to fund terrorist activities in India. The Haji Saleem network uses terrorists in India to carry out their activities. Eight Indian assets of their network have been identified in a Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) investigation whose links go back to the ISI and other contacts in Sri Lanka and Australia.
The Kasargod network is another example worth mentioning. It is a vast network with contacts in Sri Lanka, Gulf and Pakistan. They traditionally produced Ganja and sold it in the rest of India and Sri Lanka. Gradually they moved into operating with other complex narcotics. Recently, their linkages within Lakshwadeep and Maldives have also been mapped out. They also previously worked with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The kingpin of this network, Mohsin K.P., is running the show from jail in Qatar.
Rebel-controlled Shan and Kachin provinces of Myanmar share their border with China. These rebels depend on China, and the Chinese chemical industry is very active in the regions across the border. Therefore, almost 90% of precursors are being supplied by the Chinese. This dynamic has significant implications for India’s internal security. They are using the money generated to fund insurgency in the northeast and left-wing extremism in India with the supply of weapons. The rebels of Shan and Kachin are thriving through this business with backing from the Chinese. This issue needs to be addressed with just as much tenacity as India takes care of the northwest border. More than 2,000 kilograms of heroin and meth were seized from Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, the most infamous variant being that of the Yaba tablets.
A new trend that has emerged during NCB’s investigation is that drug handlers from abroad are hiring local gangsters in India to carry out their activities. Drugs are being used to lure people to work for them. The NCB, National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the state police forces are all working in tandem to curb such instances. The druglords of Mexico are planning to set up a cocaine manufacturing facility in India because India is the largest manufacturer of Potassium Permanganate, which is used to treat the Coca paste for it become Cocaine.
Countering narco-terrorism in India requires a comprehensive and targeted approach. Here are some strategies that can be implemented to address the specific challenges of narco-terrorism in India:
- Strengthen Law Enforcement Agencies: Enhance the capacity and capabilities of law enforcement agencies, such as the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and state police forces, through training, resources, and equipment. This includes improving intelligence gathering, investigation techniques, and forensic capabilities to target narco-terrorism networks effectively.
- Intelligence Sharing and Cooperation: Establish robust mechanisms for sharing intelligence and information among various law enforcement and intelligence agencies at the national and state levels. Strengthen cooperation and coordination between agencies like the NCB, Intelligence Bureau (IB), and state police forces to identify and disrupt narco-terrorism networks.
- Border Security Measures: Enhance border security along India’s porous borders, especially in regions prone to drug trafficking and terrorist activities. This includes deploying modern surveillance technologies, increasing personnel, and strengthening cooperation with neighbouring countries to prevent the cross-border movement of drugs, weapons, and terrorists.
- Strengthen Legal Framework: Enact and enforce comprehensive legislation specifically targeting narco-terrorism, with stringent penalties for individuals involved in drug trafficking and terrorism. Provide legal provisions for asset seizure and forfeiture to disrupt the financial networks supporting narco-terrorism.
- International Cooperation: Collaborate with international partners, such as neighbouring countries, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Interpol, to enhance information sharing, intelligence cooperation, and joint operations against transnational narco-terrorism networks.
- Financial Investigations and Disruption: Strengthen financial investigation capabilities to track and disrupt the financial networks supporting narco-terrorism. Target money laundering activities, freeze and confiscate assets of individuals and organisations involved in drug trafficking and terrorism, and cooperate with international financial institutions to identify and track illicit financial flows.
- Public Awareness and Community Engagement: Conduct awareness campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of narco-terrorism and encourage their participation in reporting suspicious activities. Foster community engagement and cooperation by involving local communities in countering drug trafficking and terrorist activities through information sharing and community policing initiatives.
- Alternative Livelihood Programs: Implement sustainable development initiatives in drug-affected regions to provide alternative livelihood opportunities for communities involved in drug production. This can help reduce their dependency on drug trafficking and make them less vulnerable to terrorist recruitment.
- Technological Solutions: Leverage advanced technologies, such as data analytics, artificial intelligence, and surveillance systems, to identify patterns, trends, and networks associated with narco-terrorism. Use technology for monitoring and interdicting drug shipments and identifying key individuals involved in drug trafficking and terrorism.
- Strengthen International Aid and Cooperation: Seek international aid and assistance, both financial and technical, to enhance India’s capacity to counter narco-terrorism. Collaborate with international organisations and donor countries to support training programs, capacity-building initiatives, and technical assistance.
It is essential to adapt these strategies to the specific regional dynamics and challenges faced by different states within India. Close cooperation among law enforcement agencies, intelligence services, and international partners is crucial to effectively counter narco-terrorism’s complex and evolving threat.
Drug trafficking is not a standalone problem, but it is linked with terrorism, arms, ammunition and human trafficking. Primarily darknet is used for such trafficking. Wildlife and antique trafficking are also entangled with drug trafficking. Surprisingly, there has been an alarming rise in youth indulging in such activities and a reduction in the gender gap. The hard drugs market established in the West is emerging as a significant source of narco-terrorism. While new and emerging technologies are being used to curb drug trafficking, drug traffickers use them to conduct business. Pakistan’s narco-terrorist designs against India are constantly evolving. This is a cause for concern.
*Views expressed in the article are solely of the Author