The audacious terror attack on the Pathankot Air Force Base has brought back focus on India’s two deadliest enemies ever – Terrorism and Narcotics – or it may rather be called ‘Narco Terrorism’. Punjab’s entire generation bore the brunt of terrorism in the 1980s and the early 1990s. Once again the people living in the border areas of the State are face to face with the narco terror, slowly but surely putting the lives of millions of people at risk.
Former Punjab DGP (Prisons) Shashi Kant told Millennium Post that the Pathankot Air Force Base attack was not just another usual terror strike but it is a glimpse of ‘narcoterrorism’ – courtesy – Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and International Drug Mafias operating with well established syndicate stretching from Afghanistan via Pakistan to India. He further said that Punjab has a long history of smuggling syndicates. It all started in the early 1960s when gold was smuggled from across the border into India. In late 1970s, with the rise of militancy in Punjab, drug trade was taken over by the descendants of old gold smugglers.
According to Sharma ‘Narcoterrorism’ is not a new phenomenon. It is old and, obviously, a worldwide phenomenon. It started as an organised cross border crime and now it has emerged as a serious threat to our nation because of its diabolic alliance with terrorist groups. In last three decades India has become a transit hub as well as a destination for heroin and hashish produced in Asia, in the areas falling within the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle.
Trafficking of heroin and its derivatives, as it exists today, has two major opium producing areas, the ‘Golden Triangle’ consisting of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and surrounding areas on the North Eastern side of India and the ‘Golden Crescent’ on other side which consists of Iran, Afghanistan and North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and surrounding areas. The generic names, ‘Crescent’ and the ‘Triangle’ denote the general shape of the concerned opium producing area.
The ultimate destinations of major part of smuggled drugs are United States, Europe and Australia. Traditionally, the ‘Crescent’ has been a poppy cultivation area that saw a boom in the opium production during the years 1979-1989. These years, also known as the Soviet Period witnessed a rise in the ‘Mujahidin’ movement with the tacit help of the United States and its allies to seek the ouster of Soviets from the area.
Punjab’s geography makes it highly vulnerable and it is being used as a conduit for transporting terrorists and narcotics substances including improvised explosives to the trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir. After militancy, Punjab is now confronting the biggest ever danger of drug trafficking in the region. The proliferation of drugs in Punjab can be seen as a part of the twin strategy of the ISI of Pakistan to reactivate Punjab militancy and generate black money to sustain its terrorist activities in India.
However, the roots of widespread drug trafficking in India can be traced to the US invasion of Afghanistan and their ineffective attempts to curb the opium menace which resulted in growing opium trade through Pakistan and India. Currently, Afghanistan is the world’s largest opium producer with its southern region Helmand alone accounting for 46 per cent of total drug production. What is even more alarming in all is the fact that the Golden Crescent, which produces the world’s largest opium, has established India as their base to smuggle high-end synthetic drugs to western black markets.
Sharma explained as to how Punjab fits into the world’s deadliest trafficking net which is being allegedly carried out by the different intelligence agencies all across the world. “Traditional routes of drug smuggling through Balkans, into erstwhile USSR, now new countries there from like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan besides Iran, Turkey and Pakistan still continue. Mid 1980s, witnessed the opening of a new route that is through Indian Punjab after the long-established Balkan route was compromised during the Iran-Iraq war. This route was the brain-child of the ISI which needed huge amounts of money for their nefarious design, and they succeeded to some extent as petty smugglers from both India and Pakistan had been working as ‘double agents’ for their respective intelligence agencies,” Sharma further said. It has been established that drug trade whether legal or illegal wields the key to power and has been even part of foreign policy of many intelligence.
In Afghanistan opium trade is known to have the patronage of a section of Mujahidin, regional warlords and high Afghan army and civil officials. There were allegations that the CIA was still actively involved in drug trafficking because of its requirement of huge amounts of money for their clandestine operations all over the world. There are several books and writings to this effect, notable book of Alfred McCoy - The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade”, Peter Dale Scott book – Drugs, Oil, and War.”
Traditionally, the ‘Crescent’ has been a poppy cultivation area and opium was being used both as an addiction as also a medicine. The area however, saw a boom in the opium production during the years 1979-1989. These years, also known as the Soviet Period witnessed a rise in the ‘Mujahidin’ movement with the tacit help of the United States and its allies to seek the ouster of Soviets from the area. Afghan warlords and regional commanders used the opportunity to drastically promote opium production so that with opium and its drug money, they could purchase more and more arms and declare their suzerainty. With the withdrawal of Soviets in 1989, various Mujahidin factions started fighting within themselves in their bid to capture as much areas as each of them could. In view of the withdrawal of the Soviet army, USA and allies also cut down their help to Mujahidin and the latter resorted to poppy growing and opium trade in their respective area to purchase arms and weapons.
Dr Pushpita Das, Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, explained that drug smuggling can not be possible without the active support on Indian side. “Trends and patterns of drug trafficking in the country demonstrate that there is a gradual shift from traditional/natural drugs towards synthetic drugs that are being trafficked. Given the vulnerability of the borders to drug trafficking, India will now have to give it top priority as it does not end with drug smuggling, it may go beyond.”
She further said that the nexus between drug traffickers, organised criminal networks and terrorists has created a force powerful enough to cause instability in the country. “Money generated through drug trade has been used to fund various insurgent and terrorist movements. For instance, it has been estimated that money generated from the illegal sale of narcotics accounted for 15 per cent of the finances of militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, Sikh militant groups in Punjab and Northeast insurgent groups like the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) [NSCN (IM)] are known to channellise drugs into India to finance their operations,” Dr Das further added.
Speaking on the return of Narco terrorism, Dr Das said: “Criminal syndicates engaged in drug trafficking like the Dawood Ibrahim gang have themselves resorted to terrorist acts post 1993 terrorist attacks in Mumbai or have become deeply engaged in the business/logistics end of terrorism.”
According to her the drug trafficking facilitates other organised criminal enterprises such as human trafficking and gun running, all of which use the same networks and routes to smuggle people, arms and contraband. To cite an example, the explosives used in the 1993 Mumbai terrorist attacks were smuggled into India using the same routes through which drugs and other contraband items were trafficked by the Dawood gang. Even today, terrorist groups use these routes to source weapons and explosives across the borders.
Dr Das, who has done her research on drug trafficking in India, holds both Central and State government responsible for not giving any priority to this social threat and said: “It appears that Central and state governments are not serious about this problem as their is no sense of urgency to deal with it. The Central government, it appears, thinks that this is only a State related issue which may turn out to be a great lapse on the part of central intelligence agencies.”
After Pathankot strike, Intelligence experts are of the view that the government itself is not aware of the magnitude of the drug trafficking in Punjab and it is likely to go beyond as it is highly capable of intensifying narco-terrorism to fuel the terror matrix. “The government is taking drug trafficking and terrorism as separate issues. In fact, both of them are correlated to each other. It is high time for the government to wake up to the reality and crackdown on all the drug smugglers operating in different capacities at the border in order to minimize the terror threats,” said Dr Das.