Punjab attacks: Link between the old war on drugs & new war on terror

For almost three decades Punjab's drug problem was allowed to fester like a forgotten wound that refused to heal. Forgotten is perhaps not the right word. Ignored is. A slew of security agencies have failed to effectively plug that bleeding scratch called the Radcliffe Line between the two Punjabs. Everything has leaked from this 553-km stretch even after it was closed off with an electric fence in the 1980s. Immediately after Independence, gold was smuggled from here and then came guns, and narcotics came during the turbulent late-1980s. 

It is only after jihadis started bypassing their favourite hunting ground in Jammu and Kashmir and attacking strategic defence installations like the Pathankot airbase in Punjab in the past few months that there is now at least a discussion on the need to plug the drug supply lines along Punjab's border. 
Just last week Punjab Police arrested a BSF man in Tarn Taran district for allegedly helping cross-border smugglers sneak in heroin and ammunition from the other side of the fence. While guarding the frontier, Havildar Prem Singh, 29, would divert the attention of his colleagues by allegedly engaging them in chit-chat and enable the smugglers to deliver their package. 
What really alarmed senior officials was that Singh had been posted in several other sensitive border areas such as Assam and Kashmir. His arrest — along with another BSF jawan Anil Kumar in Rajasthan a few days earlier — ripped open the cosy nexus between corrupt border patrolmen and trans-border criminals, raising extremely disturbing questions of national security and underlining the urgency to clamp down on 'narco-terrorism'. 

Many experts feel that if India truly wants to squeeze out the drug supply from across the border and with it the flow of terrorists, it will have to look at the problem not only from a national perspective but also an international one. 

India is in the neighbourhood of the world's biggest heroin manufacturing factory. Afghanistan meets more than 80% of the world's heroin needs. Its southern province of Helmand that shares a border with Pakistan, has maximum area under opium cultivation, making it easy to pump opiates into Pakistan and from there into the rest of the world. Besides, there are riverine stretches along India's Punjab border that are very difficult to police or fence. BSF officials say the combined length of these stretches is between 80 and 90 km. 

The report, 'Afghanistan Opium Survey 2015', by Afghanistan Ministry of CounterNarcotics and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) put opium production in 2015 at 3,300 tons, a drop of 48% from the 2014 level of 6,400 tons. But 3,300 tons is still enough to feed a substantial number of opiate addicts across the globe. The report estimates that about 180 tons of export quality heroin was potentially sent out of Afghanistan in 2015. Police officers tracking the Afghan produce for a while say that inferior heroin is exported in much larger quantities. 

Only a small portion of that heroin is believed to be pushed into Indian Punjab. But you need a well-oiled network of smugglers for the pushing to work. Experts point out that Pakistan's ISI is the big daddy of both the terrorists and the smugglers. Getting proteges to work together is child's play for the spymasters. 

"Traditional Afghan drug smuggling routes through Balkans, into erstwhile USSR, besides Iran, Turkey and Pakistan to reach Europe and the US, still continue," says former Punjab DGP (prisons) Shashi Kant, now an anti-drug crusader. "It was in the mid-1980s that a new route through Punjab was opened because ISI needed huge amounts of money for its designs, both against India and elsewhere. It did not encounter any problem as petty smugglers in India and Pakistan had been double agents for their respective intelligence agencies since Partition," Kant explains. 

Intelligence officials say that people living on both sides of the Radcliffe Line in Punjab have old ethnic and economic ties. "Besides, you need deep pockets to invest in smuggling which people in the two Punjabs had compared to border residents in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir," adds Kant. "ISI not only used these links but also diverted petty smugglers towards drugs, many of whom were out of work after stabilising  gold prices had killed smuggling in the precious metal." 

Senior police officials add that during the peak of the Khalistan movement in Punjab, the secessionist militants initially blocked the drugs trade. They attacked even liquor vends, let alone drug suppliers. But Kant and others say that some of them later turned a blind eye to the drugs flow in exchange for arms and ammunition from Pakistan. 

"The part of the fence near Pathankot from where the terrorists seem to have entered India is such that the Ravi river runs from India into Pakistan and back into India, and so on," says a senior Border Security Force (BSF) officer. "Plus, there are numerous streams which criss-cross the border. This network of nalas and rivers makes it impossible to police the stretch." 

When the rivers are in spate, the whole area gets flooded so fast that the fence is either submerged or gets swept away. Because of the speed of the water and the sedimentation, the rivers even keep changing their course. 

Top police sources say that currently about five dozen big and small Pakistani smugglers based in Lahore, Narowal, Sheikhupura and Kasur are actively engaged in smuggling drugs and fake currency through the Punjab border. In 2013, BSF had recovered 321 kg heroin from Punjab's border, the quantity reached 361 kg in 2014, and dropped to 344 kg in 2015. 

The thumb rule among security agencies is that seizures never make up more than 10% of what actually slips through. Such a large amount of narcotics can't pass without the involvement of at least some Indian defence personnel. 

"Even  Dawood Ibrahim was able to smuggle in RDX used in the 1993 Bombay blasts because the corrupt custom officers were under the impression that it was the usual consignment of silver bricks," says S Hussain Zaidi, author of several books on the underworld. 

Both the central and state governments must share the blame for this mess. Both have tackled widespread drug abuse in Punjab as a localised law-and-order problem, best handled by local police. There's been no concerted effort to stop the narcotics flow. Perhaps the one positive fallout of the Pathankot attack could be that Punjab's drug problem will now also be linked with national security.
Source http://m.economictimes.com/news/defence/punjab-attacks-link-between-the-old-war-on-drugs-new-war-on-terror/articleshow/50611645.cms


Popular posts from this blog

How a cyber attack hampered Hong Kong protesters

‘Not Hospital, Al-Shifa is Hamas Hideout & HQ in Gaza’: Israel Releases ‘Terrorists’ Confessions’ | Exclusive

Former FARC guerrilla, Colombian cop pose naked together to promote peace deal