In recent years there has been a phenomenal increase in the amount narcotics trafficked and consumed in India.
What was once a largely metropolitan habit is rapidly catching up in India’s tier two cities. In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), a pre-existing chronic drug abuse problem has now taken on epidemic proportions, with increasing heroin use. Heroin use and trafficking have serious consequences for terrorism at J&K.
Narco-terrorism is not a new phenomenon. It is a known fact that the Pakistani elements have always provided the separatists with funds from drug trafficking. The former prime minister has admitted that Pakistan’s security establishment was selling heroin to pay for the country’s covert military operations. Nawaz Sharif in a 1994 interview with the Washington To post.
Until now, this pattern was isolated in parts of the northeast and Punjab. Recent encounters and searches by security forces at J&K revealed large shipments of narcotics with militants. The model has undergone a change, however, and the heroine is now sent directly through the Line of Control. On February 7, the Border Security Force (BSF) killed three Pakistani militants who were transporting 36 kg of heroin worth over Rs 180 crore to the international market, as well as arms and ammunition in Samba district.
This is the fourth bid of this type foiled by BSF this year. Around the same time, J&K police arrested two activists with contraband worth Rs 18 crore in Baramulla district in North Kashmir.
Pointing to the threat of drugs at J&K, Chief Police Officer Dilbag Singh recently said this is a new and deadlier challenge as narcotics will provide oxygen to terrorism . In an earlier statement, he said that Pakistan ‘repeats same dirty game they played in PunjabFfirst by giving weapons training and later by indulging young people with drugs.
Careful investigation into suspicious payments like those made by the J&K Affectees Relief Trust (JKART), a front organization set up by Hizbul Mujahideen, which transferred Rs 80 crores via hawala for many years to finance terrorist activities in the state, has made hawala transactions if not impractical but more demanding.
Law enforcement agencies in Kashmir are unanimous in their conclusion that for the purpose of financing terrorism, Pakistan-based terrorist groups are now resorting to sending narcotics to the region. A kilogram of heroin originating in Afghanistan, passing through Pakistan costs around Rs 5 lakh in South Asia and fetches nearly Rs 5 crore in the international market.
Some of the drugs from Pakistan are sold in Kashmir and the rest are transported to other parts of India. A review of heroin seizures in what were mainly operations against militants leaves little doubt that narco-terrorism is now an established practice in Kashmir. In 2020, nearly 36.08 kg of pure heroin was recovered from different parts of the valley.
Until 2021, the size of shipments has increased significantly. In April 2021, within a week, security forces recovered two shipments of heroin worth approximately Rs 50 crore each, while foiling offers of infiltration along the Kupwara sector.
In October 2021, the army recovered approximately 30 kg of drugs in the Uri sector, specifically in the Baramulla district. The bags containing the contraband bore Pakistani markings. Heroin seized in Handwara in June 2020 was found to be linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) funding. The composite seizures of drugs and weapons by security forces at J&K indicate a well-established link between drug traffickers and activists.
The 3,000 kg batch of heroin is worth Rs 21,000 crore captured in Mundra port of Gujarat in September 2021, shocked the security establishment. This type of narcotics push is not possible without Pakistan’s systematic state support for drug syndicates.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, there has been a 37% increase in illicit trafficking opium cultivation and narcotics prices have tripled. Despite this, in South Kashmir, the drugs are sold in bulk and at low prices to attract peddlers, allowing them to earn more than the Pakistani entities bringing the substance.
Pulwama and Shopian are at the epicenters of Kashmir’s narco-terrorist racketeering. Along with Srinagar, these areas have relatively higher income than the rest of Kashmir and are easier to target by hawkers.
There is evidence that the persistent conflict situation has had an impact on the psychological health of many Kashmiris. A study found that almost 45% of Kashmir’s adult population (1.8 million) suffers from some form of mental distress.
Psychological issues often go unnoticed and do not feature in post-conflict reconstruction efforts. Symptoms of depression begin to manifest in increasing drug use as a means of coping with mental health issues. In December 2021, Bigger Cashmere report that nearly 80% of drug addicts actually use heroin through needles. “It is one of the most expensive drugs and devastates not only the abuser, but their family and the whole social fabric,” says Dr. Yasir Hussain Rather, who runs the drug rehabilitation center at SMHS Hospital.
Frequent curfews after the reading of Section 370 and subsequent COVID-19 induced lockdowns have combined to create a threatening situation of drug addiction in the state which is being exploited to excess by narcotics traffickers. Since the shutdown of trade through the LoC in 2019, narco-trafficking has become the preferred means of financing terrorism and unrest in Kashmir. Narco-terrorism has presumably flourished in the Kashmir Valley because Pakistani-backed terrorists have an existing network of ground workers in border areas who act as smugglers of arms/ammunition and counterfeit Indian currency .
India’s borders have always been vulnerable to narcotics for transshipment. Growing domestic consumption and easy access to narcotics expose Kashmir’s youth to a dangerous mix of drug addiction and violent extremism. Along with the fight against terrorism, J&K also needs a viable anti-drug policy, which is not overpowered by the former. The cost of narco-terrorism can be very high if it is not tackled from a security angle, at the societal level.
Vaishali Basu Sharma is an analyst in strategic and economic affairs. She worked as a consultant to the National Security Council Secretariat for nearly a decade.