Sun Tzu’s famous words “The nature of war is constant change” looks like a premonition of today’s world, engulfed in multiple types of war. Indian security forces are engaged in their primary mission of ensuring national security from external aggression. However, with emerging new challenges from, terrorism, drug trafficking, gun running, ethnic conflicts, large-scale migration, and environmental degradation, infringing national security  has expanded the combat role of the security forces.
One such threat to our internal security is the menace of drug trafficking. The growing instances of drug trafficking in India were highlighted in the 2018 annual report by the United Nations-backed International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)[ii]. According to the report, India is one of the major hubs for illicit drug trade. Though drug abuse prevails across India, regions in the northwest and northeast have rampant linkages with the global narcotics industry. India’s strategic location places it amid two largest sources of illicit drugs in South Asia- Golden Crescent (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran) on the northwest and the infamous Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos) on the northeast. This article will focus on the key challenges to India’s security concerns with respect to the Golden Triangle.
The notorious Golden Triangle represents the region coinciding with the rural mountains of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. It is Southeast Asia’s main opium-producing region and one of the oldest narcotics supply routes to Europe and North America. With a 1643 km long border with Myanmar, India has been at risk for the longest time, even before the emergence of Golden Crescent.
States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland share their border with Myanmar. Drugs including opium, heroin, methamphetamine and many more are smuggled from Myanmar into the northeast. Also, drugs illicitly cultivated in India travel through the same route for trade. Drugs produced in the ‘Golden Triangle’ enter India through Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland from Bhamo, Lashio, and Mandalay in Myanmar. The route bifurcates and one channel moves northwards through Moreh in Manipur while other moves southwards to enter Champai in Mizoram. Moreh (Manipur), Champai (Mizoram), Dimapur (Nagaland), and Guwahati (Assam) have become the nucleus of drug trafficking industry in India’s northeast[iii].
Challenges in the Northeast
Indo-Myanmar border is guarded by the Assam Rifles (AR), a paramilitary force, under the operational control of Indian Army’s Eastern Command. The border encounters non-conventional security challenges as it provides a secure channel for the movement of insurgents, narcotics trafficking, gunrunning, smuggling of wildlife etc. This is because criminal gangs operate by studying the movement of security forces. Due to strong ethnic unity, strong sense of regionalism, and tribal loyalties[iv] many sympathisers of these criminals on the Indian side provide them information about security arrangements in the area.
The rough terrain poses a huge challenge to the security agencies as the region consists of high mountains in the north and hills and river channels in the south along with dense tropical rainforests[v]. There is a lack of basic connectivity, roads and railway tracks get damaged due to natural disasters, parts of Patkai Range are inaccessible for the forces. These issues hamper their movement and limit their ability to rapidly respond to attempts made by criminals.
India-Myanmar share friendly relations and are not involved in any border dispute. Therefore, there is no strict fencing of this stretch. Moreover, as part of an understanding between the Indian and Burmese government, there exists a Free Movement Regime (FMR) between India and Myanmar, allowing free movement of Indians and Burmese within 16 km of the border without visa restrictions. Though people-to-people ties and socioeconomic relations have boosted, this framework is misused by insurgents and criminals. Indeed, the state police primarily responsible for maintenance of law and order has been sometimes found indulging in corruption. Corrupt officials do not act against criminals despite having intelligence inputs. Such porosity and lack of strict vigilance are exploited by criminal gangs to freely move across the border to smuggle drugs.
Moreover, poor state of education, unemployment, poverty, increasing spread of HIV/AIDS, ethnic conflicts are some of the issues faced here. Children are forcefully used as drug carriers in promise of better livelihood. These issues have seldom featured in policies of successive governments. Criminals use this vulnerability of local population and manipulate their minds into joining criminal ranks.
Such fragile situation along the India-Myanmar border jeopardizes the region into becoming a hub of drug trafficking, thus challenging our internal security.
India’s security concerns
Some of the major challenges for India’s internal security emerging from the drug corridor of the Golden Triangle are highlighted below-:
- First, this drug corridor is an easy source of income for insurgents who collaborate with criminal gangs to smuggle drugs across the border. Traffickers are better accustomed to the terrain of this region; hence, they easily escape the radar of security forces. Also, the terra nullius (no man’s land) between Moreh Ward No.4 in Manipur and Namphalong market of Myanmar has been a haven for drug traffickers[vi]. In the latest report by Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on seizures during the month of January 2019, around 2.790 kg tablets of WY/Yaba, 50,000 tablets of Amphetamine, 1,44,000 tablets of Amphetamine and 660 gram of Heroin, 6.160 kg tablet of WY were seized at different times. Origin of these drugs was traced to Myanmar[vii].
- Second, the region is near the Naxal affected areas who exploit the corridor for expanding their revenues and arms smuggling. Due to lack of infrastructural development, they illicitly grow opium and cannabis providing them ready money. Hence, areas affected by insurgency in the northeastern states and LWE are known to indulge in drug trafficking extensively[viii]. This is further substantiated by the Narcotics Control Bureau’s report[ix] showing that largest seizures of drugs like opium, heroin, and cannabis occurred in Red Corridor areas like Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, and Bihar.
- Third, illicit drug cultivation causes environmental damage in the form of river pollution[x]. Toxic chemical wastes generated are stealthily dumped into rivers flowing in the region. Pollution of rivers flowing between Myanmar and Northeast India like the Kaladan River will not only endanger the marine ecosystem but also cause health problems for the people living here.
- Fourth, the easy availability of drugs in Indian market is increasing drug abuse cases, particularly amongst the youth. According to a report by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, around 2.1% of Indians use opioids like opium, heroin, and non-medical sedatives. Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram have the highest prevalence of this opioid use[xi]. This is an alarming situation since human resource is a country’s asset and destroying it is a new way of inducing instability. Hence, growing drug abuse, especially by the youth, will render our demographic dividend useless.
Drug trafficking is a major transnational organised crime with the potential to undermine national security. India’s proximity to the Golden Triangle is being misused by criminals for their nefarious activities. The growing nexus between drug smugglers and terrorist groups is a growing concern. Such complex security concerns can be dealt with a comprehensive review of military and governance arrangements along with effective coordination between the centre, state and transnational governments in the region. Accordingly, we need a holistic national security policy that not only caters to military threats but also to the emerging non-conventional threats of today.
General V.P. Malik. The New Arthashastra: A Security Strategy For India. Gurmeet Kanwal. (India: Harper Collins Publishers, 2016). pp.10-12  United Nations, International Narcotics Control Board, Report 2018 (Vienna, 2019).  Pushpita Das, “Security Challenges and the Management of the India–Myanmar Border”, Strategic Analysis, 42, 6 (2018) pp.583-584. Available on the internet at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09700161.2018.1557932, accessed on June 14, 2019.  Lt Gen JS Bajwa, Maj Gen NG George, Brig Deepak Sinha, “Makeover of Rainbow Country: Border Security and Connecting the Northeast”, CLAWS, Manekshaw Paper No.62, KW Publishers, New Delhi, 2016, p.23.  Pushpita Das, “Security Challenges and the Management of the India–Myanmar Border”, Strategic Analysis, 42, 6 (2018) p. 581. Available on the internet at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09700161.2018.1557932, accessed on June 14, 2019.  IT News, “Civil Administration India and Myanmar No-Man Land at Indo-Myanmar border,” E-Pao, September 6, 2018. Available on the internet at http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=2..070918.sep18, accessed on June 12, 2019.  Ministry of Home Affairs, Narcotics Control Bureau, DRUG SITUATION REPORT/SIGNIFICANT EVENTS REPORT FOR INDIA FOR THE MONTH OF JANUARY 2019 (New Delhi, 2019). Available on the internet at  VK Ahluwalia, Red Revolution 2020 and Beyond: Strategic Challenges to Resolve Naxalism, (New Delhi: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013) p. 211  Ministry of Home Affairs, Narcotics Control Bureau, Annual Report 2017 (Delhi, 2017). Available on the internet at http://narcoticsindia.nic.in/upload/download/document_id17c3433fecc21b57000debdf7ad5c930.pdf  Saurish Ghosh, “Northeast India: The Region of Blood Money”, Jadavpur Journal of International Relations, 14, 1 (2010) p.209. Available on the internet at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0973598410110014 accessed on June 17, 2019.  Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019 (New Delhi, 2019). Available on the internet at http://socialjustice.nic.in/writereaddata/UploadFile/Magnitude_Substance_Use_India_REPORT.pdf