Narco terrorism in J&K: An emerging security threat

 By Priyanka Narula

Narco terrorism implies the nexus between drug syndicates and terrorists that facilitate and fund terrorist activities and influence government policies. Narco-terrorism received public notice for the first time when drug lords in Columbia started employing violent methods, such as the employment of car bombs, assassination and kidnappings against anti-drug police in Columbia.[1] Narco-terrorism at the nascent stage did not have any particular linkage or convergence with terrorism. Still, with the evolvement of the menace of drug terrorism, the nexus between drug lords and terrorist groups became quite apparent. The United State Agency (DEA) provide a coherent definition of narco-terrorism as “narco-terrorism may be characterised by the participation of groups or associated individuals in taxing, providing security for, or otherwise aiding or abetting drug trafficking endeavours to further, or fund, terrorist activities”. [2] The definition hints toward using narcotics by terrorist groups to evade counter-terrorism forces and finance their terror activities.

Pakistan and drugs: An unholy alliance 

ISI is another player in the narco-terror game in Pakistan. ISI holds a significant position in the decision-making apparatus in Pakistan and thus possesses the authority to collaborate and operate with any agency as is required. The alliance between the military and ISI became apparent when Robert Oakely, the US ambassador to Pakistan, urged Benazir Bhutto to investigate the BCCI’s botched actions. However, it turned out to be a fraud investigation as Mirza Iqbal Baig was let free despite the evidence of his involvement. The nexus between military, intelligence and drug syndicates was relatively new as the Pakistan government with the US facilitated the brewing of narcotics in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The US supported the drug trade to fund mujahids planted in Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union, whereas Pakistan provided logistical assistance for narco manufacturing. [3]

The narcotic drug trade is a lucrative business for drug lords and terrorists as it fetches enormous money in the international market. One kg of heroin reaching from Afghanistan to Pakistan makes one crore in South Asia same drugs cost five crores in the global market. Narco-terrorism for Pakistan is like killing two birds with one stone; it funds terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir and simultaneously mounts trouble for security forces in the state. As narco-terrorism requires an abundance of logistical and intelligence support, execution of the same is impossible without the collaboration of ISI and the Pakistani army. [4]

Narco-terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir

The drug trade in the past only covered Punjab and North Eastern states. Lately, Jammu and Kashmir have seen a steep rise in instances of narco-terrorism since 2021. Consumption of heroin in J&K and the upsurge in drug abuse cases have increased uneasiness among security forces as the smuggling of drugs is proportionally related to the terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan has frequently used drug terrorism as a weapon to create trouble in Pakistan-bordered states in India. Drug-addicted youth lose their cognitive ability and shackle themselves in the chain of narco-abuse. Cognitive impairment accelerates and provides impetus to radicalise Kashmiri youth, and Pakistan leaves no time to exploit the sad condition of narco addicts. According to a survey conducted by AIIMS, Six lakh Kashmiris are stuck in the menace of drug abuse and require urgent attention as the long-delayed intervention will ultimately trigger the situation in Pakistan’s favour. [5]

There have been several instances of narco seizure from militants in Kashmir. Lately, Pakistan seems to push narcotics, especially heroin, to Kashmir directly through the Line of Control. Pakistan has used the Covid situation to manipulate the youth of Kashmir by driving them into the quagmire of narco consumption.[6] Narco-trade helps both Pakistan and militants to fund terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir and enfeeble cognitive behaviour of the youth that would drive Kashmiris towards illicit activities. Pakistan has accelerated its attempts to push drugs in Jammu and Kashmir as the security forces have foiled n number of drug smuggling attempts in the state. According to a European report, eighty per cent of drugs came to J&K from Pakistan in 2019. [7] The narco-terrorism nexus of Pakistan became conspicuous when NIA busted the narco-terror module in Handwara during a routine checkup. At the initial stage, the security forces seized twenty lakh rupees with 2 kg heroine and later recovered the amount of ninety-one lakh. [8] NIA spokesperson revealed that ‘the arrested accused were part of a thriving drug nexus under which drug syndicates and overground workers purchase and sell drugs to generate funds for banned terror outfits like Lashkar-E-Taiyba and Hizb-ul-Mujahidin’. [9]

In his recent address to the Passing out parade, the Director General of Police, Dilbagh Singh, said that ‘Narco-militancy’ has emerged as a significant challenge in Jammu and Kashmir, an issue adequately being addressed by the security forces. According to him, Pakistan transports drugs and arms in Jammu and Kashmir using drones and tunnels. [10] Another senior official spoke on anonymity that militancy in Kashmir is “90 per cent financed by the narcotic trade”. [11]

Why is drug terrorism rising in J&K?

  1. Crackdown on terror funding- Separatists and terror groups in Kashmir employ various means to gather funds for separatist and terror activities. Some of these activities include buying and selling properties, narco trade business, and operating hawala rackets. Recently, security forces busted the modus operandi of separatist and terror groups as they would indulge in the buying and selling properties in J&K and use that money to fund terror activities. [12]

Also, Pakistan has been providing funds to Kashmiri terrorist outfits and madrasas in Kashmir to incite, misguide and radicalise the youth of Jammu and Kashmir. Since the abrogation of article 370, the security agencies have choked terrorist finances by either seizing or freezing the assets of separatists and terror outfits. [13]

  1. Covid 19-Covid-19 had an unprecedented impact on the socio-economic fabric of Jammu and Kashmir. Lockdown and unemployment might have forced people to consume drugs to escape the agony of unemployment and make money with ease. However, once they get entangled in the vicious web of narco-trade and drug addiction, it becomes strenuous to free themselves from the same.
  2. Disruption of hawala rackets- The hawala racket is one of the most infamous value transfer systems used predominantly by criminals and terror outfits to funnel money for illicit activities. Pakistan and UAE smuggle money through hawala to fund terrorist organisations, separatists, and Madaras who recruit young people and finance terrorism in J&K.  Under hawala system, money is smuggled in India through dormant companies and distributed among separatist organisations and terror groups to fund terror activities. To cut off the supply of illegal money there has been a considerable crackdown on the hawala racket to interrupt funding for narco-terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. [14]
  3. Increased drug production in Afghanistan- Afghanistan is one of the largest opium drug producers in the world. According to the data provided by the UNODC, drug production in Afghanistan rose by 38% in 2021. [15] Afghanistan transports illegal drugs via India to other international countries. [16]. Pakistan might be exploiting this route to fuel narco-terrorism in J&K.

Implications for the security of India

  1. Extremism among Kashmiri Muslim youth- A person who regularly consumes drugs loses cognitive functions and the ability to make rational choices. There have been several instances when a person started consumption of religious propaganda and extremist ideas after consuming drugs. As a person can’t differentiate between what is wrong and good for the person, he inevitably chooses the path of violence. [17] Consumption of extremist content ultimately pushes a person on the trajectory of religious violence. More drug abuser means more future extremists in the state and the country. Extremist violence will force youth to pick up arms and fight against the nation.
  2. Increase in the number of terror attacks- Accumulation of heavy terror funding leads to an increased number of terror attacks. Excessive funds bolster terror groups’s capability to inflict heavy damage on the civilians and security forces. Terror groups might use extensive terror funds to buy armaments and recruit more youth in terror groups to carry out terror activities in the state of J&K.

An emerging trend in Narco-terrorism 

Use of cryptocurrency- The heavy and effectual crackdown on the funding sources of terrorists by law enforcement forces and security forces drive terrorist to adopt substitute to gather funds for their illicit activities. The terror group bring cyberspace to their rescue to amass funds by staying anonymous and supporting their terror activities. Although there is no concrete proof to corroborate the use of cryptocurrency for narco-terrorism, various media houses highlight that terrorist groups have access to sources of digital money such as bitcoins for funding terror activities. [18]

Cryptocurrencies are extensively used for narco-trade business as it eliminates the requirement of a middle-man. Cyberspace space is a more lucrative and easy earning source for people involved in narco-business, as the absence of a middle-man generates much more funds and money.  Thus, there is a high possibility of the narco-terrorism trade shifting from public to cyberspace. [19]

The success of the crackdown on the narco-terror nexus

The security forces often seize massive amounts of drugs and funds gathered for funding terror activities in Kashmir. They have also been successful in foiling various narco-terror trades in the recent past. According to the Union minister, Amit Shah, the security forces seized 1.2 lakh kg of drugs from 2006-2013 and 3.3 lakh kg of narcotic substances from 2014-2021. Also, there has been a steep rise in the arrest of drug syndicates and registration of drug cases. The rate of arrests and registration of drug cases increased manifolds as the arrests increased to 260 per cent and the registration of drug cases increased by 200 per cent. [20]

Measures by government and security forces to mitigate the drug menace in J&K

  1. Operation Sadbhawna- Under Operation Sadbhawna, the Indian army has set up several de-addiction counselling centres for drug-addicted youth. Awareness camps are the second initiative under Operation Sdabahwna. [21] It is of significant importance to acquaint people against drug menace. To implement the same Indian Army time occasionally organise drug awareness camps to caution people against the use of drugs. Under this initiative, anti-narco experts apprise people of the harmful side effects of drugs, adverse impact on health and the suffering of the community and humanity because of drug consumption. [22]
  2. De-addiction policy- J&K will be the first union territory of India to introduce a Drug De-Addiction Policy to fight the drug menace in J&K. The administration will provide a better de-addiction structure for drug addicts under this policy. Also, there will be a timely review of anti-narco structure availability in the union territory. [23] According to an official, the de-addiction policy is a pressing priority as J&K is close to the ‘Golden Crescent’, illicit drug-producing countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Under this policy, the government has constituted UT Level Policy Implementation Monitoring Committee and Jammu and Kashmir Division Level De-addiction Centre Monitoring Committees. According to the official, the committees will assess the current de-addiction clinics and issue or revoke licences following a thorough review of the facilities’ infrastructure, staffing levels, and care standards. [24]

Some recommendations to curb narco-terrorism in J&K

  1. Improving and extending the jurisdiction of ED- To monitor terrorist activity and foil their goals, military intelligence is necessary. Economic intelligence is likewise required to identify their finance and funding sources. Narcotics trade, funding and transportation should be promptly tracked and stopped beforehand. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) enters the picture in this situation as it investigates money laundering and transgressions of foreign exchange regulations. Enforcement Directorate has the potential to cut the roots of the hawala network operated by Pakistan and the UAE.
  2. Anti-Drone Technology- Pakistan employs drones to transport narco-substances in J&K. Although LOC has an anti-drone facility still, many drones go undetected as the anti-drone structure is insufficient along the border. Another issue with the already existing anti-drone system is that due to insufficient availability they need to be constantly replaced from their original positions. Also, the technology is not up to the mark that doesn’t help in recognising or shooting down drones. It is a high time to accelerate the manufacturing of indigenous anti-drone systems with the assistance of DRDO and private players for adequate anti-drone technology on the LOC and International border of India-Pakistan. [25]

End notes

[1] Björnehed, Emma. n.d. “Narco-Terrorism: The Merger of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.” Global Crime 6 (3&4): 306.

[2] Björnehed, Emma. n.d. “Narco-Terrorism: The Merger of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.” Global Crime 6 (3&4): 306.

[3] Prabha, Kshitij. n.d. “Narco-Terrorism and India’s Security.” Strategic Analysis: 24 (10): 1182.

[4] Prabha, Kshitij. n.d. “Narco-Terrorism and India’s Security.” Strategic Analysis: 24 (10): 1182.

[5] MAKHDOOMI, EMAAD. 2022. “Properties of terrorists belonging to J&K, based and operating from Pakistan and PoK, sold to fund terror in J&K.” Greater Kashmir, July 14, 2022.

[6] “Pakistan’s Narco-Terrorism in J&K Has Already Had Disastrous Consequences.” n.d. The Wire.

[7] CHAUDHURY, DIPANJAN R. 2020. “80 per cent of drugs entering the subcontinent are from Pakistan, says European reports.” The Economic Times.

[8] Pandit, M. S. 2021. “Handwara Narco-terror case: NIA recovers 91lakh.” Times of India.

[9] “NIA files supplementary charge sheet against seven accused in narco-terrorism case.” n.d. The Economic Times.

[10] Excelsior correspondent. 2022. “’Narco-militancy a major challenge’ Pak hatching conspiracies to disrupt peace: DGP.” Daily Excelsior (Jammu), August 9, 2022.

[11] “Why is drug abuse in Kashmir skyrocketing among the youth?” 2022. Frontline.

[12] MAKHDOOMI, EMAAD. 2022. “Properties of terrorists belonging to J&K, based and operating from Pakistan and PoK, sold to fund terror in J&K.” Greater Kashmir, July 14, 2022.

[13] Jain, Bharti. 2019. “Terror funding probe: Agencies zero-in on 30 properties in J&K owned by 8 separatists for seizure | India News.” Times of India.

[14] “J&K Security Forces Foil Big Hawala Racket Near LoC, Several Lakh Rupees Recovered.” 2021. News18.

[15] Landay, Jonathan. 2021. “Profits and poppy: Afghanistan’s illegal drug trade a boon for Taliban.” Reuters.

[16] TRIPATHI, RAHUL. 2022. “Afghanistan, Pak, NE neighborhood fueling India’s drug concerns.” The Economic Times, January 4, 2022.

[17] Basra, Rajan. 2019. “Drugs and Terrorism: The Overlaps in Europe.” ICSR.

[18] Dion-Schwarz, Cynthia, David Manheim, and Patrick B. Johnston. 2019. Terrorist Use of Cryptocurrencies: Technical and Organizational Barriers and Future Threats. N.p.: RAND Corporation.

[19] Dion-Schwarz, Cynthia, David Manheim, and Patrick B. Johnston. 2019. Terrorist Use of Cryptocurrencies: Technical and Organizational Barriers and Future Threats. N.p.: RAND Corporation.

[20] Excelsior, Daily. 2022. “Money generated from drugs being used for anti-India activities: Shah.” Daily Excelsior, August 31, 2022.

[21] Singh, Tavleen, and Farooq Wani. 2020. “Operation Sadbhavna: Army’s helping hand in Kashmir.” The Financial Express, December 28, 2020.

[22] “J-K: Indian Army organizes drug awareness camp in Baramulla.” 2022. ThePrint.

[23] Greater Kashmir. 2022. “J&K first UT to have comprehensive drug de-addiction policy after Punjab.” June 17, 2022.

[24] Greater Kashmir. 2022. “J&K first UT to have comprehensive drug de-addiction policy after Punjab.” June 17, 2022.

[25] Sharma, Ankur. 2022. “Insufficient Anti-Drone Systems Giving Tough Time to BSF on Indo-Pak Border, Advantage to Enemy.” News18.