Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Of Drugs, Terror and Patronage

Updated: February 12, 2016 1:25 pm

Terrorism is a global phenomenon and is here to stay no matter GWOT, chest pounding and table thumping. There is no universal consensus about what terrorism consists of and as long as the world focuses on countering “violent terrorism” while radicalization (“non-violent terrorism”) outpaces GWOT by decades, we can keep going around the mulberry tree. Post the Pathankot terror strike and the new found fame of Salwinder Singh, much has been talked and written in the media: “More than 40 vulnerable unfenced stretches along the India-Pakistan border will be covered by laser walls soon”, “6 kg Heroine seized worth Rs 300 crores”, “Salwinder to undergo lie detector test”, “two BSF officials transferred”, “one infiltrator killed in Gurdaspur sector”, “NIA conducts raids on Salwinder’s thikanas”,

“J&K Governor NN Vohra ignited new controversy by suggesting the Ranbir Penal Code be brought under the NIA Act”.

Under the NIA Act, which came into force after the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist strike in 2008, the agency can take over any case related to terror suo motu except in J&K where it needs the state government’s permission before it can start any investigation. What Governor Vohra has said makes eminent sense despite the J&K polity protesting that the State’s autonomy will be “violated”, an euphuism to continue patronizing terror and make crores. How else would you explain NIA’s 2013 report that Kashmiri terrorist groups had received US$ 100 million for terror operations in past two years, over the past 10 years some Rs 600 crores were diverted to J&K terrorism from within India, Rs 98 crores were diverted in one single year from the J&K Affectees Fund, and that the J&K Affectees Relief Trust (JKART) has been facilitating Pakistani infiltration into J&K. Intelligence reports also revealed that goods sent through trucks to POK were intentionally overpriced 2-3 times in the vouchers and additional money received is being diverted for terrorist operations. It is unthinkable that J&K politicians did not get major slice of the pie.

But then why talk of only J&K? Take the political patronage of narcotics and terror across the board. The true story of the 1995 Purulia arms drop (cock and bull story of destination Anand Margis being diversion) was never allowed to surface despite Kim Davy (real name Niels Holck alias Niels Christian Nielsen), leader of the operation, having stated that the arms drop was a Congress conspiracy and that someone very higher up close to Mrs Indira Gandhi was involved. Police officers attending the National Defence College Course in New Delhi in year 2000 had this to say: security forces personnel were paying money to get posted to the India-Bangladesh border; payments to be made by illegal immigrants was fixed – per adult and per minor; batch on arrival was charged accordingly and shown a place to camp leaving the women behind for two days; State Government arranged Indian identity for them in these two days, after which the batch moved on. Blame security forces any amount but the political patronage is explicit.

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The Congress ruled Centre played its own stroke having deliberately imposed the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) (IMDT) Act in Assam in 1983, in gross contravention of the pan-India applicable Foreigners Act of 1946. Ironically the Supreme Court of India struck down the IMDT Act only in 2005, ruling it had created the biggest hurdle and was the main impediment or barrier in the identification and deportation of illegal migrants. It may be recalled that during the BNP rule in Bangladesh, major anti-India terrorist training camps were being run in that country. During 2012, a prominent Indian TV channel showed live coverage of a batch of illegal immigrants crossing into India in broad daylight and the security personnel saying they have orders “not to interfere”. The clip was immediately taken off thereafter.

Of the 40 million odd illegal weapons circulating in India, how many contribute to musclemen armies of politicians are anybody’s guess given the show of weapons and firings at political gatherings and how many of them are with or without licenses. But what better example than political patronage of terrorism than by the Union Home Minister himself? Maloy K Dhar, former Joint Director IB, wrote in his book ‘Open Secrets – India’s intelligence unveiled’ that Giani Zail Singh as Home Minister of India was entertaining terrorists from Punjab in his official residence; entertaining, wining, dining, financing and providing them arms. Congress was in a fix what to do, so they kicked him into the position of President of India and throughout his tenure his office and bedroom telephones in Rashtrapati Bhavan were tapped.

During the 1993 Mumbai blasts, 10 officials of the Maharashtra Police and Customs Department have been sentenced by the Court. If there was any political link, only investigating agencies will know. But what about the 2008 Mumbai terrorist strike? There was much speculation how this vessel transporting terrorists was able to get to the Mumbai coast all the way from Karachi. At that time MJ Akbar had written where was the surprise when such vessels were coming practically ever fortnight bringing drugs through same route for supply to five star hotels in Mumbai courtesy the politician-police nexus. So, is this not indirectly patronizing and abetting terrorism?

The above also applies to Punjab. Not many know that Special Forces of a friendly country having done joint training in Pakistan some five years back disclosed that ISI had a definite plan to revive the Khalistani movement in Punjab, as a prelude to which they were to drown Punjab in narcotics. While the Khalistani movement has shown only sporadic signs, the deluge of drugs into Punjab sure has created a sinister situation. As per a National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), AIIMS 2015 study, large numbers of drug addicts from Punjab and some other states are spending some Rs 2.5 crore per day on the purchase of drugs.

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In Punjab out of a population of 27.7 million, around 2.3 million people are opioid-dependent, around 860,000 people are estimated to be opioid users, and more than 123,000 people are heroin-dependent, which is an alarming situation. The largest numbers of addicts are in the 18 to 35 age group. Over Rs 7,500 crore worth of drugs is consumed on an annual basis in Punjab. The money spent on heroin abuse is calculated to be a whopping Rs 6,500 crore. Businessmen, transport workers, labourers and farmers are consuming drugs, the study found, but college students are taking it in increasing quantities. What better way to destroy one of the most affluent State of India–Punjab?

The Dinanagar, Gurdaspur and Pathankot terrorist strikes have sure shown chinks on the border. Besides riverine gaps, 40 unfenced stretches etc. Now there is talk of laser walls and India going in for the Israel-type hi-tech border fencing. But the bottom-line is that till the political patronage for narcotics, and terrorism advertently or inadvertently continues, state-of-the-art technology and NIA investigations even if extended to J&K will continue to meet a dead end. If narcotics are being pushed through PVC pipes even through the existing border fencing in Punjab, then there are multiple methods of defeating high end technology for short periods also to push drugs across as long as there is mafia at the receiving end with political patronage. The Punjab State intelligence had reportedly compiled a list of the drug cartel in 2007 in which names figured of politicians of many political parties, bureaucrats and police personnel. Little surprise then that this list went missing!

A former diplomat hailing from Punjab says that at least few years back, the SP of Amritsar always was personal appointee of the CM, as the SP was required to handover Rs 5 crores to the CM annually. In 2014, brother-in-law of the present Deputy CM of Punjab was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the sale and supply of synthetic drugs. The various raids conducted on Salwinder’s thikanas on January 20, twenty days after he came under suspicion would hardly have yielded any results. Salwinder in any case is a minor fry in the cartel (even if he has pocketed few crores) and at best will perhaps get transferred if found guilty.

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Why Punjab, the narcotics trade is flourishing in many states of India, the northeast and metros like Delhi and Mumbai. India had witnessed a five-time (455%) increase in drug hauls over three years, from 2011 to 2013. World Drug Report 2014 estimated 10.7 million Indians (more than the population of Sweden) are drug users; 8.7 million consume cannabis and 2 million use opiates, according to an UNDOC report. Political patronage to bulk of the narcotics trade is obvious but this is where the NIA would become helpless especially with multiple states facing elections every year and the need for coalitions and partnerships. Perhaps it was fear of exposure of the polity with the narcotics that was the main reason for shutting down the Technical Support Division of the Army. Even today, the Military has been singled out for procurement and deployment of jammers, perhaps for the same reason.

It is said that Singapore was once a highly corrupt nation but the day it enacted the equivalent of Lokpal, overnight some 150 politicians were jailed. One wonders whether India can mature to that level in the next few decades with or without Lokpal / Lokayukta or even if a Presidential form of Government replaces the present system. Meanwhile, intelligence agencies can continue investigations and police officers can continue getting transferred including the honest ones who refuse to dance to the mafia’s tune. Hopefully, we can find ways to check the drug deluge. As far as adopting the Israel type border fencing, hope we also take measures not to get surprised like Israel was when multiple tunnels dug by Hamas under the Gaza strip were discovered.

(Indian Defence Review)

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

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