Drug Trafficking in Punjab: An ISI Game Plan to Revive Militancy

24 Jun, 2003    ·   1066

Nihar Ranjan Nayak draws attention to rampant drug abuse and trafficking along India’s western border

After its crusade against militancy, Punjab is now facing the peril of drug trafficking. As a transit route for drug trafficking, Punjab has slowly become a victim of drug abuse, which weakens the morale, physique and character of its youth. Drug trafficking and trade is common in the Malwa, Majha and Doaba regions of the State. The Chief Minister's Office said that 40 percent of Punjabi youth in the age group of 15 to 25 years has fallen prey to drugs, and 48 percent of farmers and labourers are addicts. There is at least one addict in 65 percent of the families in Majha and Doaba. Derivatives of opium (70 percent) and tranquilizers, pain-killers (30 percent) etc. are in great demand.

Apart from affecting the health and lives of the common people, the proliferation of drugs in Punjab can be seen as a part of the twin strategy of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan to reactivate Punjab militancy and collect revenue to sustain its terrorist activities in India. According to Punjab Police sources, terrorists and anti-nationals are more active in this part of the country. Punjab, being a sensitive border state close to Jammu and Kashmir, is being used as a conduit for transporting men and material, including drugs and improvised explosives, to the trouble-torn J&K. In the first five months of 2003, around 1078 kg of Poppy husk, 3.5kg of heroin and 20kg charas were seized by Punjab police. Twenty-eight people, including two women, were arrested for narcotic trafficking. The following are a few such cases. 

·         On April 22, the Police in Jalandhar unearthed a six-member gang of poppy husk smugglers with the arrest of its members and recovery of more than 600 kg of contraband, near Kang Sabo village. 

·         On April 18, the Punjab police recovered 180 kg of poppy husk from a car.

·         On January 10, Police in Phagwara, arrested five members of an inter-state gang of drug traffickers, including two having links with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), and seized 20kg of charas (narcotics) worth Rs 25 lakhs (approx. US$ 57,000) from the truck in which they were traveling. They were also reportedly set to smuggle weapons into Punjab in a bid to revive terrorism.

It is also reported that taking advantage of dust storms, drug traffickers smuggle narcotics from Pakistan into Rajasthan, and then supply it to other places. The DGP, MS Bhullar, presided over a meeting of IGs and DIGs of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana police in December 2002 to discuss ways and means to effectively check the smuggling of poppy husk and opium from across the border, and Rajasthan in particular.

Drug trafficking is the main source of funding for terrorist outfits operating in J&K and other parts of the country. It has emerged as a profitable venture for terrorist organizations who have suffered in the recent past due to freezing of their bank accounts and dismantling of Hawala (money laundering) networks. As a result, a cozy nexus has developed between the terrorist outfits and mafia gangs with the latter being a willing partner for circulating drugs amongst local agents. Besides, mafia gangs help terrorist organizations to transfer arms and ammunition both across and inside the country.

To evade the tough vigil on the border in J&K, terrorist operatives enter the country via Nepal and Bangladesh, and use Punjab as a transit route to supply men and materiel to the Kashmiri terrorists. In a recent statement, the Central Reserve Police Force chief indicated a shift in the ISI’s focus to the North-Eastern border as it has been finding it difficult to operate through the Western border.

Punjab, the sources admitted, was being used as a safe hideout by the terrorists and their supporters. A media report quoted a senior police official saying, “We know a lot of high-profile supporters of militants in Punjab and are keeping a close watch on them. There are, however, still some holes to be plugged. Some incidents (like the January 31 bus explosion at Garhshankar - which has left many questions unanswered), are causing anxiety to us.â€Â