WHAT IS NARCO-TERRORISM?
According to the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), narco-terrorism is a subset of terrorism, and may be characterised by the participation, direct or indirect, of groups or associated individuals, in the cultivation, manufacture, transportation and/or distribution of controlled substances, and then using the ill-gotten gains from these activities for the purpose of terrorism.
So, when proceeds from the sale of illegal narcotics are used to fund terrorism activities, it is called narco-terrorism. This connection between drugs and terrorism was held explicitly by the United Nations Security Council in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks of 2001, in Resolution 1373. The Resolution remarks on the “close connection between international terrorism and transnational organised crime, illicit drugs”.
INDIA’S DRUG CONUNDRUM
The trafficking of narcotics remains one of the most common forms of criminality on which terrorists rely in order to finance their activities. Due to the high pecuniary value, this is very lucrative, and the low ‘volume-to-value’ ratio of smuggling and trafficking illicit narcotics, as also the chemical precursors required to manufacture some drugs, makes this criminal activity attractive for terrorists, insurgents and transnational criminals.
Drug production that impacts Indian Ocean states, takes place in two main regions: the “Golden Crescent”, comprising illicit opium production areas in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the “Golden Triangle”, the second largest opium production region in the world, covering Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. India, being in the middle of these two regions, faces threats from every side. The same can be seen in instances of increase in seizure amounts and frequencies across the nation as it was shocking to know that nearly 3000 KG of Heroin was seized from Mundra Port in Gujarat which made its way to India via Pakistan and Afghanistan.
NARCO-TERRORISM IN INDIA
The demand for drugs has been very high in Punjab, with one in 7 people hooked on either opioids, alcohol or tobacco. There was even a movie made about how rampant this issue is in the state (Udta Punjab). In Kashmir, the youth of the state are also falling victim to drugs like cannabis and opium/heroin. For example, in Kashmir, a young man who is not able to find gainful employment will fall for the promises made by a drug peddler, who will tell him that using heroin will make him feel better, and it will reduce the stress that he feels because of all the pressure of finding a job etc. A lot of times, these drug peddlers are known to the victim, and they will get someone hooked onto heroin by offering it for free. But once it is used, the victim will come back for more because drugs really increase dopamine levels in the brain, which is what makes them so addictive, and the victim will seek that feeling again.
Because they are not in gainful employment, they do not have the money to pay for the drugs, and so they will either resort to criminal behaviour like robbing, or will be a prime candidate for the drug peddler to use them in exchange for drugs. There have been instances where, for a quick fix of heroin, people have been made to engage in antisocial behaviour and attack the armed forces in the state. So, the peddler will give money to the victim for engaging in such activities. Narcotic substances (opium, cannabis etc) are also grown locally in Kashmir as the conditions (land, climate etc) are conducive for cultivation and they can also then be supplied to other regions of India.
Various online services have been used to this end. Instagram is used for the advertisement of products, and orders are also taken through messages on the app. Payments are made online, and the drug peddler then sends the products to the buyer via the postal service. Similarly, secret groups on Telegram are also used to set up entire communities of sellers and consumers, with shipments being sent all over India. The impact of the same can be seen with the drug trafficking being facilitated via the dark net. The sophistication of technology has made it easier for trafficking drugs but at the same time it has been instrumental for investigations and apprehension of peddlers and drug lords.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only led to an increase in the use of the internet to procure drugs. Easy access to the “dark web”, coupled with the lockdown restrictions has accelerated sales of drugs, with access being easier and delivery of the contraband through the mail being contactless. Since these transactions are all done with a computer/mobile phone in the digital world, it becomes very easy to move money around.
In order to contain the problem of narco-terrorism in India, both national and state agencies work in coordination with agencies of neighbouring countries. India has various arrangements, like bilateral agreements, Memorandum of Understandings, Joint Working Groups on Counter-Terrorism and Judicial Cooperation with countries in the South Asian region for this purpose.
There is also the Narcotics Control Bureau, a nodal drug law enforcement and intelligence agency, that has been set up to fight drug trafficking on an all-India level. It works in close cooperation with other national and state agencies. Intelligence inputs are also shared with neighbouring countries on a real-time basis, where this institutional mechanism exists, in such cases. Apart from this, there is also the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
There is also the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) – a body that was set up by a G-7 summit in Paris in July 1989, to curb terrorism activities funded by drugs. Pakistan is on the grey list of the FATF – meaning there is international pressure on Pakistan to curb the activities of terrorist organizations, because of which Pakistan has had to curb the financial dealings of LeT and JeM, leading to a reduction in the financial resources of these groups.
Author – Mr. Naman Sareen, Research Associate, CyberPeace Foundation.