The World Health Organization (WHO) describes narcotic drugs as ‘any substance that when consumed by a living organism, modifies its perception, behaviour, cognition, mood, or motor function.’ It is estimated that presently more than 35 million people globally suffers from drug use disorders, and illicit trafficking of drug is increasingly undermining human capital of numerous nations including India. This has economic, environmental, military, health and psychological consequences besides threatening the sovereignty & political stability of the state. Due to India’s geo-strategic location, the global narcotics industry possesses a significant concern for the internal security of the country.
India’s proximity to the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle has made Indian borders vulnerable to trafficking of drugs. Flow of illegal drugs from two fronts – North-Western and North-Eastern side possesses dual concern – violation of border security and threat to national security. Against this backdrop, this article analyses how India becomes vulnerable to drug trafficking from these two regions and how it threatens the country’s security. The later part highlights the measures adopted by the government for securing its borders.
India is exposed to the narcotics trafficking as it is sandwiched between the ‘Golden Triangle’ and ‘Golden Crescent’, the two major global opium production regions. This was even highlighted in the ‘Combating Drug Trafficking’ conference organised for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) partner nations in February 2020.
The ‘Golden Triangle’ region lies towards the Northeast of India where borders of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers. The ‘Golden Crescent’ region of South Asia lies in the Northwest of India comprising of three contiguous nations – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. According to UN, Afghanistan tops the global table while Myanmar holding the second spot in heroin & morphine production. India has developed into an easy transit for these opioids to connect the international narcotics market which brings serious ramifications on India’s internal security.
Golden Crescent and Indo-Pak Border
The Golden Crescent is the world’s leading opium & cannabis producing region since 1983.Its proximity to the Indo-Pak border has exacerbated the trafficking of hashish and heroin into the Indian soil. They are mostly trafficked through the border states of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. In the early 1980s, the Thar Desert used to be the preferred route from smuggling drugs into the country. There were two reasons behind operating through this route. First, this traditional route was used for smuggling opium produced in Malwa to Karachi and then onward to China in the colonial era. Secondly, the desert being barren, vast and poorly guarded was an advantage to the smugglers as it provided them numerous hideouts for the illicit drugs that could later be retrieved and delivered to the destinations.
However, there are a few other aspects also that has fuelled the inflow these narcotic drugs through the border areas. Firstly, the closure of conventional Balkan passage through Iran from the time of Iran-Iraq war during 1980-1988 led to the forced rerouting of drugs through India. Secondly, the already existing bullion smugglers’ network throughout the border surrounding regions along with addition to the connection of criminal networks in drug smuggling during the mid-1980s further proliferated drug smuggling in the country. Thirdly, the Sikh Militancy outbreak in mid 1980s followed by the Kashmir militancy in late 1980s worked as a catalyst in aggravating drug trafficking as smuggling of drugs provided finance to their activities. Lastly, the pre-existing traditional routes of smuggling accompanied by the porous border regions provided congenial ambience for trafficking drugs.
Golden Triangle and India – Myanmar Border
The notorious Golden Triangle region is the leading opium producing region of the South-east Asia and also an ancient narcotic supply route to North America and Europe. The Myanmar-Northeast nexus is recognized by the Narcotics Control Bureau as the root of heroin and chemical drugs like Methamphetamine, Ketamine and Yaba.
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India and Myanmar shares a long border along the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur. It is estimated that Myanmar produces almost 80% of the total heroine produced in the world. After production, the heroin is trafficked mainly to US and European countries through China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and India. the drugs produced in Myanmar enters the north-eastern states of India from, Mandalay, Bhamo, and Lashio in Myanmar. Due to increased surveillance & frequent crackdowns on numerous drug cartels in various parts of South East Asian countries, India has been chosen by the drug smugglers as the exit gateway for these narcotics. Dimapur in Nagaland, Champai in Mizoram, Moreh in Manipur, Guwahati in Assam have become the omphalos of drug trafficking industry in North-eastern India.
The rough terrain and densely covered forest regions worked as the catalyst in increasing the proximity of the India-Myanmar border to the ‘Golden Triangle’. The diverse topography of the region comprising of high mountains, hills, rivers and dense tropical rainforests provides numerous hideouts to the smugglers. Moreover, security force cannot access the region and respond to criminal attempts expeditiously due to inefficient connectivity and transport facilities.
In addition to the natural advantages, tribal & ethnic affinities also play its role. Criminal gangs are provided information about the security arrangements in the regions by local sympathisers of the criminals. The rising nexus between the local ethnic insurgent groups and criminals across the border have developed into a potent threat of narco-terrorism that concurrently challenges India’s national security.
Other than these factors, there are a few more issues like poverty, unemployment, ethnic conflicts, poor state of education, and increasing spread of HIV/AIDS are also responsible for such nefarious activities. Against fake promises and hope for better livelihood, poor children are forcefully used as drug carriers. Local population are manipulated by the criminals in joining the smuggling groups. All such fragile issues along the India – Myanmar border areas jeopardizes the region into becoming a nucleus of drug trafficking, thereby challenging the internal security of the country.
Challenges Narcotic Trafficking bring to India’s security
Narco-trafficking is considered to be a menace to the national as well as internal security of the country. Firstly, the ramifications of illicit drugs are seen as a threat to cultural and socio-economic development of the country. Intravenous use of narcotics by individuals, especially by youngsters is a significant concern as it is a harbinger of HIV-AIDS. This is a lethal threat to the socio-economic development and demographic dividend of the country.
Secondly, narco-trafficking is considered a geo-political tool where one country uses it against another nation for passive destruction. Traces of this phenomenon can be found by turning over the pages of history. During the days of 18th & 19th century, China was encouraged by Britain in opium trafficking to cause social decay and fall of once a great nation – China.
Thirdly, narco-trafficking is also referred to as one of the pillars of organized crime. It has become as international issue with an intricate network of criminal organization. It provides enormous financial returns to the insurgent groups who collaborate with various criminals for smuggling drugs across the border regions. The funds raised are in turn used for smuggling of arms. Narco-terrorism has not only developed to a threat to social security of India but has also has also dragged the attentions of the global communities. As most of the transactions in this trade are carried out in hard cash, it becomes very difficult for the national security agencies to collect evidences against the criminal groups in the absence of paper work. Moreover, with technological advancements, dark web and cryptocurrency are also being used for trafficking of drugs. Additionally, influx of narco-trade money leads to money laundering, inflation and also corruption. All these not only leads to violence, terrorism and political instability but also consequently deter foreign investments.
Lastly, illicit cultivation of drugs causes environmental damage by way of river pollution. The toxic chemical wastes produced are dumped into the rivers flowing through those regions. These wastes not only endanger the marine ecosystem but also bring in several health issues to the people living in the surrounding areas. Similarly, dumping of harmful chemical wastes produced from opium processing on land areas leads to land pollution. Additional, illicit opium poppy cultivation also effects and damages natural vegetation and the flora and fauna of the region, thus also brings in ecological damage.
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Exploitation of trafficking routes with assistance from well entrenched criminal networks by terrorists for infiltrating with arms & explosives adds a critical dimension to the border security. The fact that land is mostly used for transporting drugs makes the land border corridors vulnerable to trafficking. This vulnerability is evident from the huge seizure of heroin and opium reported from along the border areas from time to time. Easy availability of illicit drugs along the border regions makes drug abuse rampant among the natives. This is evident from the patterns and trends of drug consumption in the Rajasthan, Punjab, Mizoram and Manipur. Apart from the border districts, narcotics and synthetic drug consumption is widely prevalent in various parts of the country including the metropolitan cities, thus there is also huge demand in domestic market that incentivises the trafficking.
From the given challenges, it becomes crucial to protect the border regions against violations by either terrorists or traffickers. Simultaneously it is also essential to reduce drug demand in the domestic market. At this end, a comprehensive approach towards reducing the demand and supply for narcotics and drugs has been adopted by India. It comprises of four facets:
- Enactment of legislation to deter and prosecute organised drug smugglers gangs and strengthening the already existing cartel control over drug abuse. This helps in achieving the twin goals of reducing the demand and supply;
- Ensuring physical security of regions adjacent to borders and coasts to prevent easy ingress and egress of traffickers through the borders;
- Appointing voluntary organizations for complementing government’s endeavours towards prevention & control of drug use and concurrently spreading awareness about the destructive ill-effects of narcotics and illicit drugs in the communities;
- Eliciting cooperation from neighbouring countries by entering into agreements for institutionalising mechanisms of mutual exchange of information, operational & technical experience and conducting joint investigations for identifying, supressing and preventing criminal activities of international syndicates involved in illicit trafficking of narcotics drugs, precursor chemicals and psychotropic substances.
Narcotic trafficking is a major transnational organised crime that possesses a severe threat to the national security. India has been enduring this scourge of drug trafficking for over three decades. India’s proximity to ‘Golden Crescent’ and ‘Golden Triangle’ – the two largest illicit opium producing regions of the world , and also some internal and external factors have largely contributed towards India becoming a hub for transit and destination for drug. Additionally, the growing nexus between the terrorists groups and the smugglers is a rising concern to the India’s security. Therefore, for dealing with such complex security concerns, a comprehensive review of military & governance along with effective centre-state coordination is much required. Comprehensive developmental programmes, generating employment opportunities, empowering women and providing better educational facilities in the border districts will help in preventing drug trafficking. Accordingly, a holistic national security policy is required that will help catering military threats as well as emerging non-conventional threats.