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Jammu border under assault from heroin trade

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NEW THREAT: A view of the border fence in the Jaurian sector, near Matkula Post, where Indian and Pakistani border guards exchanged fire in January. Photo: Praveen Swami
NEW THREAT: A view of the border fence in the Jaurian sector, near Matkula Post, where Indian and Pakistani border guards exchanged fire in January. Photo: Praveen Swami

Praveen Swami

Since 2003, trans-border traffickers have turned to running narcotics

  • Packets of heroin have been known to be thrown across the fence, or smuggled on farmers' bodies
  • Despite aggressive policing such flow (of narcotic substances) continues

    MATKULA POST (JAMMU): Come spring, thousands of peasants and workers will flock the fields around the Matkula Border Observation Post to harvest the crop on land that has come to life after Indian and Pakistani troops stopped trading fire in November 2003.

    So, too, will workers for a less-benign industry that has also benefited from the ceasefire: the narcotics mafia. Addicted to hard cash, cross-border traffickers are running increasing volumes of heroin produced in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    In December last, Border Security Force troops at the Sapper's Highway Post, near Ranbir Singh Pora, interdicted a record shipment of 25 kg of high-grade heroin, which would have sold for over Rs. 25 crore in New Delhi. The traffickers were wading through a fast-flowing stream to bypass the fencing, a tactic smugglers across the length of India-Pakistan border have often used with success.

    Such interdiction has become increasingly common. In April 2006, the Indian Army recovered 7 kg of heroin from veteran drug runner Lal Chand. Police later a cracked a complex chain linking Mr. Chand to Juma Chowdhury, a Pakistan-based wholesaler, his India counterpart, Sansar Chand, and a Jammu-based physician, Sanjeev Mahajan, who allegedly used his medical practice as cover to safely move shipments.

    Bringing large-scale shipments across the border fence is hard, but moving heroin is easier than it might appear. Small packets of heroin have been known to be thrown across the fence, or smuggled on the bodies of farmers working in fields along the border. "We do not frisk women at the fence gates," notes an officer of the BSF's intelligence wing, the General Branch, "so they're favoured as couriers."

    While the Jammu border historically witnessed large-scale trafficking in gold and liquor, the industry was destroyed by the post-1989 increase in vigilance. Many traffickers left the business. Others, however, turned to ensuring weapons caches and terrorists crossed the India-Pakistan border safely - and have now moved on to shipping low-volume but high-yield heroin.

    Loose attitudes to trafficking persist, fuelled by the belief that drugs hurt big-city consumers, not the local community. In May, the BSF shot dead Jammu resident Vikram Singh when he was guiding a drug consignment past Abdullian Post. Mr. Singh had been seduced by drug cartel promises to help free his smuggler-father from Sialkot prison, his home this past decade. Local politicians, incredibly, protested the killing.

    Drugs threat

    Prosecutions under the NDPS Act have risen from 15 in 2004 to 44 in 2006, a significant number for a mid-sized city like Jammu. While the large majority of these relate to the misuse of prescription drugs or low-grade substances like marijuana, the data does make clear that heroin traffic is on the increase. In 2004, there were no prosecutions for heroin trafficking. In both 2005 and 2006, there were four each.

    "Interestingly," notes Jammu Senior Superintendent of Police Mukesh Singh, "the rise in narcotics trafficking comes at a time when terrorism and cross-border infiltration are declining."

    Police in Jammu initiated 19 terrorism-related prosecutions in 2004, a figure which fell to 16 last year. "It is possible," he says, "that at least cross-border guides for terrorists have turned to moving heroin instead."

    Police date the increased flow of narcotics into Jammu and Kashmir to the summer of 2003, Pakistan's covert services slashed direct funding for jihadi groups. In June that year, police in Srinagar arrested Kupwara residents Mohammad Ilyas and Mohammad Yahya, and Mr. Ahmad on charges of running drugs. Earlier that month, raids in the city had led to the arrest of two more traffickers.

    Evidence of the intimate relationship between terror networks and narcotics traffickers isn't hard to come by. In September 2003, State police arrested Bandipora medical store owner Ghulam Qadir Sofi for harbouring three kg of high-grade heroin brought across the Line of Control by a Jaish-e-Mohammad courier. Jeevan Sharma of Pathankot in Punjab was also arrested.

    Despite aggressive policing, such flows continue. In January, for example, police recovered 1.7 kg of heroin from alleged Srinagar-based narcotics trafficker Abdul Majid Rather. A recent survey by a Srinagar-based de-addiction centre, the Hindustan National Social Society, estimated that 17 per cent people in the age group of 12-20 were consuming narcotics, while an astounding 22 per cent of 21-35 year olds were clinically addicted.

    Sadly, civilian authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have shown few signs that they understand either the scale or the seriousness of the problem. Although policing and border security addresses supply side issues, there are few efforts demand side measures such as awareness building. De-addiction facilities are limited while programmes of recovery like Narcotics Anonymous are almost unknown.

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