Narco-Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir: Navigating the Physical and Informational Domains

Abstract: As the means of terror financing in the Indian Union Territory (UT) of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) have been contained through concerted efforts by the state, the consequent dearth of funds for militants in the valley is reflected through visible operational constraints. Further, a sudden spike in cases of drug seizures near the Line of Control (LC) since 2016 has raised security concerns. Investigations by security agencies have repeatedly found links of trafficked drugs with India-centric terror outfits based in Pakistan – aggravating the threats due to narco-terrorism in the UT. In this context, while navigating through the physical and the informational domains simultaneously, the case study attempts to study the multi-domain challenges posed by narco-terrorism in J&K.


Problem Statement: How to understand the multi-domain challenge posed by narco-terrorism?

Bottom line-up: Spiking narco-terrorism in J&K poses a multi-domain, double-edged challenge for the UT – in the physical and information domains. While sufficing the operational and logistical constraints through proceeds from the sale of contraband challenges the Indian State in the physical domain, the use of the same proceeds for promoting raging propaganda of anti-state narratives creates hurdles in the information domain.


So what?: The recognition of the challenges in both domains holds equal importance and must be tackled with utmost urgency. This includes heightened surveillance to contain trafficking, rehabilitation of the addicted youth, and use of counter-narratives in the information domain against the raging disinformation campaigns.


Narco-Terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir
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Central Reserve Police Force at the market in Srinaka, Kashmir, India.
Source: shutterstock.com/Theeraphong

Multi-Domain Drug Trafficking


Apart from the socio-political and economic factors that lie at the root of various issues in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), militancy in the Union Territory (UT) is primarily driven by an unbridled supply of logistics and finances – the majority of which comes from across the Line of Control (LC). As the state crackdown on the conventional funding routes (including through counterfeit currency, use of NGOs as front organisations, and arms smuggling through the LC) has been hardened, militancy in the UT has shown visible signs of operational constraints. This has been ascertained based on a gradual disappearance of sophisticated arms among active militants (now replaced by small arms)[1] as well as drones being operated across the LC to the Jammu sector or across the International Border (IB) through Punjab, carrying arms for delivery[2]. Along with the conventional routes, drug trafficking has been a source of financing terrorism in the UT for a long time[3]. However, amidst the visible dearth of funds and heavy state surveillance, a sudden rise in seizures (Figure 1) and consumption of drugs in the UT – conjectured as a means of compensating for the said dearth – has raised alarms across New Delhi’s security community.

Figure 1: Heroin Trafficking Route from LC to the Jammu Sector
Figure 1: Heroin Trafficking Route from LC to the Jammu Sector; Source: Snip from Occasional Paper Published at Institute of Defense and Strategic Analysis[4]

This sudden rising trend directly impacts a whole gambit of security situations within the valley – in terms of terror financing, as well as rampant youth addiction locally. An interesting aspect of this situation has been the existence of anti-state narratives claiming that the state forces are deliberately pushing the population into an addiction to “weaken the resistance movement.”[5] This has posed a multi-domain, double-edged challenge for the state. First, in the physical domain: to contain terror financing and rampantly growing addiction among its youth population. Second, in the information domain: to manage the anti-state information campaigns actively influencing popular perceptions against the state forces.

Drugs in J&K: A Sudden Spike


Similar to any other conflict-prone region in the world, drug trafficking in J&K has been a source of financing terrorism since the inception of militancy in the 1990s. Since 1995[6], a spike in trafficked heroin from Pakistan (one of the largest suppliers of pure heroin globally)[7] was registered – generally through the LC in the Jammu sector at Ranbirsingh Pura, Samba, and Akhnoor[8]. From here, trafficked drugs were smuggled into the mainland – mainly Punjab. Since then, the most active route of drug trafficking through J&K is believed to be through the LC in Rajouri and Sunderbani, which reaches the Jammu district through the Poonch-Jammu highway, after which the contraband is moved to the rest of the country. This route continues to be active to date.


While this route remains active, two crucial shifts have been noticed recently. First, the quantity of drugs trafficked through the LC has spiked remarkably – frequently occurring through Kupwara and Baramulla districts in the Kashmir division, as opposed to being majorly restricted to the Jammu division as was the case earlier[9]. Second, the trafficked drugs are being increasingly consumed within the UT as opposed to exclusively in the mainland.


The quantity of drugs trafficked through the LC has spiked remarkably – frequently occurring through Kupwara and Baramulla districts in the Kashmir division, as opposed to being majorly restricted to the Jammu division as was the case earlier.

Source: Data Compiled by the Author through News Reports[10]

Data suggests that over 600,000 people in the UT – which comprises 4.6 per cent of the total population – are currently involved in drug consumption[11]. The concerning fact about this figure is that over 90 per cent of these fall within the age bracket of 17-33 years[12]. This spike, reflecting a 2,000 per cent increase in the number of drug addicts, has occurred in a short five years[13]. In terms of the quantity of drugs seized, cases registered, and arrests made, the available data depicts a similar sudden spike since 2016. While the Narcotics Control Bureau has not released an Annual Report since 2018, the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau suggest that over 1,222[14] cases were registered in 2020 under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, in J&K – with a majority occurring in South Kashmir[15].


Source: Data Compiled by the Author from Annual Reports of Narcotics Control Bureau of India

Narco-Terrorism and Information Warfare


Given this sudden spike, the state forcesface multi-domain, double-edged challenges. In the physical domain, the peddled drugs have strong linkages to financing terrorism in the UT. Given that the visible spike in cases of drug trafficking has explicitly occurred since 2016, questions regarding the possible events that could have triggered this change warrant examination. Three events must be brought to light in this context.


First, in November 2016, India announced its rather controversial demonetisation drive. Currency notes of higher denominations (INR 500 (USD 6) and INR 1,000 (USD 12)) ceased to be legal tenders, and new currency notes were introduced into the system. While the economic impact of the same has been debatable, the fact that demonetisation immediately countered the problem of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) smuggled from Pakistan stands accepted. Terrorism in J&K has been financed through the smuggling of counterfeit currency for a long time[16]. Given that this method of financing was put to an end by an unexpected executive order, terror financing in J&K has suffered a setback. Of the fake currency seized across the country between 2016 and 2017, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data suggests that the maximum amount was seized from J&K[17].


While the economic impact of the same has been debatable, the fact that demonetisation immediately countered the problem of Fake Indian Currency Notes smuggled from Pakistan stands accepted. Terrorism in J&K has been financed through the smuggling of counterfeit currency for a long time.

Second, in 2018, Pakistan entered the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey-list for terror financing and money laundering issues. Although it did little to change the covert means of supporting its proxy war against India, some measures were executed – especially following the 2019 Pulwama attack that killed at least 40 Indian Central Reserve Paramilitary Forces (CRPF) personnel. International pressure following the Indian outrage resulted in notable overt Pakistani reactions. Over 1,000 properties belonging to India-centric terror outfits were confiscated. Over 1,000 bank accounts were seized[18]. Even related ambulance services, similar charitable trusts, and social media handles linked with the organisations were at least temporarily identified and banned[19]. All of these countermeasures cumulatively disrupted the finances being routed to J&K. This is why a possible exit of Islamabad from the grey list in 2022 has raised concerns within India’s security circles.


Lastly, in August 2019, the internal political reorganisation of J&K turned it into a UT and transferred “law and order” as a Union list subject to the Union government. Moreover, in this context, the active crackdown on NGOs and other organisations suspected of acting as conduits for financing terrorism in J&K is worth considering. Many of these NGOs were found to be unregistered and received considerable funds from foreign countries[20].


In this context, the active crackdown on NGOs and other organisations suspected of acting as conduits for financing terrorism in J&K is worth considering.

Taken together, the abovementioned events comprise a general crackdown on the most viable means of funding terror activities inside J&K. The existing spike in drug trafficking can be looked at in this context – as an alternative route to financing terrorism. The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, had accepted on one occasion that financing “covert military operations” through the sale of heroin[21] has been a preferred means by the security establishment of Pakistan since 1991 – when the insurgency in J&K was at its peak. Given that the logistical framework (pre-existing smuggling routes and a network of smugglers and overground workers) has already been in place since then, using this route appears to have been a feasible alternative for the Pakistani establishment.


Several recent, simultaneous occurrences lend credence to the above claim. It must be noted that most of the operations that led to the seizure of drugs in the UT in the past few years were counter-insurgency operations and not aimed at drug seizure[22]. Markings indicating Pakistani origin have been identified in most of these seizures[23]. Most heroin seized has been tested and turned out to be of Afghan origin[24], which is suspected of having been processed in Pakistani labs and smuggled to India. Moreover, a careful reading of a series of drug seizure incidents through this route signals that most arrested drug smugglers have either been identified as terror operatives or ones in constant contact with banned Pakistan-based terror outfits, namely Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM)[25]. Seizure of arms accompanying contraband seizures further strengthen these claims. Security agencies have suggested that the proceeds from the sale of contraband are further re-routed to support the logistical and operational requirements of the militants in the UT[26]. The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021 has only worsened concerns. In addition, a simultaneous rise in domestic production of opium in South Kashmir is noteworthy.


A careful reading of a series of drug seizure incidents through this route signals that most arrested drug smugglers have either been identified as terror operatives or ones in constant contact with banned Pakistan-based terror outfits, namely Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen.

Furthermore, in the information domain, there have been anti-India narratives to influence popular perceptions. Given the rampant addiction among the youth, especially in South Kashmir, there is a popular perception[27] that drug addiction is being used as a means to draw the youth away from Islam (intoxicants are prohibited according to Islamic law) and weaken the “movement for resistance” in J&K. A recent investigation by the State Investigation Agency in Jammu has raised the possibilities of narco-proceeds being paid to “fake journalists” deputed to run disinformation campaigns on social media[28] – further strengthening the possibility of aggravating public sentiment through agenda-driven propaganda campaigns.

Conclusion


Given the increasing drug menace impacting security situations, popular perceptions (in terms of generating anti-India sentiments), and youth energy of the country, it is pertinent to strengthen state action to contain the situation. This needs to be done simultaneously in both physical and informational domains.


While tackling this in the physical domain: monitoring, identifying, and rehabilitation is crucial. Regarding monitoring, joint operations by Security Forces and Anti-Terror Forces must be frequented. This particularly depends on ensuring seamless sharing of required intelligence across all stakeholders and avoiding working in silos as much as possible. Apart from operations by agencies, societal awareness must be raised among people holding moral or legal authority to report cases of drug addiction to security agencies as well as medical facilities. These people holding authority range from teachers in schools to religious leaders, parents, as well as social activists. Given that most drug addiction currently being recorded in the UT ranges from individuals between 17-33 years of age (as aforementioned) – a sizeable chunk of which comprises school and college-going adolescents, these persons of authority shall play the most important role in this context. Once reported to security agencies and medical facilities, rehabilitation of the affected youth must be done on a priority basis. Apart from one in Srinagar, a second rehabilitation centre, which was supposed to be built in Jammu, must be completed at the earliest. Ensuring employment opportunities to keep youth positively occupied is another crucial requirement for any rehabilitation process to succeed.


To tackle the threat in the information domain, a mass crackdown on any media platform must be strictly avoided. This only adds to the resentment generated by the disinformation campaigns. Propaganda handles on social media must be singularly identified and carefully monitored. This is likely to provide valuable information for tracing the larger motives and funding sources of such entities. Simultaneously, carefully planned counter-narratives must be floated to clarify the clouds of distortion created by the disinformation peddled and create a favourable environment for the state machinery to function. As India sits at the cusp of the Golden Cresent and the Golden Triangle, the sooner the menace of narco-terrorism is cracked down on, the better.


 

Tejusvi Shukla served as a Research Assistant with the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), a think tank of the Indian Army, between May 2019 and November 2020. Her area of research included India’s internal security. Additionally, she has worked on Information Warfare in Jammu and Kashmir, Left-wing Extremism in India, Cartographic Aggression, and Medical Diplomacy. She graduated with a BA in Economics and History from Miranda House, University of Delhi, in 2019. Currently, she is pursuing her Master's in International Studies from Christ (Deemed to be) University, Bangalore. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone.

 

[1] ANI, “Security forces recover more pistols than AK-47s from Jammu and Kashmir terrorists, The Economic Times, November 09, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/security-forces-recover-more-pistols-than-ak-47s-from-jammu-and-kashmir-terrorists/articleshow/79128056.cms?from=mdr.

[2] Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu, “Pakistan terror outfits drop weapons via drones to supply in Kashmir, 3 Lashkar men caught in Rajouri,” India Today, September 19, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/pakistan-terror-outfits-drop-weapons-via-drones-to-supply-in-kashmir-1723346-2020-09-19.

[3] Pushpita Das, Drug Trafficking in India: A Case for Border Security (No. 24), Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, https://idsa.in/system/files/OP_DrugTraffickinginIndia.pdf.

[4] Idem.

[5] Shams Irfan, S., “Locals Accuse Army of ‘Shielding’ Drug Addicts,” Kashmir Life, August 23, 2014, https://kashmirlife.net/locals-accuse-army-of-shielding-drug-addicts-64268/.

[6] Pushpita Das, Drug Trafficking in India: A Case for Border Security (No. 24), Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, May 2012, https://idsa.in/system/files/OP_DrugTraffickinginIndia.pdf.

[7] Inderjita Badhwar, “Pakistan rapidly displacing Golden Triangle countries as major supplier of drugs,” India Today, December 18, 2014, https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/international/story/19801231-pakistan-rapidly-displacing-golden-triangle-countries-as-major-supplier-of-drugs-773682-2013-12-02.

[8] Pushpita Das, Drug Trafficking in India: A Case for Border Security (No. 24), Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, https://idsa.in/system/files/OP_DrugTraffickinginIndia.pdf.

[9] As per a list of major seizures compiled by the author from various news reports.

[10] Azaan Javaid, “Kashmir battles drugs now — cases rise by 1,000% in 3 years at just one hospital,” The Print, July 24, 2019, https://theprint.in/india/kashmir-battles-drugs-now-cases-rise-by-1000-in-3-years-at-just-one-hospital/266829/.

[11] Idrees Lone, 600,000 youngsters in Jammu and Kashmir have become drug addicts: Study, WION, November 17, 2021, https://www.wionews.com/india-news/600000-youngsters-in-jammu-and-kashmir-have-become-drug-addicts-study-430035.

[12] Idem.

[13] Anvit Srivastava, Exclusive | Kashmir Sees 2,000% Spike in Heroin Abuse Cases in 5 Years as Pak Injects Narco-Terror Poison, News 18, https://www.news18.com/news/india/exclusive-kashmir-sees-2000-spike-in-heroin-abuse-cases-in-5-years-as-pak-injects-narco-terror-poison-5539957.html.

[14] National Crime Records Bureau of India, Crime in India: 2020 (Volume I), National Crime Records Bureau of India, Union Ministry of Home Affairs, September 2021, https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/CII%202020%20Volume%201.pdf.

[15] Editor, NCRB data is alarming, Kashmir Images Newspaper, September 17, 2021, https://thekashmirimages.com/2021/09/17/ncrb-data-is-alarming/.

[16] Pushpita Das, Drug Trafficking in India: A Case for Border Security (No. 24), Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, https://idsa.in/system/files/OP_DrugTraffickinginIndia.pdf.

[17] Scroll’s Staff, “Government says most fake currency seized in J&K after note ban were new Rs 2,000, 500 notes,” Scroll, https://scroll.in/latest/844999/government-says-most-fake-currency-seized-in-j-k-after-note-ban-were-new-rs-2000-500-notes.

[18] Namrata Ahuja, “Pakistan’s likely exit from FATF grey list worry Indian security agencies,” The Week, https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2022/06/18/pakistan-likely-exit-from-fatf-grey-list-worry-indian-security-agencies.html.

[19] Asif Shahzad, “Pakistan bans charities linked to founder of militant group,” Reuters, February 14, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-militants-financing-idUSKCN1FY1SN

[20] Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu, “NIA raids NGOs, journalists in Kashmir in crackdown against terror funding,” India Today, October 28, 2020, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/nia-raids-in-kashmir-terror-funding-crackdown-1735791-2020-10-28.

[21] John War Anderson and Kamran Khan, Heroin Plan by Top Pakistanis Alleged, Washington Post, September 12, 1994, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/09/12/heroin-plan-by-top-pakistanis-alleged/311942bb-983a-416e-b735-7d71a07ba030/.

[22] Vaishali Basu Sharma, Pakistan’s Narco-Terrorism in J&K Has Already Had Disastrous Consequences: The Wire, February 22, 2022, https://thewire.in/security/pakistans-plan-to-push-narcotics-into-jk-has-already-had-disastrous-consequences.

[23] Pradeep Thakur, ”Terrorist killed; DRI, Army seize huge cache of arms, ammunition in Jammu,” The Times of India, November 14, 2018, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/errorist-killed-dri-army-seize-huge-cache-of-arms-ammunition-in-jammu/articleshow/66624461.cms.

[24] Parjanya Bhatt, Narco-terrorism in Kashmir — Pakistan’s new strategy, ORF, December 24, 2018, https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/narco-terrorism-kashmir-pakistan-new-strategy-46345/.

[25] Vaishali Basu Sharma, Pakistan’s Narco-Terrorism in J&K Has Already Had Disastrous Consequences, The Wire, February 22, 2022, https://thewire.in/security/pakistans-plan-to-push-narcotics-into-jk-has-already-had-disastrous-consequences.

[26] Press Trust of India, NIA Arrests 4 Drug Traffickers In Kashmir Narco-Terrorism Case, NDTV, March 01, 2021, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/nia-arrests-4-drug-traffickers-in-kashmir-narco-terrorism-case-2381488.

[27] Shams Irfan, Locals Accuse Army of ‘Shielding’ Drug Addicts, Kashmir Life, https://kashmirlife.net/locals-accuse-army-of-shielding-drug-addicts-64268/; and Personal Interview of a Kashmiri researcher by the author.

[28] Pradeep Dutta, “Drug money used to fund “fake” journalists in J&K to unleash fake narrative to portray India in bad light,” Times Now, July 19, 2022, https://www.timesnownews.com/india/drug-money-used-to-fund-fake-journalists-in-jk-to-unleash-fake-narrative-to-portray-india-in-bad-light-article-92986105.

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