Amongst the several areas of its expertise, the Pakistani Army’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] has achieved excellence in the field of organised narcotics peddling. Initiated into this dark trade by America’s notorious spy agency Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] during its US proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, ISI put its heart and soul into this enterprise and came out with flying colours.
A US Congressional Report titled ‘Pakistan’s Involvement in Narco-Terrorism’ tabled on 3 October 1994, mentioned a Washington Post investigative report based on an interview with former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. During this interview, Sharif “claimed that three months after his election as Prime Minister in November 1990, Gen. Aslam Beg, then Army Chief of Staff, and [Lt] Gen Asad Durrani, then head of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence bureau (ISI), told him the armed forces needed more money for covert foreign operations and wanted to raise it through large-scale drug deals” [emphasis added].
On being told that “We have a blueprint ready for your approval”, Sharif claims “I told them categorically not to initiate any such operation, and a few days later I called [Gen] Beg again to tell that I have disapproved the ISI plan to back heroin smuggling.” Sharif however admitted that he had “no sources” to confirm whether his directions had been complied with and even though he believed that this reprehensible plan wasn’t executed, facts on ground doesn’t support his optimism.
While Lt Gen Durrani [expectedly] denied it, a Western diplomat who had “occasional dealings” with both the then Pakistan Army Chief as well as his spymaster and was based in Islamabad when this purported meeting took place had opined that “It’s not inconceivable that they could come up with a plan like this” [emphasis added].
Despite such incriminating evidence of ISI’s involvement in narco-terrorism coming from none less than a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Washington chose to look the other way. This comes as no big surprise since ISI was just doing what the CIA had taught it to do.Just like the US couldn’t rein-in ISI from dealing in drugs, the Pakistani Army’s top brass couldn’t restrain other army officers down the chain from doing likewise.
Hurriyat’s Dubious Role
In its efforts to play down the fact that it’s nothing but ISI’s proxy propagating Pakistan’s motivated Kashmir agenda, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference [APHC] misses no chance to play politics. So, while profusely lamenting the burgeoning drug abuse in Kashmir Valley, they have strangely not yet galvanised the public to unmask drug peddlers. Compare this with vigilante squads that spring up to ensure APHC’s shutdown calls are forcibly enforced, even if it results in the death of perceived violators of APHC’s diktats.
During his Friday address to the congregational gathering at Jamia Masjid in July 2019, APHC leader Mirwaiz Umar Farook said, “Members from cross section of society have been informing me [and] I have been receiving large number of letters suggesting the menace of drug addiction is spreading far and wide in Srinagar and across the valley especially among the youth including girls.” While he advised parents against making “easy money” available to their children, and advised teachers, the clergy and members of Mohalla and Masjid committees to “wake up to this reality”, he came up with no concrete plan of action that APHC would undertake to tackle this menace.
Senior APHC leader Late SAS Geelani too waxed eloquent on this issue by observing that “The drug menace seems to be the last nail in the coffin and before this evil destroys the basics of our culture, identity, faith and social network, it needs to be dealt with a strong hand.” But just like Mirwaiz, while he too spoke of an urgent requirement of this malaise to be addressed at domestic, village, mohalla, district and state levels but inexplicably kept APHC out of the ‘crusade’ against drugs.
Failure of APHC to act against drug abuse is a clear indication that being the handiwork of its benefactors sitting across the LoC, this separatist conglomerate can’t afford to act tough by garnering public support to challenge this scourge!
ISI had institutionalised narcotics smuggling three decades ago as one of the means to finance its disruptive activities in India. However, New Delhi’s clamp down on terror funding and Pakistan’s precarious financial condition has increased ISI’s reliance on narcotic trade profits for fuelling terrorism in India. However, thanks to an effective surveillance grid along the international border and LoC, using terrorists and their sympathisers to smuggle narcotics has become quite difficult.
Consequently, a cash-strapped ISI has ramped up its efforts to push-in narcotics and is also using smugglers to ferry arms and ammunition for terrorists in J&K. The continuing seizure of narcotics and warlike stores being smuggled into India from Pakistan using underground tunnels, surface means and even drones leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that trafficking of narcotics from Pakistan into India is being facilitated and supervised by ISI.
Working with exceptional synergy, the Indian Army as well as paramilitary and police forces in J&K have effectively been able to contain smuggling of narcotics, and with 4598 cases of drug smuggling being registered in J&K from 2017 to 2021 indicates the seriousness of this issue. In addition, security forces are working with the government and NGOs to increase public awareness against drug abuse and rehabilitate addicts through comprehensive de-addiction programmes. Though an extremely painstaking and challenging task, it will certainly go a big way in reducing the drug menace in Kashmir.
Conversely, since it’s an excellent source of easy money, narco-terrorism will continue to find favour with Rawalpindi and with Pakistan now out of the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list, ISI will most definitely ramp up its narcotics smuggling operations. Hence, New Delhi can’t afford to be complacent on this issue and it must keep exposing ISI narco-terrorism activities in all international forums. Simultaneously, legal proceedings against those involved in narco-terrorism need to be fast-tracked and stringent punishment must be awarded to the perpetrators.