Why is the drug menace thriving in Kashmir?

Lashkar terrorists with the cache of drugs, arms and ammunition in Kupwara. (Photo: News Intervention)
Lashkar terrorists with the cache of drugs, arms and ammunition in Kupwara. (Photo: News Intervention)

Three narcotic seizures in Qazigund, Kulgam and Srinagar over the last weekend by J&K Police highlights the monumental dimension of the prevailing drug abuse situation in Kashmir Valley. In absence of any comprehensive study or survey on this subject due to unrest and social stigma associated with drug abuse that precludes accurate collection of data, it is well-nigh impossible to correctly gauge the gravity of substance abuse in Kashmir. But those engaged in counselling and treating drug abusers opine that situation is alarming and since even senior separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have started expressing concern on this issue, there are good reasons to believe that drug addiction in Kashmir has assumed gargantuan proportions.

During his Friday address to the congregational gathering at Jamia Masjid in July last year, Mirwaiz 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.” 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.” Mirwaiz also asked law enforcing agencies to “step up and play their role to curb drug abuse.” But surprisingly, he didn’t assign any role (other than an ‘advisory’ one) to the Hurriyat in the war against drugs!

Geelani too came out strongly against drug addiction and said, “Health experts and institutions reveal horrifying data that no sane person wants to believe. After 2015, there is addition of more than 6,000 addicts every year, which indicates a good number of teenage girls, enough to demolish any social fabric to rubble without anybody knowing it.” 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,” he spoke of an urgent requirement of this malaise to be addressed at village, mohalla, district and state levels. However, just like Mirwaiz, Geelani too didn’t outline any active role for the Hurriyat in combating drug menace in Kashmir.

Despite its waning sway over the masses, the Hurriyat still enjoys considerable influence over the people of Kashmir as is evident from the public response to their hartal calls and even poll boycott diktats (albeit with the support of terrorists who act as enforcers). Even in non-political matters, the writ of Hurriyat runs supreme and an example of this is the issue of reopening cinema halls in Kashmir that had been forced to shut down due to terrorist attacks. Keen to reopen them, the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tried to create consensus by citing Saudi Arabia’s decision to open theatres. While Geelani didn’t comment on reopening of cinema halls in Kashmir, but by expressing his disappointment regarding opening up movie theatres in Saudi Arabia on the grounds that it went against the “norms of Islam,” he conveyed a clear message to the domestic audience and that’s the reason why cinema halls in Kashmir remain shut till date.

So, since Hurriyat claims to be the “true representatives” of Kashmiris, one had expected that it would take overall control and lead the battle against substance abuse in Kashmir. But why is it that while the Hurriyat is exhorting everyone else to actively participate in the anti-drug campaign in Kashmir, all that it’s doing is rendering lip service? Why is the Hurriyat shying away from playing a more assertive role in curbing this debilitating social menace? These are disturbing questions but the answer is ever more disquieting and even though it may sound odd, but the harsh and irrefutable reality is that since narcotics play a very important role in financing unrest and terrorist activities in Kashmir, it’s a ‘necessary evil’ that both the separatists and terrorists can’t do without and this isn’t mere speculation.

Readers would recall that just three months ago, security forces busted a narco-terrorism module in Handwara area of North Kashmir’s Baramulla district and recovered Rs 1.34 crore cash and Rs 100 crore worth of high-grade heroin from three Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operatives. The arrested trio revealed that the money from sale of drugs was being used to finance disruptive activities of LeT in Kashmir and the recovery of a cash-counting machine from their possession indicates that the money being made from the sale of narcotics was so huge that it required use of a cash counting machine!

In June this year alone, joint teams of security forces and J&K Police smashed two more narco-terror networks. The first was a Jaish-e-Mohammad narco-terror module that was busted in Budgam district when security forces apprehended six terrorist associates and recovered 1 kg of heroin as well as arms and ammunition from their possession. In the second incident, the Indian Army and Kupwara Police unearthed another narco-terror module that led to the arrest of two persons and recovery of 13.5 kg of narcotics estimated to be worth Rs 65 crores, besides two pistols, four magazines, 55 live rounds, four hand grenades, and 10 detonators. Just a month later, yet another narco-terror module was smashed when security forces and police arrested three persons in Tangdhar area of Kupwara district in North Kashmir and recovered 10 kg of narcotics alongwith one AK-56 rifle, two pistols and 20 grenades.

Another proof that despite spewing venom against drug menace, separatists aren’t really serious about destroying narcotics trade in Kashmir is the impunity with which illegal cultivation of cannabis and poppy is being done. In the past, these proscribed crops were cultivated secretly in remote and inaccessible areas to avoid detection by excise officials as well as to avoid antagonising locals since this deadly crop could destroy an entire generation. But ever since terrorism took roots in Kashmir, not only is such illegal cultivation being done openly in and around inhabited areas, but many farmers who earlier cultivated paddy, fruits and vegetables have now switched over to growing cannabis and poppy in their fields. Locals are extremely concerned about the burgeoning trend of drug addiction amongst the youth, but for unknown reasons, no one dares to object! 

Mirwaiz has himself admitted that “…availability of drugs and its distribution has become a well-organised trade in Kashmir, especially in Srinagar where during evening hours, drug peddlers openly distribute drugs to distributors and youth at graveyards, parks, playgrounds and anywhere.” To find a senior Hurriyat leader of Mirwaiz’s stature, who by making just one appeal can bring the entire Kashmir Valley to a grinding halt expressing abject helplessness when it comes to taking on the drug mafia defies comprehension!

So the only plausible reason for this strange behaviour of talking big but doing nothing is a distinct possibility that separatists and terrorists are either not worried about their own brothers and sisters falling prey to drugs, or that they may have something to gain from the ongoing narcotics trade in Kashmir. In fact, the ease with which drug peddlers are selling contraband in Kashmir (as revealed by Mirwaiz himself) is the most telling proof that there’s much more to the Hurriyat’s duplicitous stance on the issue of drugs than what meets the eye!

Tailpiece: In a 2014 interview given to Suhasini Haider, Mirwaiz had lamented that, “it takes not a moment for the government to identify a stone-pelter and book him under PSA and send him to jail, but it takes them months and years to find people supplying drugs.” This observation, raises a counter-question for Mirwaiz. “Sir”, with your massive public following, plus full support of those you hail as ‘freedom fighters’ who have the uncanny ability to identify and even sniff out “enemies” of the so called ‘freedom struggle’ from their hideouts, please tell me why hasn’t the Hurriyat ever been able to apprehend and hand over even a single opiate grower or drug peddler to the police? Or could narcotics be the ‘golden egg laying goose’ that the Hurriyat (and terrorists) wish to preserve at all costs?

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