Pakistan’s role cannot be overlooked in the Gujarat heroin smuggling case in which heroin worth $4.2 billion — or Rs 21,900 crore — has been seized from containers that arrived at Gujarat in India. The confession of the arrested Indians, that these were not the only consignments- there were two more, points to a larger problem. Consequent heroin seizures across the country indicate clearly that at least five earlier consignments of the narcotic drug came to India from Afghanistan have all come via Pakistan.
India is the highest heroin consumer of South Asia, according to a United Nations Report.(link:https://www.unodc.org/documents/wdr/WDR_2010/1.2_The_global_heroin_market.pdf)
Drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Pakistan has its roots in regional geopolitics. Pak-Afghan drug trafficking is a lucrative business that has emerged as the biggest challenge to keep Pak-Afghan relations on solid footings. Both countries are closely linked to the drug trade. Afghanistan produces the largest and the finest quality of drugs while Pakistan is an important consumer, a key transshipment point and important regional actor involved in the drug trade — according to a scholarly document by Tehran Usman Khan and Minhas Majeed published in the Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan, Lahore, Vol. 50.
The Gujarat heroin cache came to India from Afghanistan via an Iran port. This means that the consignment traveled from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Iran and then to India. It did not come directly to India.
Though Pakistan has been consistently claiming that it does not aid Afghanistan in any manner, considering Pakistan’s perfidious history it cannot be trusted.
According to BBC investigations, the Taliban economy is worth about $ 1.5 billion a year. At least 70 percent of that is dependant on illicit drug trading and trafficking. The $4.2 billion India heroin haul could have supplemented the Taliban economy and its nefarious activities.
Earlier, most of the drugs came from Afghanistan through Punjab, but the udta Punjab has been replaced with Gujarat because of the latter’s vast coastline. The earlier land route has been replaced by the sea route.
Kutch, Gujarat’s biggest district, boasts of the biggest coastline in India.
Gujarat has the largest coastline in India and ports in India have become major transit points from where these consignments are sent to destinations — often in smaller towns and cities — that are marked as the receivers of these drugs.
Unfortunately, Gujarat has earned the dubious reputation of being the number one in the world in heroin seizures. The official figure of heroin seized across the world annually is 93 tonnes and the Gujarat haul is 3 tonnes — the biggest seizure of heroin in the world at one go. The figure is likely to go up after the investigations by Indian agencies.
Also read: Gujarat Is New Drug Capital Of India
The Chennai-based couple who have been arrested could have been used to order more drugs under the guise of talcum powder or talcum stones. The couple ran Aashi Trading, believed to be a front and a shell company with the main operators staying completely off the radar. There could be a four or six-level operation, as it happens in most drug trafficking cases, with the real drug lords not being exposed even after raids.
All the parcels from Afghanistan come to India via two centres of which one is invariably Pakistan, said a source in a central investigative agency.
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), which cracked the world’s biggest heroin smuggling case, has confirmed that the latest cache came, like all others, via the sea route. Indian agencies have arrested four Afghan, one Uzbek and three Indian nationals including a woman in this sensational case.
Afghanistan’s forbidden flower
Afghan heroin is the most popular heroin not only in India but across the globe. The opium that grows there, from which heroin is processed, is considered to be the most potent because of its morphine value. The Afghan style of manufacturing heroin, using high-quality opium and acetic anhydride, is considered to be more potent than the Mexican or Latin American style, according to academics who have done research on the contribution of drugs in the economy of Afghanistan. Since the Taliban regime is in power, they refused to speak on record to Vibes of India.
Afghanistan is the biggest producer of heroin in the world with a current estimate of 5750 million tonnes of annual heroin production. According to the World Drug Report of 2021, western countries have been showing a decline in consumption of heroin and this has reflected in seizures there going down. The total heroin seizures, according to data from the World Customs Organisation, amount to around 93 tonnes annually compared to 228 tonnes of opioids or synthetic drugs seized.
However, India’s heroin consumption which was 19 percent of the world’s in 2008 is believed to have gone up to 34.8 percent in 2020. India is the biggest heroin market of Afghanistan in all of South Asia.
Heroin haul and after
According to the Union finance ministry, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) on September 13 detained for examination two containers that had arrived at the Mundra port from Kandahar, Afghanistan, via Bandar Abbas, Iran. The containers were labelled as containing semi-processed talc stones. Detailed examination of the containers led to the seizure of 2,988 kg of heroin from the two containers on September 17 and 19.
Though the containers were detained five days before, the heroin disclosure took time because the narcotic was concealed in jumbo bags purportedly containing unprocessed talc powder. The heroin was placed in the lower layers of the bags and topped with talc stones to avoid detection. Resultantly, the heroin had to be painstakingly separated from the talc stones, the Indian government has said.
Immediate follow-up operations were then carried out in New Delhi, Noida (UP), Chennai, Coimbatore, Ahmedabad, Mandvi, Gandhidham and Vijaywada. This led to the recovery of 16.1 kg of heroin from a godown in Delhi, 10.2 kg of powder suspected to be cocaine and 11 kg of a substance suspected to be heroin from a residential place in Noida, the ministry said.
This also indicates that there have been previous consignments also.
Eight persons, four Afghan nationals, one Uzbek national and three Indians, have been arrested in the case so far. The arrested Indians include a person who held an Import Export Code (IEC), which was used to import the consignment. He was arrested in Chennai. Investigations are in progress.
At present, the government of India has no clue about the actual culprits from Afghanistan. Because those arrested have been found on the boat only and are not the kingpins but ordinary mules, as they are called in the drug trade.
“When the ship was boarded after receiving specific intelligence, they discovered that the contraband was mixed with talc stone powder and the drugs were being shipped from Bandar Abbas Port in Iran via two containers, weighing 40 tonnes,” the Indian government has said.
“Specific intelligence was developed that a consignment imported by M/s Aashi Trading Company, Vijayawada, declared as semi-processed talc stones shipped from Bandar Abbas Port to Mundra Port, is suspected to contain narcotics drugs. Intelligence indicated that these drugs have originated from Afghanistan,” the officers said in a statement.
A DRI official informed that the 2,988.219 kg (roughly 3 tonnes) of heroin they seized included 1999.579 kg from the first container and 988.64 kg from the second.
“The examination was conducted in presence of experts from Forensic Science Lab (FSL), Gandhinagar. During the examination, suspected narcotics drugs were recovered from both containers. The FSL conducted tests and confirmed the presence of heroin,” the DRI statement said.
Old problem, new headache
As per data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the area covered under poppy cultivation expanded from 8,000 hectares in 2001 to 224,000 hectares in 2020 in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan-Pakistan border, a lush drug-growing area, is excluded from this data.
The UNODC report states that the opium economy in Afghanistan is estimated at $1.2 billion to $2.1 billion annually, which is 6 to 11 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.
Though drugs are forbidden in Islam and are deemed as haraam, the Taliban never really stopped harvesting, processing and selling narcotics in the international market with the support of Pakistan. A US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) report states that the Islamist terror group derives up to 60 percent of its annual revenue from the illegal drugs trade.
After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, it said that the state will not allow the production of narcotic drugs. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “We are assuring our countrymen and women and the international community, we will not have any narcotics produced. From now on, nobody’s going to get involved (in the heroin trade), nobody can be involved in drug smuggling,”.
However, the seizure of drugs worth over $2.7 billion flies in the face of that promise made by the Taliban because as of now, no country has given them aid and the US has frozen its assets worth over $10 billion.
So, the Taliban simply cannot give up on the drug trade.