Pakistan’s mixed warfare strategies in Jammu and Kashmir continue to pose a challenge to the security forces. When a neighbouring country is bent upon proxy warfare, constant alert and proactive strategy are vital for national security.
Earlier, Pakistan’s proxy war in Kashmir was mainly waged through infiltration of trained militants into the Valley. With social media, Pakistan has written new chapters on violent acts of extremism. Pakistan has intensified the dark spectacle of radical extremism, using e-jihad to brainwash and galvanize vulnerable youth. Narco terror is emerging as the fuel for this proxy war. This is evident from the drugs confiscated by the Army and the security forces, the investigations made by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), and the data available with the Jammu and Kashmir Department of Health. This strategy is double-edged. It is employed for direct creation of funds to finance terrorism in the Valley. It is also used to weaken the youth of Kashmir and make them fall prey to drugs.
Kashmir Youth Being Caught In The Drug Trap
Over the past several months, the army, police, and other agencies have conducted successful operations and have recovered not only weapons but also large consignments of narcotics. Army intelligence sources reveal that there are strong links between Kashmiri militants and drug trafficking in Punjab.
In the last few years, national media has focused much on the drug abuse among the youth of Punjab. But the scenario in Kashmir too is bad. Five years ago, a report published by the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) estimated that there are around 70,000 thousand people who are drug addicts in Kashmir division. Approximately 31% of them were stated to be women. The situation is worse now. It is mostly the Kashmiri youth which have been caught in the drug trap. According to the date at Government Psychiatric Hospital, Srinagar, about 90% drug abusers are in the age group of 17-35. There have been several media reports that opium cultivation is being taken up, especially in South Kashmir, to finance militant violence and foment trouble. The alarming trend of drug use among Kashmiri youth is partly due to the social and psychological effects of protracted conflict, unemployment and family/social problems. There is also a bigger design at work, with Pakistan intent on damaging the already stressed social and moral fabric of the Valley.
Proceeds from heroin smuggling used to finance militant activities
After the Taliban occupation of Afghanistan, there are fears that drug trafficking in Kashmir may increase. According to a 2018 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, the Taliban earned 60 percent of their income from the drug trade. These same narcotics are channeled into India through Pakistan. A senior police officer in Kashmir told KZINE that following serious action by law enforcement agencies against hawala operators in recent years, Pakistani agencies have crossed the Line of Control to push terrorism, narcotics trade and fake currency. In 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) cited “illicit arms, drugs and counterfeit currency traps” as the reasons for the closure of trade across the LoC.
When trade across the LoC was shut down, narco-trading started flourishing. Some of those arrested in the drug trade were from terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Proceeds from heroin smuggling are used to militant activities. In this connection, National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Afaq Ahmad Wani, a bank manager from Handwara in North Kashmir. Wani was stated to be part of a drug syndicate. 21 kg heroin and over Rs 1.35 crore in cash were seized from the drug syndicate. The total cash recovered as part of the investigations is said to be over Rs 200 crore. The police raid also uncovered a cash counting machine – commonly found in banks. This indicates that a large amount of money was transferred to terrorist networks.
In 2019, Jammu and Kashmir Police confiscated over 200 kg of heroin. Last year, 152 kg of heroin and 49 kg of brown sugar were seized from different parts of the tribal areas in the Union Territory.
Anti-Drug Task Force, De-Addiction Centers
Assessing the gravity of the problem, the Jammu and Kashmir government last year constituted an Anti-Drug Task Force (ANTF) to tackle the growing menace of drug terrorism in the region. But despite repeated campaigns, heroin use has reached alarming levels. The seriousness of the problem can be gauged from the admission to the De-Addiction Center (DDC) of Government Medical College, Srinagar. A total of 6,234 patients were admitted to the De-Addiction Center during the lockdown, from April 2020 to June 2021. More than 95% of them were addicted to heroin. Dr. Yasir Rather, DDC In-charge in Srinagar said that the number of people treated for heroin use is just a grain of a mustard seed compared to the total figure of addicts. The exact number of addicts is much higher. The easy availability of heroin over the past two or three years is a big reason for the spurt in cases,” said Dr. Yasir Rather.
Youngsters Introduced To Drugs By Peers – Case Study Of Ahmad And Manzoor Dar
Ahmad’s forays into drugs began in 2013, when he was pursuing MBA in Delhi. When he returned to Kashmir on a two-week leave in 2018, he was introduced to heroin. “Some of my childhood friends started taking heroin. They gave me the first two doses for a kick. The first time I took it in. The second time, it was injected into my veins,” Ahmad said. He was recently admitted to the de-addiction center in Srinagar.
In 2019, Ahmad became a regular drug addict and lost his job. “I got a call from an old acquaintance who had joined the militants. He offered me Rs 2 lakh to deliver me one kg of heroin in Shopian. I agreed. At the address where I delivered the packet, I was given Rs 18 lakh in cash, which I gave to my militant friend. He gave me Rs 2 lakh as reward,” said Ahmad. “A few weeks later, the militant was killed in a clash with the security forces. I continued to use heroin until last month, when my parents admitted me the de-addiction center.” Manzoor Dar (name changed) from North Kashmir’s Baramulla district is now 27. He started taking heroin in the company of friends. Manzoor says that he did not face shortage of money at home. But after he started taking drugs, he began making excuses to take more and more money from his parents. His mother brought him to the drug de-addiction centre, and he was able to quit drug abuse. Manzoor says he used to go to border areas to buy heroin, since it was easily available there.
Drugs “Bigger Challenge” Than Terrorism
Jammu and Kashmir Police has recognized the growing menace of narco-terrorism as a major challenge in the last few years. In early July 2018, Shesh Paul Vaid, then police chief of Jammu and Kashmir, had termed drugs as a “bigger challenge” than terrorism in the region. Police had to work 24X7 to address this menace. His successor Dilbag Singh had expressed similar concerns. The erstwhile state government provided land to the police to set up a full-fledged de-addiction center near Idgah in Srinagar. A similar facility was provided in Jammu. The government was considering the proposal to provide drug de-addiction sections in district hospitals all over the state. All these initiatives are good, but they are largely reactionary and defensive. The police and the security forces shall have to initiate concrete and proactive action to break the drug supply chain.
The history of terrorism in the Valley shows that social anarchy in Kashmir is a deliberate tactic adopted by Pakistan for decades. The proxy war is unlikely to end soon. First Kashmir lost its Pandits, and then we lost an entire generation to gun culture. It is tragic to witness that we are losing our youth to drug abuse.
Pakistan has continuously upgraded and calibrated its proxy and hybrid warfare strategies in Kashmir. The Indian state can no longer afford to be caught on the back foot. It is extremely important to initiate action that shall stem the evil designs of Pakistan in Kashmir.