Home » How India is caught in narcotics web of Golden Crescent and Death Triangle – India Today

How India is caught in narcotics web of Golden Crescent and Death Triangle – India Today

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By Saikiran Kannan: Earlier this month, Tamil Nadu was placed under alert and strict monitoring after Mohammed Imran, popularly known as 'Kanjipani', was reported to have entered India via Rameswaram. This is a very concerning development owing to the history of this man (a known criminal and a drug smuggler), the history of illegal sea movement between India and Sri Lanka, the precarious economic situation of Sri Lanka, and the recent history of drug smuggling on this route.

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The police in coastal Tamil Nadu recently arrested a DMK councillor in November 2022 for attempting to smuggle cocaine worth more than Rs 200 crores from Ramanathapuram to Sri Lanka. Later, in December 2022, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) arrested nine Sri Lankans from the special camp for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees at Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirappalli over their alleged involvement in drugs and arms smuggling to revive the LTTE. Reports also suggest that while the destination points for drug smuggling are India and Sri Lanka, the origination is from countries like Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan which need the money to help them combat the weakening economic state of their respective nations.

In March 2021, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) registered a case after the local police arrested six Sri Lankan nationals and seized 300 kg of heroin, five AK-47 rifles, and 1,000 live rounds of 9mm ammunition off the coast of Vizhinjam, near Thiruvananthapuram.

While Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka also act as mini transit points, the sheer volumes of drugs seized, and smugglers arrested by the security agencies of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in recent times make it a compelling reason to focus on these two states.

Overview and implications of drug smuggling in the Indian sub-continent:

Pakistan is a major source of narcotics for other countries in the region given its location on the so-called "Golden Crescent" of opium production or “Death crescent”, as popularly called by anti-narcotics agencies across the world. This crescent region includes Afghanistan and Iran – making it a natural transit point for drugs being smuggled out of Pakistan. Pakistan's porous borders and lack of effective law enforcement in some areas make it relatively easy for traffickers to move drugs across the border.

Tamil Nadu and Kerala have become major destinations for smuggled drugs from Pakistan. One of the main reasons for this is the long coastline and the existence of large ports in Chennai and Kochi, which act as major hubs for maritime trade. Another reason is that it is easier to transport drugs from these ports to Sri Lanka and Maldives further south.

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Sri Lanka, which is located off the southern coast of India, is a major destination for smuggled drugs from Pakistan. The country has a history of drug abuse and the demand for illegal narcotics is high. Sri Lanka's coastal location and its proximity to India make it a prime destination for drug traffickers.

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Naturally, the influx of such substances into the mainland is a major problem, with significant implications for public health, security, and social stability. It undermines the rule of law, fuels organized crime and funds terrorism. It also harms the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

There is a combination of reasons why Sri Lanka has become a main destination point for drugs, mostly heroin. Ever since the end of the civil war in 2009, many gangs have been devoid of the circular economy that once sustained them via LTTE or other means. Secondly, the further deteriorating economic situation of Sri Lanka has emboldened these gangs to indulge in large-scale drug trafficking to keep their purses engaged.

Aside from the Golden Crescent, a major quantity of drugs is also pushed into the “Death Triangle” countries (Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos) using major ports in India as transit points. This is a hot route owing to the number of local drug lords running their networks in these countries and the influx of foreign tourists. Malaysia and the Philippines are also affected by the overflow.

How does the network function?

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International drug cartels have utilized fishermen as their couriers. These same fishermen were previously employed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to obtain heroin from India and sell it in Sri Lanka to fund their operations. After the LTTE's downfall, this model was adopted by other drug cartels. The high demand for heroin in Sri Lanka has also led to these cartels utilizing the Indian route to reach the country.

Several investigations have been conducted regarding these activities. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) discovered that the drugs are manufactured in Afghanistan, smuggled to Pakistan, and then dropped off in Punjab. From there, they are loaded onto inter-state trucks and distributed throughout the country. Most of the low-quality drugs reach the seaport of Ramanathapuram, the closest point of entry to Sri Lanka.

According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), drugs are smuggled into Sri Lanka for both domestic use and transshipment along the route to Europe via Colombo and the Maldives. The two main entry methods used are via fishing boats from southern India (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and to an extent Andhra and Karnataka) across the Palk Strait to the west coast of Sri Lanka (Mannar, Kalpitiya, Negombo and Mullaitivu), or through couriers on international flights from Dubai and Pakistan, especially via Bandaranaike International Airport.

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The illegal trafficking Tamil Nadu-Kerala-Sri Lanka route is nothing new. It has existed for decades, especially during the years when the LTTE was formed and started thriving. Back then, arms used to get transported between the countries via proxy LTTE supporters and sympathizers, both in the government as well as among the public.

According to India’s NCB, the major trends and patterns seen in the movement of drugs include:

Trafficking of opium-based drugs like heroin originate from the Golden Crescent region and reach the Death Triangle regions A lot of it happens via maritime routes and means The disruption of travel and transportation owing to the pandemic saw a lot of drugs being moved by courier parcels The drug network has extensively started using the dark net and cryptocurrencies for orders and transactions Heroin and cocaine in particular see the involvement of a lot of foreign nationals from Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Myanmar The local “ganja” is seeing a lot of movement within India of late Terrorism and drug trafficking continue to be linked:

Over the past few years, India has seen a renewed movement of Islamic state-affiliated groups which also includes those who have pledged allegiance to the ISKP faction (Islamic state Khorasan province). Aside from this, the story of the Taliban coming back to power, plus the instability in Pakistan with the rise of the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) and the perennial threat offered by the LTTE have all together made the frequency of drug-related arrests and seizures ever so high in recent times.

The recent IS-inspired blasts in Coimbatore and Karnataka are vital signals showing the rise of Islamic radicalization in these parts. The arrests of nine Sri Lankans from the special camp for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruchirappalli district also show that the LTTE sympathizers continue to make feeble attempts at reinvigorating its presence. While the LTTE chatter has always been around in Tamil Nadu, other factors like the strengthening of the TTP and the Taliban coming back to power can all only point towards more drug menace and trafficking.

During its previous tenure, Opium cultivation was the most profitable revenue model for the Taliban. Now, after coming back to power, they did make claims that they would discontinue this practice to win over the western world. But the subsequent financial blockade by the United States and other countries, coupled with the ban of girls and women from schools and colleges, all point towards the return of the status quo of the pre-9/11 days.

With no real financial stability in neighbouring Pakistan, and little or no aid coming in from the US, the Taliban has resorted back to opium trading, according to the United Nations. A report released in November 2022 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan increased by 32 per cent over the previous year, to 233,000 hectares – making the 2022 crop the third largest area under cultivation since monitoring began. Income made by Afghan farmers from opium sales more than tripled, from $425 million in 2021 to $1.4 billion in 2022. This is even as the Taliban announced a ban on opium cultivation in April 2022. Experts however only see the ban announcement as eyewash.

Terrorism has predominantly flourished and been funded by narcotics and drug trafficking in this region and drug and terror groups do not intend to change that way of operating. Seizure events collected by UNODC´s Drugs Monitoring Platform suggest that opiate trafficking from Afghanistan has been ongoing without interruption since August 2021. Afghan opiates supply some 80 per cent of all opiate users in the world.

Clearly, most of the opium-based heroin flowing into India and Sri Lanka has its origins in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

ALSO READ: International drug trade | Haul of shame

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Edited By:

Anuja Jha

Published On:

Jan 24, 2023

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