Triumph of Narco-Terrorism in Afghanistan and Threat to India
Dr G Shreekumar Menon
The Americans and the Europeans have just managed to wriggle out of Afghanistan.
Immediately after the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, President George W Bush announced with aplomb the invasion of Afghanistan to ostensibly wipe out the Taliban. After twenty years of fighting the formidable Taliban rag-tag savages, fueled by drugs and guns, the battle-weary Americans are making a quiet retreat. The price tag for the almost 20 years of fruitless battle is estimated at around $978 million. The American forces had the best weapons, unmatched air support, and the support of the Western world in all respects, yet they were humbled by the Taliban war machine. The Afghan national defence and security forces could not put up any serious resistance to the Taliban savages.
How did the Taliban achieve this tour de force? It is just drugs, drugs, drugs, and nothing else. Surviving and sustaining themselves only on a poppy economy, the Taliban is estimated to have raked in as much as $ 1.5 billion annually for the past few years. Multi-point taxation on the only industry – namely Opium has been the main source of funds for the Taliban. They ensured that Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of Opium. The UNODC estimates that in 2020, an estimated 2,24,000 hectares were under Opium cultivation. A 10% cultivation tax is extorted from Opium farmers. Next, taxes are collected from laboratories converting Opium into Heroin. The estimates are that about 400 to 500 laboratories are engaged in converting Opium into Heroin.
Further, taxes are imposed on smuggling groups that are engaged in taking out illicit Opium and Heroin. The Taliban’s share of the illicit drug economy is believed to range between $ 100 million to $ 400 million. Other sources of revenue include taxes from telecommunication, mobile phone operators, electricity consumers, and looting from newly captured areas.
Afghanistan is rich in minerals and precious stones. A lot of illegal mining occurs for which taxes are extorted. The revenue from the mining sector is estimated at $ 50 million annually. Tacit funding is suspected from Pakistan, Iran, and Russia. As there is a deep-rooted religious angle, many rich private citizens from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, are suspected to be giving generous regular monetary contributions. The fact that the Taliban is highly secretive about its funding sources, and that there are no officially disclosed statements of accounts, leaves us with no other option but to make guess estimates.
The Taliban’s armoury consists of mortars, heavy machine guns, and recoilless rifles. A sizeable number of Humvees and mine-resistant armour protected vehicles have been captured from the Afghan forces.
The AK 47 assault rifle is the standard weapon of choice for the rank and file of the Taliban. While there are allegations that Russia is supplying weapons to the Taliban, reports are also common that they possess lots of American weapons which were given to the Afghan Army and Police.
With the exit of the Americans and their allies, it is only a matter of time before the complete takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban becomes a horrific reality. What does this portend for India?
We are faced with the uncomfortable prospect of seeing an unemployed Taliban seeking new pastures, and Kashmir will be high on their radar. Pakistan President Imran Khan and the ISI would be rejoicing over the imminent prospect of facilitating thousands of battle-hardened Taliban forces to clandestinely sneak into Kashmir. They will infiltrate in hordes across land borders and through underground tunnels.
Kashmir is going to be the next theatre of conflict, let us be prepared for it. The battle will not be for Statehood or Article 370, it is the annexation of Kashmir by the Taliban that we should be prepared for. Our forces are facing multiple challenges on different fronts. China has managed to keep a sizeable chunk of our forces on tenterhooks. They will not fight but keep us engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation. North-east and Bangladesh borders are simmering with Rohingya infiltration. Border with Nepal is uneasy and can cause concern at any time. The illegal Bangladeshi and Rohingya spread across India can create volatile internal security issues.
Vast quantities of drugs are pouring into the country through land and of late through maritime channels. While many nations are facing the threat of drugs and arms smuggling, India is confronting the additional problem of illegal gold imports. The daily influx of gold into the tiny state of Kerala, through its four international airports, has no parallel anywhere else in the world. Drug seizures are being reported daily from within Kerala. The skeletal manpower of the enforcement agencies like Customs, Enforcement Directorate, and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, is unable to unravel the organizations masterminding the daily gold and drug influx, into this small State. The reported involvement of political parties is increasing the complexity of the smuggling rackets. This apart, the recent remarks of the outgoing Director General of Police that Kerala has become a recruiting ground for terror outfits, should be a cause of utmost concern to all. The DGP has gone on record stating that “terrorists are targeting highly educated youths in the state to accomplish their agendas across the world”. He has refrained from giving all other confidential details.
While all sorts of ominous developments are taking place inside our country and in our national neighbourhood, we as a nation are besotted with petty political bickering, innumerable government institutions working at cross purposes with one another, a fractious bureaucracy, and a hostile media. The larger picture of the defence of the country and the gathering clouds across the border are simply ignored by all institutions. It is just a matter of time before the Taliban starts focusing on Kashmir. How do we prepare ourselves for an external armed intrusion and an internal rumbling with religious overtones?
This writer is of the considered opinion that firstly our Border Management needs a thorough overhaul. We should remodel the whole border management on the lines of the US Customs and Border Protection.
The Customs Department which plays a crucial role in border protection is a part of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes. The Customs needs to be brought under the Ministry of Home Affairs, this will bring Customs, Immigration, and many other para-military organizations entrusted with border protection under one command. This will ensure greater cohesion and integration of border management all across our land, air, and sea borders.
Drugs are fast becoming a violent mix in our internal scheme of things. There is an extreme dearth of qualified and well-trained drug experts to carry out the war against drugs. The government should immediately set up a National University of Narcotic Sciences to train personnel of all enforcement agencies, defence forces, intelligence agencies, and defence think tanks.
Further, it is of utmost importance that we integrate the judiciary and the legal profession in the fight against drugs. Presently, they are like a standalone institution, not in harmony with the existing security needs and requirements of the country. They need to be enlightened about drug trafficking, gold smuggling, human trafficking, arms trafficking, and other esoteric subjects like non-proliferation issues, dual-use items, and money laundering. There is also a need to train media personnel, management of media houses, and all MP’s and MLAs so that we put up a united phalanx against drugs and terror.
Our laws, especially those relating to drugs, arms, gold smuggling, illegal migrants, money laundering, fabrication of fake identification documents, recruitments for terror organizations, illegal manufacture of explosives and weapons, all need to be brought under a single law, with comprehensive provisions for preventive detention and curtailing the powers of the lower judiciary to grant bail and interfere during investigations.
The overarching question remains as to whether we are prepared for an assault on Kashmir by the Taliban, and if so, how do we face their drugs and guns? America and its allies were confronting the Taliban in their home ground, but any conflict with India will be in our country, and on our soil.
We need not be afraid of Opium and Heroin, we can hit back with powerful synthetic drugs like the ‘cannibal’ drug Flakka, Krokodil, Spice, and many more dangerous drugs. Our robust pharmaceutical industry can ensure that. Taliban will stand no chance in a drug war with India. But, infiltration, armed conflict, terror strikes, and indiscriminate bomb explosions need a different and volatile response. We need to prepare our forces. Kashmir statehood and elections can wait, anyway, it will be immaterial for the Taliban. The war on drugs and terror forces is more important.
Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS, (Rtd) PhD (Narcotics) is Former Director General, National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, & Multi-Disciplinary School Of Economic Intelligence India, Fellow, James Martin Center For Non Proliferation Studies, USA. Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA , Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A., AOTS Scholar, Japan.
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