Illicit trafficking in small arms is closely aligned with that of narcotic drugs. Arms are usually exchanged for drugs, which can lead to far larger profits and can also be used for laundering money and enriching individual fortunes. North-Eastern India, situated next to Myanmar, belongs to the Golden Triangle, a drug producing area where 68 per cent of all known illicit opium production and refining takes place. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Myanmar produces 80 per cent of the heroin in South-East Asia and is responsible for 60 per cent of the world’s supply. North-East India furnishes trafficking routes for Myanmarese heroin as well. Many heroin labs are located near the border. There are more than 19 trafficking routes from Myanmar to the North-East.
Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland together smuggle at least 20 kgs. of heroin every day. Intelligence reports reveal that all the heroin smuggled into the region is not for local consumption, instead, the bulk of it is sent to different parts of the country to various destinations, including foreign countries like the United States, Europe and major parts of India. The heroin is sold under different brands such as ‘Two Lions And A Globe’, ‘Double Globe’, ‘Five Stars’ and ‘Dangerous’. According to the UN Office, in Manipur 19.8 per cent of injecting drug users are HIV positive. In Nagaland, 16.4 percent of female sex workers are living with HIV and AIDS. All numbers are well above national average.
In Manipur, narco-trade is referred to as “blood money”. According to a study done by John Sisline, a systematic regroup analysis of arms acquisition patterns among clashing ethnic groups is lacking in the international level records. He does say, however, that “light weapons—small arms such as AK-47 rifles, mortars and grenade launchers—are the mainstay of ethnic conflicts.”
To illustrate the first batch of ULFA, consisting of 70 boys, who were trained with 600 other insurgents—including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Manipur and returned with around 10 weapons of different makes including a Chinese AK-47 and some M-20s. Weapon training led by NSCN cadres had included M-22, M-21, and M-20 pistols. More than 30 insurgent groups now operate in the North-East.
Both North-East India and South Asia have seen a massive proliferation of small arms in the last two decades. Armed violence has become an everyday reality in the region which, ironically, introduced the concept of ahinsa (non-violence) to the world. The damage done by small arms ranges from outright killings to maiming and mutilation, from rape to all possible violations of human life.
Till date, no State Governments of the three states have implemented any policy or programs to address the proliferation crisis.
The North-east has already been a witness and victim to the terrible scourge that the nexus of drug trafficking and militancy has brought in its trail.
Most of the opium is bound for Myanmar and thence onwards to America, European and African destinations. As per a 2011 Narcotic Control Bureau report, in Arunachal Pradesh around 900 acres of land in the districts of Lohit, Tirap, Anjaw, Upper Siang and Chanlang in Manipur an estimated 904 acres of land, comprising the districts of Churachandpur, Chandel, Tamenglong, Nongmaiching (Baruni Hill Range), Senapati and Ukhrul distrits. Ukhrul and Senapati including Imphal East districts are also known for producing high quality cannabis (ganja) cultivation.
Recent Narcotics Control Bureau reports point to organised criminal gangs operating in Assam, with quantities of pod being smuggled through the porous Indo-Myanmar border further on to Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, for the manufacture of heroin. A recent report also highlighted Guwahati as a transit point, with the anti-narcotic cell of Criminal Investigation Department of the Assam Police, reporting seisures worth 1,16,050 kgs worth of ganja and 252 kg of heroine. Smugglers have been using two routes for transporting the contraband from Myanmar into Manipur and thence into Guwahati. Apart from the three major drugs trafficking routes running through from Myanmar into northeast states of Manipur, Nagaland and Aizwal.
(Bureau report with inputs from Binalakshmi Nepram, Secretary General, Control Arms Foundation of India)