Halal through certification is itself a booming business, which generates revenue for Jihad. But Narco-Jihad has a different logic. It's Haram money for a Halal cause.
Whenever there is a discussion around any word or jargon, one must try to find it's origin first. If once the origin is traced, the debate becomes very pointed and clear. For example, there is a perception about the word Love-Jihad, that the RSS coined it. But if we research a bit, it will be clear that the word Love-Jihad was initially used by the Kerala High Court in December 2009, when it found indications of forceful conversions under the garb of love.
The same story is being repeated when Bishop Joseph Kallarangat of Pala, Kerala, spoke about the Narco-Jihad. The Left ecosystem got hyperactive, and several articles appeared on different platforms which termed Narco-Jihad a taunt on the Muslim community. On the other hand, Congress party, Left, the so-called secular brigade, and the Church's reformists lashed out at the Bishop. The Kerala CM Pinarai Vijayan said that such words should not be used. And just a few days later, a consignment of 3000 kgs of heroin worth $2.9 billion was seized by the Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) from the Mundra port in Gujarat which came from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan via the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Why should this word Narco-Jihad not be used? Is it just related to bashing Islam by Christians, or is it something more serious? Let's trace the origin of Narco-Jihad and analyse whether it's a taunt, misconception or a harsh truth.
The practice of Narco-Jihad is four decades old. In 1980 Islamist Mujahideen groups used these Narco funds for Jihad against the Soviet Union. And in the year 2021, the Kerala Bishop used this word almost four decades later. The nexus between narcotics and terrorism is a highly politicised concept which justifies the so-called Holy War against infidels.
When Narco-Jihad in India happened through Banking in 1977
This case was a perfect blend of Narcotics trade with Terror funding. A Pakistani named Agha Hasan Abedi owned the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) Bank. The American agencies identified this bank as a bank of shady customers ranging from terrorists and spies to drug runners and dictators. During this period, many transfers were done from Dubai to Punjab to fund militant groups.
It is also said that Dr Manmohan Singh, as RBI Governor, had opposed the decision to grant an operating license to BCCI in India. However, he was granted the license to operate this drug and terrorist bank and chose to remain on his post and compromised with national security.
The BCCI had been allowed to open a representative office in 1977 and got permission to open a full-fledged branch in 1979, later it was revoked by the head of the then minority government in 1980. It again got consent in 1983. The BCCI, after a few years of operation, collapsed following an operation by the American DEA called Operation C-Chase. But the damage was already done — it had served its purpose. Illegal transactions of the BCCI were reported by the Indian intelligence agencies and those from abroad, such as the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
In 1980 Islamist Mujahideen groups used these Narco funds for Jihad against the Soviet Union. And in the year 2021, the Kerala Bishop has used this word almost four decades later. The nexus between narcotics and terrorism is a highly politicised concept which justifies the so-called Holy War against infidels
Meanwhile, BCCI chief Abedi was making trips to Lucknow; the Intelligence Bureau had sent messages to Uttar Pradesh sleuths, mentioning that Abedi was openly liaising with two people known to be involved with the international drug trade- Nasir Ali of Shahjahanpur and Ramesh Chandra Kochar of Delhi. Both these men had been detained in connection with heroin smuggling.
In August 1988, the Narcotics Control Bureau had reported to the Department of Revenue that drug money was coming into fictitious accounts at BCCI Bombay, but no action was taken. According to reports, the BCCI had close links with Karachi-based Habib Bank, where Abedi had once worked. The DEA had told its counterparts in India that the Karachi bank had funded the purchase of arms for Afghan guerrillas.
Things began to fall in place. Authorities recalled an old case that had first brought the bank to their notice. An investigation by the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI in 1983 had revealed how BCCI, London, funded the caper in which the Department of Defence Production exported 50,000 numbers of .303 rifles to a British firm, Qaid International. The guns had found their way into the hands of Punjab extremists and the Afghan Mujahideen. Finally, the BCCI collapsed in 1991, followed by an operation C-Chase by the American DEA.
The Chairman of BD Foods Ltd, a Bangladeshi food firm tycoon who had been incriminated for trafficking large quantities of Heroin, worth a few hundred million of dollars into Great Britain, justified his drug smuggling operations by saying that, "It is a part of our noble responsibility to spoil the Western society with drugs". Badrudozza supplied spices and other food products to the UK, sourcing the Heroin mainly from Afghanistan via the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where he maintained offices. His statement exemplifies a widely supported stance of a religious-based justification of the opium trade. Similarly, the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid published an interview with an Afghan official where the latter asserted that: "Opium is permissible because it is consumed by Kafirs (unbelievers) in the West and not by Muslims or Afghans"
Getting permission to operate and uninterrupted functioning of the drug bank BCCI in India proves that there was a full-fledged team working on the instructions of foreign powers, with the highest penetration level in the Indian polity and bureaucracy. Apart from funding the insurgents, the BCCI also established the drug financial network in India in the 70s.
The EFSAS Report
A report titled, “Narco-Jihad – Haram money for a Halal cause?”, published by the “European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Amsterdam”, in November 2017, provides a detailed study on how this Narco-Jihad is initiated by the hypocritical reasoning of terrorist organisations, which abuse the religiosity of the local population to fight their alleged holy cause through ultimately unholy means. The double negative of illegal (drugs and infidels) cannot positively justify the Narco-Jihad propaganda undertaken by these extremist groups. The decades of bloodshed, warfare, killings of innocent people, and drug contamination cannot be diminished to merely a mathematical equation.
The EFSAS report is more West focused and it quotes a story of the arrest of one Badruddoza Chowdhury Momen. The Chairman of BD Foods Ltd, a Bangladeshi food firm tycoon who had been incriminated for trafficking large quantities of heroin, worth a few hundred million of dollars into Great Britain, justified his drug smuggling operations by saying that, "It is a part of our noble responsibility to spoil the Western society with drugs". Badrudozza supplied spices and other food products to the UK, was sourcing the heroin mainly from Afghanistan via the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where he maintained offices. His statement exemplifies a widely supported stance of a religious-based justification of the opium trade. Similarly, the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid published an interview with an Afghan official where the latter asserted that: "Opium is permissible because it is consumed by Kafirs (unbelievers) in the West and not by Muslims or Afghans”.
Monoply of Afganistan in Drugs
Afghanistan’s opium production has reached unparalleled degree of significance, considering its impact on the global economy. The relationship between Afghanistan and the poppy seeds have existed for thousands of years. However, it is only in the last 30 years that the country has become responsible for cultivating an astonishing amount of opium. Warlords, insurgents, drug traffickers, and corrupt officials saw an opportunity to abuse the State's vulnerability, which resulted from the ongoing violent conflicts and extreme autocracy. They were capable of establishing dominion and monopoly over key territories inland and particularly at its peripheries. As a consequence, Afghanistan provided the ideal milieu for the establishment and maintenance of a strong and enduring illicit economy based on the cultivation of opium. Currently, Afghanistan is at the epicentre of worldwide drug trafficking, with more than 90 per cent of the world supply of opium and heroin originating from the country.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 'Afghan Opiate Trafficking through the Southern Route’ 2015 report, Afghan heroin is trafficked to every part of the world except Latin America
The triggers behind this hegemony of Afghanistan's opium production at the global market are several; years of ceaseless warfare and civil insurgency, the historical absence of a legitimate centralised Government, the effective control and ruling imposed by religious extremist groups, lack of legitimate opportunities for development outside the opium trade and the failure of the international community of imposing successful interdiction programs.
Afghanistan is a country with very few natural resources, less than 12 per cent of arable land, while 80 per cent of its rural population lives in poverty. Only 23 per cent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water and only 6 per cent to electricity. It does not come as a surprise that the opium plant has provided outlets for employment and income for the rural population.
Post 9/11 Era, when the Taliban banned drugs
The EFSAS report also highlighted that, In 2000-2001, the Taliban Government, headed by its leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and in collaboration with the United Nations, imposed a Fatwa or a religious decree on the cultivation of opium, and aimed for its eradication after declaring that growing poppies were in violation of fundamental Islamic traditions. Any lack of respect for the edict would have prejudiced the religious leadership of Mullah Omar and the strength of the Taliban rule.
It appeared as the most efficient anti-drug campaign that has ever been carried out. Opium production declined by almost 99 per cent, roughly three-quarters of the world's supply of heroin at that time. However, the ban was effective only for a brief period and from the following year, farmers started to replant poppis extensively.
Many questioned the Taliban’s motives. Why did Mullah Omar only then decide to prohibit the cultivation? The most obvious answer is political double-dealing. The poppy ban was an artifice towards obtaining legitimacy. Before that, only three nations, namely Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, officially recognised the rule of the Taliban as legitimate. In addition, it was a form of market manipulation as the price of opium increased during that year. The Taliban might had stopped poppy cultivation, but they did not outlaw the drug's possession or sale. Dried opium, unlike most agricultural products, can easily be stored for long periods without refrigeration or other expensive equipment. Although the Taliban emphasised that the ban was rooted in religious principles, the huge stockpiles of opium stored in secret hideaways and the substantial profits generated by the quadrupled prices revealed the real motivating force behind this convenient strategy of window dressing.
Drug Trafficking Routes
The great diversity of trafficking routes, the complex modus operandi of traffickers, the protectionism of terrorist groups and the support of additional actors prove the significant dimensions of the rising Narco-Jihad, which imposes an acute threat over regional security.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 'Afghan Opiate Trafficking through the Southern Route' 2015 report, Afghan heroin is trafficked to every part of the world except Latin America. Having such an extensive global market network requires a web of secure routes facilitated by the supervision of domestic and international criminal groups. Some routes emerge and develop due to the geographical proximity, while others are associated with lower risks, migrant connections, higher profits or less complicated logistics. Although generating an accurate picture of the nature of drug trade routes is difficult due to their clandestine nature and the insufficient available evidence, certain long-lasting patterns could be recognised.
The concept of 'Narco-Jihad' – the contradictory and absurd justification of acts of violence in the name of religion, which is nourished by the revenues of the illegal trade of drugs – needs to be fully recognised and condemned by all parties involved
The Balkan route (through the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey) has traditionally been the primary trafficking route, which has been dedicated to mostly supplying single destination markets, such as Russia and Europe. However, a changing trend could be observed, with the southern route – which is a collection of trafficking routes that serve a number of diverse destinations including Asia, Africa, Western and Central Europe – gaining predominance. Notably, the geographic location of Iran and Pakistan turn them into major transit points along the southern route, which further explains the tremendous challenges for these countries in dealing with the large flows of opiates.
Traditionally, the drug trafficking route from Afghanistan to Pakistan passes through the Torkham border crossing, Ghulam Khan, Kunjrab and Karachi. Nevertheless, more than 60 alternative drug trafficking routes run through the Balochistan province. Drugs are smuggled overland to Iran, Turkey and onwards to Europe. Another portion is smuggled by sea to UAE, Saudi Arabia, Africa, and South Asia through Chaman, Noshki, Chagaghi, Dalbandeen, Panjgor, Turbat, Gawadar and Jeewani areas of Balochistan Province.
The Federal Drug Service of the Russian Federation (FSKN) reports that since the former secure route of transporting drugs to the West through the Balkans has split, a lot of the heroin trafficking goes through the Iraqi territory. Thus, what could be observed is that other terrorist groups often affiliated or under the patronage of the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) make up to $1 billion annually on Afghan heroin trafficked through their territory. Terrorist and organised crime groups could be seen to profit from the Afghan opium trade at other parts of those trafficking routes. According to the Turkish Trafficking and Organised Crime Police, the PKK (The Kurdistan Workers' Party) is involved in heroin trafficking from the Turkey–Iran border to Western and Central Europe, through the taxation of traffickers, with potential profits of $200 million annually.
Islamic World Is No Less Effected
Another argument that exposes the false religious virtues, which the Taliban alongside their major supporters abide to, is the fact that the drugs economy promulgated by them does not only ‘spoils’ the Western world, but also the fellow Islamic one.
The Afghanistan National Drug Use Survey 2015 found that up to 2.9 million Afghans use drugs, which accounts for 11 per cent of the population, and up to 2.3 million use opiates, about 7 per cent of the population. Approximately 1 million use cannabis, about half the rate of opioid users. Among adults, the survey suggested that 13 per cent would test positive, including 8 per cent in urban locations and 15 per cent in rural locations. Rural drug use by households reached as high as 86 per cent among villages in Ghor province, while the highest urban rate reached 28 per cent in Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province. Nationally, 9 per cent of Afghan children under the age of 14 tested positive for drugs, overwhelmingly opioids, including 2 per cent in urban areas and 11 per cent in rural areas. The data indicate that between 1 and 1.2 million children would test positive for one or more drugs, and 0.7-0.8 million would test positive for opioids.
Additionally, the decades of violent conflicts, war and terrorism through which Afghanistan has gone maintain the ongoing addiction crisis. Many of those who tried to escape took refuge in Iran and Pakistan, where addiction rates have long been high. By attempting to run away from the deadly warfare setting, they ended up in even more toxic environments of drug addiction. In Iran, people suffering from drug addiction have more than doubled in the last six years. A survey carried out by a drug control group has found that about 2.8 million people are regularly consuming drugs in the country.
The UN stated that Iran has one of the worst addiction crises in the world, affecting people from all walks of society. Factors such as political instability, economic stagnation, high unemployment, lack of opportunities for development and poverty – the lingering results of years of US sanctions – induce feelings of hopelessness and anguish, and that sense of desperation could drive people towards drug abuse. Subsequently, addiction could lead drug users into criminality to support their habit and usher them towards imprisonment due to arrests for sales or possession of drugs. Out of the 170,000 people in jail in Iran, 68,000 are there for drug trafficking, and 32,000 are there because they are addicts. Iran's theocracy has tried even harsher anti-drug measures, sentencing huge numbers of convicts to death row. Last year, hundreds of Iranians were reportedly executed for drug crimes, prompting a movement among lawmakers and activists to abolish capital punishment for non-violent (drug) offenses.
Pakistan's drug addiction, which kills 700 people daily, also bankrolls terrorists. According to the Drug Use in Pakistan 2013 Survey Report, collaborative research by the Narcotics Control Division, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and the UN, there are 7.6 million drug addicts in Pakistan: 78 per cent males and 22 per cent females. These addicts increase at a rate of 40,000 per year, putting Pakistan amongst the top drug-abusing countries in the world. And if mortality rates are measured alone, then the Taliban's involvement in opium production has been a more successful war tactic than any act of terrorism they have committed so far.
As Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, stated in 2007:
"Drug traffickers have a symbiotic relationship with insurgents and terrorist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Instability makes opium cultivation possible; opium buys protection and pays for weapons and foot soldiers, and these in turn create an environment in which drug lords, insurgents and terrorists can operate with impunity. Opium is the glue that holds this murky relationship together".
Impact of Narcotics-Jihad on India
In February 2019, the Government of India came out with a major report on the country's extent, pattern, and trend of drug abuse.
Let's have a look at some of its major findings of the report submitted by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), titled “Magnitude of Substance Use in India”, Approximately 2.6 crore people in India have used or use opioids and more than 60 lakh people in India suffer from opioid use disorders. The most common drug used is heroin followed by pharmaceutical opioids and opium. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat contribute to more than half of the people suffering from opioid abuse.
The UNODC data tells us heart of the heroin business—the arid Afghan fields which pump out some 80 per cent of the world's opium—is blossoming. Last year, acreage under poppy, the plant from whitch opium is extracted, rose to 31 per cent over 2019, to 224,000 hectares. The economic devastation in Afghanistan, a severe drought, and dislocations to export routes from fruit and onions will likely push more farmers to grow the hardy poppy plant.
Last year, opium production stood at something over 6,000 tonnes, or roughly 600 tons of processed heroin; farm-gate values fell to a record low of $350 million, all told, reflecting disruptions in demand due to COVID-19.
Ever since 2020, police forces across the world have been discovering enormous shipments of heroin: in recent months, a staggering 23,200 kilos were found stashed inside five shipping containers in Antwerp and Hamburg; 600 hundred kilos off the coast of Sri Lanka; 1,452 kilos in Romania, 400 kilos in Kosovo. Large consignments are also being interdicted by multinational naval forces operating in the Persian Gulf: the Canadian frigate Calgary, for example, a 1,286-kilo consignment in April. Each of these gargantuan seizures involved unprecedented international cooperation, often involving the intelligence and police services and the military from over 150 countries.
But these seizures aren't doing much to hit the availability of heroin globally, a market which the United Nations Office on Drugs and Organised Crime, UNOODC, estimates is at 350 tons. In 2018, the last year for which global data is available, 96 tons of heroin and 726 tons of opium—the equivalent of 72 tons of heroin—were seized. Thus, about two-thirds of all heroin shipments are reaching various markets, with distributors simply building the losses into their price structure.
Potential allies of Taliban: The Mexican Drug Cartels
As per a report published in dw.com dated; September 4, 2021, titled, "Could the Taliban form an alliance with Mexico's drug cartels?" mentions that, "Afghanistan and Mexico might appear distant from one another on a world map and are also separated by major historical, sociological and religious differences. But the Taliban and the Mexican cartels are united by the fact that they are both financially dependent on drug trafficking and use extreme violence to expand their political power and control of territory."
It further states that roughly 95 per cent of the world's opium poppies are cultivated in Afghanistan, Mexico and Myanmar, with all the illegal production and trafficking of heroin and other opiates that this entails. In Mexico, drug cartels are responsible for this and have the support of government officials. In Afghanistan, according to US and UN documents, producers are in direct contact with the Taliban. They also were complicit with the government — including the US-backed one. Experts at the US Congress hearing in 2009 estimated that 50 per cent of Afghanistan's GDP that year stemmed from the proceeds of the illegal drugs trade.
In February 2019, the Government of India came out with a major report on the country's extent, pattern, and trend of drug abuse. Major findings of the report submitted by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), titled "Magnitude of Substance Use in India", Approximately 2.6 crore people in India have used or use opioids and more than 60 lakh people in India suffer from Opioid use disorders. The most common drug used is Heroin followed by Pharmaceutical opioids and Opium. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat contribute to more than half of the people suffering from Opioid abuse
According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Sinoloa Cartel almost has a monopoly on the US heroin market. The Pentagon believes it to be present in 60 per cent of the world's countries from EU and West African States to India, China and Russia — all nations where drugs from Afghanistan are also sold. For the moment, the Mexican cartel is mostly responding to demand for South American-made cocaine and synthetic drugs. But it would not be the first time that organisations, which are actually in competition, came together to increase their profits and political influence.
The Indian Government is already planning to revamp its federal drug law enforcement and intelligence agency- Narcotics Control Beureau (NCB), creating 3689 new posts, canine squads, cyber and intelligence units, and a dedicated prosecution wing for the organisation. As on date NCB is a small unit with limited manpower to handle a big situation.
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence is also a capable organisation with the best intelligence and investigation. Among other sources of intelligence, the Customs Overseas Intelligence Network (COIN), also helps them.
All the agencies, including state policing, must change their viewpoint that the Narco-Jihad is no different from terrorist activities. There is also an urgent need for stringent laws dealing with drugs, and there must also be a provision for the death penalty if someone is found in dealing with these high-end drugs.
Counter-narcotic and counter-terrorism strategies must go hand-in-hand to even begin turning the current against this powerful and well-established industry. The concept of 'Narco-Jihad' – the contradictory and absurd justification of acts of violence in the name of religion, which is nourished by the revenues of the illegal trade of drugs – needs to be fully recognised and condemned by all parties involved.
The drug trade in Afghanistan has evident repercussions and destabilising effects on regional and global security levels, especially in India. The increasing drug addiction among the citizens of the neighbouring countries portrays how the Narco-trafficking industry does not simply deteriorate the region's economic stability and political situation. The booming drug economy, which goes hand-in-hand with the operations of Islamist terrorist groups, has turned the sub-continent into a violence-ridden wasteland. Any policies emphasising the stabilisation of Afghanistan through addressing the Taliban and ignoring the Narco-trade will be unsound and unsustainable since the drug economy remains one of the main sources of funding for terrorism in the region. Counter-terrorism and counter-narcotic strategies must go alongside since the causes and dynamics of drug trafficking and terrorism are intrinsically linked.
And finally the story of Global Narco Jihad, which is going to hit the Indian sub-continent very hard, must be told to the 120 crore population so that the drugs awareness quotient in public is raised and no one could paint this pattern of Jihad as a mere propaganda, taunt, hypothesis or a insane mathematical calculation.