Limited stress has been placed on the health and developmental aspects of the spill-over effects of drug trafficking, which over time will constitute a great security threat to the nation.
Global narcotics trafficking intersects with a vast array of security issues ranging from war and terrorism to human trafficking, drug trafficking and national stability. External manipulation by drug traffickers has resulted in a surge in maritime drug trafficking on India’s western coast. Drug-trafficking brings along with it multifarious security issues and challenges, notably an intricate network of actors across various levels of handling narcotics management, which in most instances extend to foreign jurisdictions. Emergence of new criminal avenues to launder drug-money such as crypto currency and money transfer systems. Politicization of the fight against drug-trafficking by leaders from across the political divide creates insurmountable legal and political problems.
India has embarked on a massive privatization of ports and airports, establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), highways and waterways. These new and modern logistical centres present an ideal choice for drug traffickers and crime syndicates, as control by government agencies is kept at minimal levels. As productive national assets keep increasing in numbers and volume, the geographical spread makes detection difficult and facilitates transit. Vulnerable political environment in many states creates opportunities for operation by drug traffickers relatively smooth, apart from the occasional seizures. The potential for the drug trade to become a source of violent political competition, instability and most important, emerge as a parallel power that rivals the established legal system, becomes a distinct possibility. India has witnessed a spate of drug seizures from Mundra port to Lakshadweep in the year 2021. There is widespread concern that transnational organized crime, including illicit weapons and drug trafficking, piracy and armed robbery at sea, as well as terrorism and its increasing links with drug trafficking, pose a direct security threat to peace and stability in the Indian ocean region.
The escalating drug consumption in the student community, and film world is indicative of the growing tentacles of the drug trade. Across India there has been an upsurge in drug consumption, which has resulted in the effectiveness and resilience of the existing legal and enforcement machinery being questioned.
Recent seizures and arrests in several states have shed light on how the work of trafficking networks is facilitated by a range of actors, including businessmen, politicians, film stars, and students. The existence of porous borders, weak institutions, corruption and political patronage, poverty and ethnic identities, enable traffickers to avoid detection by the formal security apparatus. In some cases, the formal security apparatus itself provides cover for traffickers, giving rise to legitimate concerns about the ability of criminal networks and illicit funding to infiltrate security and government agencies, transform or influence the motivations of its members, reorient objectives towards the spoils of drug trafficking activity, thus undermining the democratic processes. Another question that arises for consideration is as to who the elected officials are beholden to: governments, electoral constituencies, criminal organizations or even terrorist groups? This is because a serious threat posed by drug trafficking is its ability to reshape relational dynamics between and among political and security actors, the citizenry, and the business community within and beyond borders. The infiltration and potential weakening of military, police, customs and border agencies by criminal organizations, due to liberalization policies can have deleterious effects on national security.
Another area of concern is that rivalries between different groups involved in the drug trade can lead to violent competition for access to routes, products and profits. The lucrative trade in methamphetamine, cocaine, and ecstasy will result in crime and violence perpetrated by users and armed gangs, including petty crime, violence against women and children, and “drug money-fuelled” violence. Therefore, the security threats caused by drug trafficking can impact all levels of society, and at all levels of government right down to the family.
The threat of radicalization and recruitment of youth by terrorist groups is another serious corollary of drug-trafficking. Radicalizers and recruiters target vulnerable youths from learning institutions. Mosques and madrasas are a soft pool that is exploited easily and fresh recruits both male and female are whisked off to join other militants in foreign countries, especially war-zones. This has been detected in Kerala and the numbers are alarming.
Then there are the human security threats posed by drug trafficking, for which institutions and policymakers are particularly ill prepared to respond to. One of the main challenges lies in the fact that the predominant approach to drug trafficking in the region to date has been based on the international narcotics control regime which is focused on stemming the supply of drugs through law enforcement efforts. Limited stress has been placed on the health and developmental aspects of the spill-over effects of drug trafficking, which over time will constitute a greater security threat to the nation.
Health facilities in India are not geared up to deal with the consequences of drug dependency. There is a dearth of specialized units and medical professionals and rehabilitation centres across the country. This has been highlighted in the report prepared by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, titled, Magnitude of Substance Abuse in India 2019.
Another grey area is the convoluted legal procedures involving drug cases. Most of the time of the skeletal enforcement agencies is taken up by the legal procedures and formalities required for processing court cases. The limited manpower is stretched beyond limits, especially when high profile film stars and politicians are involved. Though the NDPS Act 1985 is a special enactment, routine court procedures and formalities continue to hold sway. Other complicated issues which thwart investigation are: lack of cooperation from witnesses due to fear, especially if terror groups are involved; implicated banks and law enforcement agencies in foreign jurisdictions have hampered prosecution of suspects; and if foreign nationals are involved, they flee from the country upon getting bail.
In addressing the above threats, the government has made concerted efforts by improving interoperability and synergy in the multi-agency approach. Cross border security threats with their spill-over effects have impacted negatively on India’s internal security. The government has continued to mitigate these transnational security threats through bilateral and multilateral engagements.
The government deployed counter terrorism initiatives which led to the disruption of a number of high profile planned attacks, especially in Kashmir and North-East. Key facilitation networks/cells operating in the country were also unearthed, resulting in arrests and prosecution of suspects. The multiagency approach has been instrumental during investigations to unravel the existing facilitation networks/cells used by the militants to fraudulently acquire official documents such as passports, birth certificates and national identification cards.
However, much more needs to be done. Other counter-terrorism measures and counter-narcotics initiatives needed include:
1. Safety and security against violent extremism tool that will help detect and prevent radicalization of youth.
2. Develop a national strategy to counter violent extremism.
3. Launch district action plans in all districts for countering violent extremism and drug-trafficking in collaboration with security agencies, civil society and citizens.
4. Improve media sensitization on terrorism and drug-trafficking reporting.
5. Sustained vigilance on online platforms that include Facebook, and WhatsApp, mostly exploited by terror operatives and drug traffickers to coordinate their activities.
6. Enhanced security coverage of critical infrastructures. Private security agencies, especially those run by ex-servicemen, have a great role to perform in this domain.
7. Formulate a more robust anti-money laundering law and combating the financing of terrorism framework. This is a very weak spot in the investigation by our enforcement agencies. They are not able to make any headway in investigating the financial transactions and networks. The Kerala gold smuggling cases are an appropriate example. The agencies are unable to decipher the financial transactions that have taken place in Dubai and other Gulf countries, and the local actors in the state.
8. Engaging the local political, religious and opinion leaders within vulnerable communities, as a proactive strategy to deny terrorism entry points into the radicalization of our youth,
9. Developing and sustaining more global centres of excellence throughout our counter terrorism chain.
10. Enhancing bilateral and multilateral collaboration in counter terrorism efforts.
11. Continuing modernization and equipping the security forces and enforcement agencies to enable them tackle terrorism and narcotics trafficking.
12. Developing an overarching national counter terrorism strategy to boost the fight against terrorism.
13. Seizure and recovery processes on proceeds of crime located in other jurisdictions, specifically where mutual legal assistance agreements are non-existent.
14. Cyber security is increasingly becoming a global challenge with terrorists and drug traffickers utilizing new methods of communication and operations, thereby threatening national security.
Fifty years ago, on 17 June 1971, US President Richard Nixon convened a press conference with a grave message for his fellow citizens: “America’s public enemy number one, in the United States, is drug abuse”. The fight still continues.
The Commissioner of Human Rights in Honduras has declared drug trafficking and organized crime to be public enemy number one in his country.
India also needs to proclaim drug trafficking and drug abuse as public enemy number one. by
Dr G. Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Retd) PhD (Narcotics), is former Director General, National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, and Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India. www.shreekumarmenon.com