KC NEWS DESK
“A much bigger pain awaits us if we do not pay attention and go all out to face the drug challenge today,” said J&K DGP Dilbag Singh in an interview to The Indian Express on the drug pandemic sweeping the Valley. Excerpts:
How serious is the crisis?
It should be clear that this is a very big problem. The drug menace, that the society currently faces, is a bigger threat than militancy. Terrorism brings death, destruction and agony to civil society in many ways. However, a much bigger pain awaits us if we do not pay attention and go all out to face the drug challenge today.
Firstly, Pakistan agencies, which were earlier in the business of terrorism, have taken it up as a matter of policy to use drugs to fund terror as well as to mix terror with social crime to harm society and punish the people of J&K for choosing peace over terror. It was done in Punjab in the same way and while the state’s militancy died a long time ago, the problem of drugs is as threatening as ever. We are moving in the same direction.
Why do you say that?
Over the last four years, the number of cases and arrests have both gone up. If you see, the number of victims or persons consuming drugs is estimated to be around 5-7 lakh (in Jammu & Kashmir), of a population of 1.3 crore. These are all young people, generally between 13 and 30 years.
There is the vested interest of local couriers in some areas, particularly in Karnah (North Kashmir) and Rajouri-Poonch areas and, to some extent, Samba. Some of the people in border areas have become involved in this because of an economic interest. They have become couriers and facilitators (bringing drugs into Kashmir) in a big way. They get drugs, it goes to Punjab and cash comes from Punjab… A part of this cash goes back to Pakistan and some is used at the local level. We are also seeing some payments in cryptocurrency now.
What is the route these drugs take within J&K?
Vehicles coming from Punjab use women as cover… The number of women couriers has gone up… more so in the last two years. A reason for this is that the noose has tightened on the earlier funding channels (and) most of those have dried up. The most attractive funding route has become by way of drugs. To create interest within the local people for (drugs) is very easy. Everyone is a beneficiary in this chain, except for the victim. From the person assisting with crossing the border to the one carrying (the drug) to different points or locations and the one selling… everyone is getting money.
Most of the consignments are going to Punjab – heroin and smack – and from there, cash comes upwards (to J&K). Synthetic drugs, both pharma and opioids, are coming from Punjab and Himachal.
What’s the structure supporting these couriers?
The involvement of villages just beyond the fence has been noted because of their proximity to villages across the LoC. There are around 37-odd villages in Rajouri-Poonch and a bigger number in Baramulla and Kupwara. Some of the villages in the Tangdhar area of Kupwara and some in Uri are seen to be involved in this.
The major source… are some of the drug lords and drug mafia in Afghanistan. From there, it travels to Pakistan and from there to J&K. The unfortunate part is that it is being smuggled through militant outfits and it is not too far-fetched to attach this to (Pakistan’s) ISI. Anyone can be given money and made a courier… The ISI is keenly interested in this.
In terms of consumption, Kupwara is the highest, after this are Doda and Bhaderwah. The increased prevalence of drug use is an issue in both provinces.
What are the measures in place for controlling the movement of drugs into and within J&K?
Over the last two years, a lot of couriers have been killed right on the border during the course of transportation of drugs from across the fence towards our side. They not only bring drugs but also weapon consignments… Drugs go to the drug mafia or cartels for converting them into cash and weapons go to terrorist outfits.
In 2022-2023, there have been about 20 serious cases of narco-terror that we are investigating — where drugs and weapons have been transported together. Apart from this, there have been 20 or so consignments — both narcotics and weapons or IEDs – delivered through drones. Lashkar has been found to be mainly involved in this, and in some cases Jaish too, which is sending these to the Ghaznavi Force (a Kashmir-based terror group formed with cadres of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami).
Police have been clamping down on peddlers but is there a system to address the growing availability of drugs in the market?
We need volunteer organisations to identify victims so they can get requisite help on time. The social welfare department, anganwadi workers and village panchayats needs to be involved. Rather than fighting it centrally, this needs to be taken to the villages. We will have to go towards ‘nasha-mukt panchayat’.
We have two major drug de-addiction centres run by the police. One is in Srinagar and the other in Gandhi Nagar. We are coming up with a big one in Narwal area (Jammu) and we have 10 subsidiary centres running as well.
The other issue is the illegal cultivation of charas, bhang and ganja. Many villages in South Kashmir are involved in this. Opium is also cultivated here. These are transported through trucks and a lot of times their drivers are also abusing these substances. We do destroy these crops every year but it keeps coming up again and again. To prevent this, some form of alternative cropping is needed.
There is criticism that while peddlers are being caught, the bigger networks have not been dismantled?
I would be happy to challenge anyone to name any big fish and claim that we have not been able to catch them. I want civil society to be involved in addressing this menace. Bring it to our notice and we will book them.
(The interview has been first published in Indian Express)