Thursday 29 July 1999

Drugs-Terror Nexus may Cause Undoing of Pakistan

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Regulars at the tungri kabab sessions at the Pakistan High
Commission find it fashionable to repeat that Nawaz Sharif is a
'prisoner' of the Army and the ISI, which are ’blocking’ his desire
to make a realistic peace with India. They seem to have little
comprehension of the remote control that drives the Pakistan
Army and the ISI in its terrorist wars, This is the Asian drugs

Optimists predict that the intensity of cross-border support
for insurgencies in India will decline, now that the Pakistan
economy is sputtering. They forget that only a fraction of this
support comes from the regular budget.

The bulk of the funding comes from the profits of the drug
trade, which in a pan-Asian context is conservatively estimated
at $75 billion, of which around $20 billion goes to Pakistan-based
syndicates and around $40 billion annually to South East Asia-
based syndicates with linkages to China. Around $5 billion is
generated by India-based groups, many linked to the Chinese
and Pakistani syndicates.

Thanks to the drugs trade, many officers in the Pakistan
army — as well as similar structures in China — have accumulated

Their common interest in this profitable business is an
important reason for the close fraternal ties that bind Beijing to
Islamabad, apart from the common need to contain India. Think
tanks in the West seem to believe that if New Delhi were to
surrender Kashmir to Pakistan, tensions between the two powers
would subside.

In fact, Kashmir is just an excuse for the Pakistan army and
the ISI to keep alive the terrorism that acts as the internal
rationale for the drugs trade. There is no way the ISI and the
Army would surrender the milch cow that is the drugs trade.
Were Islamabad to get that unfortunate state, it would very
quickly come up with a new excuse for funding insurgency,
perhaps the need for 'self-determination' in the Northeast or
Tamil Nadu.

Despite its ponderous intelligence networks, Washington
seems to be blissfully unaware of the reach of the Chinese triads
and their fundamentalist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
During the late 1930s and well into World War II, there was a
similar 'ignorance’ over the fate of people professing the Jewish
faith in Nazi-controlled Europe. Hopefully, unlike in the case of
the Jews when it woke up only after millions belonging to that
faith had perished, the US will improve its intelligence-gathering
in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Canton, Peshawar and Lahore and join
with India in leading an anti·drugs war in Asia with the same
vigour with which it is being waged in South America.
Indeed, the Asian variety has even worse implications for
international security than the South American one, linked as it
is to fundamentalist terrorism.

New Delhi has been even more oblivious than Washington
about the effects of the drugs trade on regional security. Indeed,
one of the more successful Indian multinational corporations, the
'D’ Company headed by that benefactor of the film industry
Dawoodbhai Ibrahim, has become a media celebrity.
Laws against drug trafficking in India are much weaker than
those in countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, and are
hardly enforced. Unless this booming industry is checked,
terrorism will continue its rampage over most parts of the

Similarly, rather than bleat about Kashmir, as the South Asia
bureau of the US State Department is wont to do, Washington
needs to push New Delhi towards firmer measures against
druglords operating in the country.

Simultaneously, the US needs to forget the sentimental
bonds linking it with Islamabad and the financial ones tying it
to China and prod both countries into policy tracks that do not
fuel the generation of drug money.

Tackling Myanmar and ignoring China while confronting
the drugs trade, or lecturing Iran and ignoring Pakistan and
Saudi Arabia while discussing the funding of terrorist networks,
is a little like swabbing the throat in a case of tuberculosis.
In the case of South Asia, the US has been part of the problem
in the region, thanks to the unreal expectations generated within
Pakistan of the American capacity to pressurise India. If not for
this illusion, Islamabad may perhaps have accepted the current
reality in Kashmir rather than huffing and puffing away in an
attempt to blow away the Indian security structures there.
Indeed, this ’Raphelite’ policy towards South Asia is also
part of the reason why the Pakistan army - backed by Nawaz
Sharif, who appears to have endorsed the demand of the ISI to
be given one more chance to grab Kashmir - has been repeatedly
firing on civilians in Kashmir.

The expectation is that such activity will lead to the collapse
of the bilateral track and open up the way for US intervention.
Quite apart from the US, this is why India needs to convey the
firm message to Islamabad that either there are bilateral talks, or

In a couple of years, despite all the kebabs so lovingly served
in the Pakistan embassy, Indian public opinion is likely to move
away from acceptance of the LoC as the border in Kashmir, and
to the view that a fourth and final war is inevitable.
The terrorism spawned by the drugs business may cost
Pakistan its existence in a few years time.

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