Growing demand, fewer security guards across the border and a standing crop for camouflage. All of these make for an ideal setting for drug smugglers to try and push more and more drugs. And the drug traffickers, armed with sophisticated weapons like AK-47 assault rifle, seem to be sparing no effort to make the most of this opportunity.
The result: the 553-km frontier with Pakistan along Punjab is the hot spot for international drug trafficking, seeing a surge in attempts by Pakistani drug rings to desperately push heroin and other drugs across the border in recent months.
The Border Security Force (BSF), which patrols the fenced border and seized 288 kg of heroin in 2012, has made a massive haul of 145 kg in the first three-and-a-half months this year.
The BSF men have recovered 70 kg of heroin, that's more than the 67 kg they intercepted in the entire 2011, in the past two days alone. While the smuggling of heroin from Afghanistan has been taking place on the Indo-Pak border since long due to its proximity to the golden crescent (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran), the audacity of their smuggling bids has surprised the guards of the paramilitary force.
Wednesday's three-hour gunfire, in which the drug runners used AK-47 rifles, was their most brazen attempt to breach the Punjab border in the recent past. "They are coming too frequently. Numerous smuggling attempts have been made from across the border in the past few days. Though this problem is faced during the harvesting season when the crop is ripe, the deployment of Pakistan Rangers along the border is also not as strong. There are elections in Pakistan, besides some issues on the North-West frontier," BSF inspector general (Punjab frontier) Aditya Mishra told Hindustan Times.
While the absence of any serious deterrent on the Pakistan side is aiding the drug runners, the BSF also suspects the hand of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. "The three-hour gun battle gave clear signals as the Pakistan Rangers neither intervened nor reacted. We take these issues with the Rangers and lodge strong protests, but they always express ignorance. The way the drug smugglers advance towards our border and open fire clearly shows their ineffectiveness," Mishra said.
MODUS OPERANDI UNCHANGED
Though the number of seizures has gone up with time, the modus operandi of the drug cartels and the smuggling route followed by them remain the same. The consignment, wrapped in cloth, is pushed from a plastic pipe (in most cases 10-12 feet long) across the border fence by Pakistani smugglers. Then their Indian counterparts retrieve it.
"This modus operandi has been used in almost 90% cases. At times we have noticed that the drug packets are abandoned in fields on our side of the fence. These are thrown over the fence by Pakistani smugglers with an understanding with their counterparts," said Mishra.
The smuggling route also remains the same. Starting from Afghanistan, heroin finds its way into Pakistan and then it is smuggled into India, especially through different sectors of Punjab. When the drug starts from Lahore, it is pushed into Punjab through the Amritsar and Attari sector, whereas if it starts from Kasur district of Pakistan's Punjab, the drug rings eye Khemkaran in Ferozepur sector.
Mishra said that of the total recovery of heroin made all over the country last year, 70% was smuggled through the Punjab border. Apart from having a market in Punjab, heroin is shipped to USA, Canada and some Western countries for huge profits.
PLUGGING THE HOLES
As the drug cartels have become more and more desperate to push drugs to cater to the growing demand, intelligence reports indicate the wave will continue and the drug traffickers will keep coming aggressively. While Pakistan continues to be in denial mode, the BSF is trying to plug the holes in the fenced frontier to thwart their attempts. "Already, one more battalion has been sanctioned for the Punjab border and floodlights have been installed at key points. We are getting additional thermal imaging cameras installed at sensitive locations. Besides, surveillance around the 9-km riverine belt is also being strengthened," the IG said.