Pakistan-based cartel kingpin behind smuggling of Afghanistan drugs | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Pakistan-based cartel kingpin behind smuggling of Afghanistan drugs

ByNeeraj Chauhan, New Delhi
Apr 30, 2023 04:36 AM IST

The cartel operates many clandestine laboratories in Balochistan, where heroin from Afghanistan are labelled with different symbols or inscriptions.

Haji Salim, a Karachi-based criminal kingpin who works with Pakistan’s spy agency and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror outfit to facilitate the infiltration of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir, also runs the main syndicate that smuggles the majority of Afghan heroin and illicit drugs to India, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and some Middle East countries, investigations by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and other agencies have revealed.

Haji Salim, a Karachi-based kingpin runs the main syndicate that smuggles the majority of Afghan heroin and illicit drugs to India (Representative use)
Haji Salim, a Karachi-based kingpin runs the main syndicate that smuggles the majority of Afghan heroin and illicit drugs to India (Representative use)

Salim’s cartel operates many clandestine laboratories in Balochistan, where heroin from Afghanistan are labelled with different symbols or inscriptions, investigators said, declining to be named. Some of the packets seized by Indian agencies mid-sea had inscriptions like ‘555’, ‘999’, ‘Unicorn’ and ‘Dragon’.

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“While it is estimated that 70% of total drug trafficking in India is taking place through the maritime route, Haji Salim’s network is behind the majority of consignments,” an official said. “He sends consignments in entire IOR (Indian Ocean region) and Indian ports.”

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Indian agencies have till date seized in the Indian Ocean region around 3,000 kg of heroin, 500 kg of methamphetamine and 600 kg of hasish that were sent by Salim’s cartel.

The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) briefed the anti-narcotics task forces (ANTFs) of states’, union territories’ police forces and central agencies about Salim’s network during two-day national conference of ANTFs last week.

The modus operandi used by this cartel “usually involves mid-sea exchange of the consignment from the mother boat (usually Iranian) to small fishing boats and dhows for carrying the drugs to Indian waters or other neighbouring countries,” according to the officer cited above.

In one instance, the NCB, in a joint operation with the Navy, had seized 200 kg of heroin from an Iranian vessel in October 2022. The consignment was exchanged mid-sea from a Pakistan boat.

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Similarly, a probe by the NIA revealed that Salim’s network supplies drugs to Sri Lanka as well in association with Sri Lankan drug mafia led by C Gunashekharan, alias Guna, and Pushparajah, alias Pookutti Kanna. The anti-terror probe agency had in December arrested nine Sri Lankan nationals from a special camp for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees at Tiruchirapalli for allegedly smuggling drugs and arms to revive the activities of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist group. It turned out that Salim was sending consignments to them.

“A major concern in India’s security and intelligence community about Haji Salim’s network is that not only he is associated with ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) and LeT, but his cartel is actively facilitating infiltration of terrorists in J&K,” a second officer said.

Inputs suggest that use of maritime route by smugglers is likely to pick up pace.

The Mundra port drug bust of around 3,000 kg of Afghan heroin worth some 21,000 crore, intercepted in September 2021, was one of the biggest consignments ever that came to India via the maritime route. The NIA found that money generated through drugs to Mundra was meant for terror activities.

A special edition of NCB’s annual report 2022, released during ANTFs conference, said: “The maritime drug trafficking in Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal poses new challenges to drug law enforcement agencies and they anticipate further increase of this route by international drug trafficking syndicates operating from Pakistan and Afghanistan”.

Interception of maritime drug trafficking, especially in the western region of India, has seen an increase, the report said. “Most of such seizures are sourced from the ports of Afghanistan or Iran, which are destined to coastal states of India or are in further transit to countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, etc. White heroin is the most trafficked drug through maritime route, other drugs like ATS, charas and cocaine are is also seized”, the report said. HT has seen a copy.

Several steps are being taken to stop smuggling through the seas, officials said. The government has given additional funds to the NCB and other agencies for enhanced monitoring of Indian waters, and 100% checking of suspected containers are being done at ports. The NCB has identified locations to install mobile vehicle scanners at international borders and inland locations, said the first officer cited earlier.

Subsequently, the home ministry is also exploring technology to scan containers. An interministerial committee has been constituted to study best practices by the other countries on transnational drug trafficking through the maritime route.

Drugs trafficking through courier or parcels have increased, from 118 such parcels detected by agencies in 2019 to 374 in 2020, 268 in 2021 and 279 last year, the NCB report said. Besides, there is increased use of darknet and cryptocurrencies by smugglers.

The NCB said smuggling of cocaine from South America, mainly by African citizens and seized at airports, is seeing an upward trend. “There are many instances of small quantities of cocaine trafficking through parcels concealed in common household articles like cosmetics, utensils, books and clothing,” the NCB report said.

“There has been a steep rise in drug smuggling along the golden crescent involving Afghanistan and Pakistan. The porous borders and ineffective law enforcement makes it easier for traffickers to move drugs across the border,” said Shreya Upadhyay, a strategic affairs expert and assistant professor at Christ University, Bengaluru.

“It is important to strengthen coordination not only at the domestic level but also intelligence sharing with countries from where these consignments originate or are used as transit points,” she said. “The influx of drugs has implications at the level of public health, security of the country and social stability.”

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