Sunday, September 17, 2006

Why is the NCB making such large seizures?

This is in response to Mukunda's question on the earlier thread.

The liberalization of the economy in the 1990s has seen a growth in the wealth of Indians. Indians today have more disposable income and consumerism is rising in society. A large number of Indians today are young, and employed (unlike the past). Social mores are changing and the family value system entrenched in the joint family is eroding. The ultra compact nuclear family system creates more opportunity and encouragement for young people to leave the house and live independently. This is creating new social fora where ever increasing numbers of young people are interacting.

The rise in disposable incomes and the creation of new social fora are contributing to a rise in narcotics consumption in India. We are seeing a major rise in the consumption of cocaine, No. 4 grade heroin, and "party" drugs. There are few mechanisms in place to control the consumption of this drugs. There are few treatment options for health problems rising from this. There is a lack of awareness of the extent of the problem of abuse and of related health risks - eg. HIV infection etc... In short we are sitting on a major public health crisis.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Lurking below the surface is the possibilty of a crack cocaine epidemic among India's poor, a proliferation of narcotics suppliers, the high probability of the appearance of "kiddie" cocaine or heroin (formulations targetted at school children). There is also the problem of drug cocktails and other adulteration issues, in general there is no mechanism to ensure that the quality of the product is good.

Another problem which is easy to miss, is the issue of wealth recycling. When someone buys drugs from the local peddler, a large fraction of that money is remitted via Hawala channels to the drug suppliers abroad. The suppliers then usually launder the money and reinvest it elsewhere. This is a problem for the Indian economy because we are hemorraging wealth, money that could have been spent developing the Indian economy is leaving the country. A relatively simple sounding solution to this problem is to ensure that the money laundering chain leads back to investments in India, eg. get the drug lords to invest in real estate or the film industry 0r even to buy things made in India - like medicines. That way the capital lost from drug purchases is re-channeled back into the Indian economy. It is extremely bad if the money going out of the country is used to make trouble eg. fund terrorist groups, or separatist movements. I call this kind of flow of money, a wealth loop. In my opinion, the wealth loops have to be kept "balanced", whatever goes out of the economy has to be brought back in.

In order to achieve a semblance of sanity in the functioning of this trade, one has to create the conditions that permit an extremely effective regime of price control. Price control over narcotics can be achieved most effectively by ensuring that local supply of the drug is constant. This can usually be implemented by limiting the number of trafficers and ensuring that no major shipments of size suddenly appear or disappear from the market (i.e. no major cartels make sudden moves to seize the market. Keep speculators out!). Remember that if the price of the drug becomes too high, then you will end up encouraging poor addicts to commit crimes in order to purchase drugs. Alternatively if the price becomes too low, then the number of addicts will rise sharply and that will destroy social order and economic growth. So the price has to be not-too-high and not-too-low.

This regime of control has to be aggressively kept in place until awareness and public health systems reach a level of preparedness necessary to stamp out addiction and minimize other health risks. Once this state is reached, it is possible to imagine a land where recreational use can be tolerated. However given the complex demographics of India, this means we have to have control measures in place for the foreseeable future.

In practice this is all terribly complicated, but at the superficial level - simply put - you have to keep large quantities of drugs from entering the Indian market through unknown players. You can't allow a vast quantity of drugs to become suddenly available to Indian drug users without putting into place mechanisms to slowing reduce the addiction problem. This is am unspoken, unwritten yet non-negotiable element of our national security policy irrespective of who is in power. No political party can allow this aspect to go unmanaged - the sums of money changing hands are simply too large.

What we are seeing today is similar to the 80s when there was a rise in drug consumption due to an American and Pakistani backed spurt in heroin production in Afghania, and with a lot of blood toil and tears the after effects of that mess were brought under control. So expect more of the same.

And as long as we have to keep tweaking this trade, terrorism as a phenomenon will remain.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Col. Grewal Speaks to CNN-IBN

In a recent article appearing on CNN-IBN, Col. Grewal spoke at length about a narcotics and arms trafficing chain that exists along the eastern edge of India.

This network is controlled at the northern end by HuM/HuA/JeM associates (all the same thing for this purpose), at the north-eastern end by HUJI affiliates, and on the eastern end by the LTTE. Crudely arms travel up(east to north) and narcotics (north to east) travels down the chain. The chain starts in Thailand, from where it travels by sea to Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh, from Bangladesh it goes west to India and thence to Pakistan.

It is important to understand that this chain is has many duplicate links in it, in that sense it is more of a network than a chain. For example, a shipment leaving Cox Bazar could be routed overland through India, or sent by air to Nepal and vice-versa. As you all probably know, the Pakistani ISI has been expanding its presence in Nepal through the activities of the Pakistani Embassy, Islamist Groups like HUJI, and the Dawood Ibrahim cartel. Now as the article above suggests, Nepal is now a major hub for ISI operations.

Recall that it is much easier to ship something from Pakistan to Nepal by PIA jet and then smuggle it across the India-Nepal border to a group in North India than it is to smuggle it across the border in Punjab and vice-versa. Please also understand that you cannot generally use this network to sustain supply operations in the west or the south of the country. The channels used for that are different. For the west we have a network based in Gujurat and Mahrashtra and for the South there are points along the coast of TN and Kerala. So these are independent of the eastern network. It is possible that Maoist groups emerge as a sort of interconnect or bridge between these chains. If you notice the Maoist infiltrated areas straddle the various supply routes.

In a recent occurance a Mullah from Bangladesh was found to be in possession of an extremely large amount of Cocaine in the North East. He was arrested but no clear links appeared to any known group. I am not sure what specific market Nepal (the Casinos consume a lot) or India (Metros are sucking Cocaine at unbelievable rates) he was planning to access but he was coming from Bangladesh. This suggests to me that Cocaine may be travelling the other way - i.e. east to north, unlike Heroin which I am reasonably sure travelles north to east.

Given the diverse commodities that travel along this chain, the chain itself is actually a broad scatter of places with different functionalities. One should also note that the HuM/JeM has a series of medical support centers in the North India - esp. the Delhi area. These safe houses are used to treat HuM operatives who are injured in various Jihads. This circumvents the need for the injured to cross the LoC and ensures that they access a higher level of medical care than what is available to them among sympathetic populations in Kashmir. It used to be that Jihadis could just be brought to Soura Medical Hospital in Srinagar in the early years of the Kashmiri movement. To this end JKLF had been tasked with "securing" Soura Medical (i.e. murdering staff whose political loyalties could not be relied upon) , and JKLF was successful in this operation. However subsequent security operations in the Srinagar area compromised the JKLF's hold on things, and that left Soura exposed. The HuM could be sure that it could rely completely on the facilities at Soura. As LoC security was expanded and Srinagar became home to several RR units, the HuM began to see the Delhi area hospitals as a better bet in terms of getting medical care to injured cadre.

The arms travelling on this route are purchased in Thailand. Most of my friends refer to Thailand as the "Pakistan of the East". It is a way of saying that Thailand (like Pakistan) is home to a roaring trade in Heroin and Arms. The LTTE has a substantial presence in Thailand. As you all recall the LTTE has considerable expertise in dealing with advanced technology due to the fact that it cultivated a number of tech-savvy Tamils in the West in the 1980s. The LTTE is thust able to muster a considerably large shipping fleet comprising freighters, and speedboats, mini-subs, and airplanes.

Col. Grewal makes a point about counterfeit currency. The pattern of this has changed in recent years. Nepal has been the hub for counterfeit currency distribution after a Pakistani Army Brigadier by the name of Bajwa started something called Operation Tufail there. Tufail is now archival, but its descendants are pumping counterfeit notes into the cash starved eastern economy of India.

I hope this sheds some light on what is going on there.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Tragic Events in Malegaon

Barely a week after the Prime Minister issued a warning about imminent terrorist strikes, Malegaon was the target of a serial bombing attack. As it has become quite predictable in the environment of religious identity politics in India, most media know-it-alls rushed to blame Hindu groups for conducting a retaliatory strike against the predominantly Muslim community in Malegaon, and rather than focus gently on the extent of human suffering, the media played host to a blame game. The focus in the media seems to be on making this seem part of emerging trends in Hindu-Muslim strife. If you all recall, the media had played a very big role in projecting blame for the Mumbai blasts on local Muslims. We are now seeing the other end of that, blame is now being apportioned to local Hindus.

While some of you who are strong supporters of the NDA may argue that this claim is not credible. I remind you, that no one in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan is going to buy the claim that Hindus were *not* responsible for the Malegaon blasts. A side effect of the Hindutva politics has been a systematic alienation of Islamic groups outside the country. Islamic groups outside the country no longer believe that India is a land of tolerance. In the present environment with America beating down on Islamic society with its media machine, Islamic populations abroad are very receptive to the notion that Indian Muslims are under seige. This is in stark contrast to the 80s and 90s when most Islamic countries were receptive to the idea that India was the Dar-al-Aman. You must have seen the news items about two US based organizations claiming to represent Indian Muslims condemning the blasts? this is a reflection of the trend that I have said. Note also the strongly worded statement from the US, such force is absent from their statements on the July 11 bombings. While Tom Lantos boldly tells the world how the US will nuke Mecca if there is a terrorist attack on the US, the State Department rushes to shed tears at the death of 35 Muslims in Malegaon. Words are cheap, ofcourse.

Which brings me to certain events that may have crossed your eyes but somehow missed your attention. In early June 2006 our Narcotics Control Board (NCB) office in Bombay intercepted 200 Kg of anhydrous Cocaine. The street value of this bust was estimated at 40 Million USD. Rumors circulated that the value of the material impounded was beind deliberately lowered. One rumor put the amount intercepted at at eight times the publicly acknowledged size. This would put the bust at a whopping 320 Million USD. You may have also read that a few weeks ago, NCB Delhi, intercepted a Mandrax hoard that weighed in at 4.4. Tons, the street value of this was estimated to be in the $200 Million dollar range. This bust was followed by an enormous Ephedrine bust weighing in at 500 Kg. The street value of this was estimated to be $20 Million. While the bulk price of these drugs would be about half their street value, there can be no doubt that in the past two months that our NCB has racked up record seizures worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This year's seizures are completely out of scale with anything we have seen before. This is an extremely significant development.

The drug trade though criminalized, is extremely well organized. Any attempt to restructure it always brings its share of labour problems and usually attracts the ire of drug lords. You all may recall the role played by Dawood Ibrahim's banker 'Tiger' Memon in the Bombay Blasts of 1993. You may also recall that the Memon's had lost vast sums of money after the curbs on Gold and Currency trade in India were lifted. While the shooters in the Bombay Blasts had been local muslims who were enraged after the Bombay riots of 1993, the money required to make an attack of scale had come from Memon. It is said that Memon had been loaned a sum of money by the Pakistanis and that one of the repayment clauses was to support the terrorist attacks in the bulk of India. This deal is said to have formalized the marriage of the D-Company and the ISI, and Memon went on to help the ISI float the Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front, an organization dedicated to consolidating Islamist terrorist groups all over India. By contrast other criminal dons who didn't lose as much as Memon kept the ISI at an arms length and eventually betrayed Memon to the investigators, allowing them to wind up a substantial portion of the JKIF.

So while you all sit around and discuss the factors that are antagonizing Indian Hindus and Muslims to dislike each other and while you sit around watch your media put ridiculous ideas about Hindu-Muslim animus in your head, please give a moment to think about a possible criminal angle to this whole thing. I hope you have not all simultaneously forgotten that criminal organizations routinely incite communal riots in India? What you are seeing in Malegaon today, is most likely an attempt by similar such criminal elements to start rioting.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Waziristan Accord: A Deal with the Devil

As you may all know, Pervez Musharraf's government has signed an accord with the "militants" holed up in Waziristan. The accord offers an end to hostilities between the Pakistan Army and the "militants" in exchange for a de-emphasis on the Pakistan Army's participation in the war on terror. While the clauses of the agreement are specific to Waziristan, the accord appears to have a wider impact on Pakistan's participation in the war on terror as a whole.

Syed Saleem Shahzad of the Asia Times suggests that in addition to the clauses mandating the withdrawal of Pakistan Army units from the Waziristan region, the Pakistani Army has also agreed to "leave the militants alone". This is taken to mean that the Pakistan Army will not interfere with groups that have strong ties to the "mehmaan" (foreign) mujahedin. Prima facie this appears to affect Pakistan as a whole and not Waziristan alone, i.e. militants everywhere in Pakistan could be given an easier time in exchange for a Waziri pledge not to produce more posthumus Nishan-e-Haider winners. Apparently Pakistan has also agreed to release a number of "militants" and al Qaida supporters in its custody as a part of the accord. Also the Pakistan Army has agreed to return all the weapons and equipment it has captured from the "militants".

The Pakistani approach to participation in the War on Terror has been to keep its involvement out of the public eye. Pakistani interlocuters often say that Pakistan's Islamic population would not understand or empathize with the needs of the US and they would revolt against the government if they came to know the extent of Pakistani cooperation. As a result of this strategy, people are routinely arrested in Pakistan on orders from the US. These people are then transferred into a system of secret prisons and interrogation centers. Where they are evaluated and classified. The Pakistan Army also ensures that no terrorists vital to the pursuit of its options vis-a-vis India are harmed in this process. In return for this access the US government ensures that the entire process is kept secret at its end, i.e. the warrants are sealed and in many cases the codefendants are not named. As a result, the bulk of the Pakistani Government's cooperation in the war on terror is unaudited.

While the United States looks upon the Jihadis collecting in Waziristan as potential threats to national security. Pakistan sees them as an opportunty, as possible cannon fodder for covert Jihads in Kashmir and elsewhere and as random patsys to hand over to the US everytime Uncle Sam comes looking for a quick fix. The Accord is clearly more subservient to Pakistani needs than to American needs, in that it fosters the environment of opportunity and makes the militants of Waziristan a more exploitable resource for the Pakistanis.

In an environment where no one really know what Pakistan has or has not done for the War on Terror, and one is largely reduced to taking General Musharraf's promises on securing Pakistans continuing coooperation, a move like this is bound to raise suspicion. No one seriously believes that the tribes will honor their end of the bargain and prevent cross border movement.
So is Musharraf really helping the world put an end to the problem or is he creating a permanent reserve of future trouble makers that can be used as bargaining chips with the US? Musharraf's ambition is well documented, what will this drive him to do?

A logical question would be:

Is General Musharraf is appeasing the Islamist groups in his country by agreeing to stop operations in Waziristan?

This is a plausible explantion for these events.

B Raman suggests that quelling the Baloch insurgency requires more troops which are now tied down in Waziristan. The troop movements in POK after Nawab Bugti's death were seen by some others as a possible rearrangement to accomodate increased demand for soldiers in Sui.
Another possibility is that Musharraf needs to canvas for support within the polity after he alienated the RAPE by ordering the murder of Nawab Bugti, and he hopes to find that support among the Islamists.

In either case, a direct consequence of this development is the strengthening of Islamist influence within the Pakistani polity and increased instability in Afghanistan.

Has Musharraf successfully prolonged his stay in power? if so at what cost? What comes out of making a deal with the Devil?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Finally -The Electronic Media Monitoring Centre is set up!

This news item in the HT will make my friend who reads newspapers very happy. My friend has been advocating a strong approach to the news media and its poor behavior. Shri. Duggal, our Home Secretary has finally acted on a number of complaints he has been recieving. My friend will welcome this ofcourse, but I suspect that my friend would like an even stronger response, in the old days a few FERA cases would be put on the editors of the guilty newspapers - the idea being news can be made entertaining in a number of different ways!

The news media seems to be failing to grasp that their irresponsible behavior after the July 11 bombings has hit a raw nerve in the political class.

A regulatory agency will be established and if there is one more national security crisis the agency will start functioning by ordinance. The media may be able to create debate by tarring the Broadcast Bill, but they can't stop the government from acting in emergent situations.

While the media magnates may be unhappy, they know exactly who they have to thank for this latest gift from the GoI.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti

A very simple adage to keep in mind about Pakistan is that if it cannot export violence to other countries, it will implode.

And that is what is happening in Baluchistan.

The Pakistani Army's decapitation strike on Nawab Bugti's command complex has succeeded. Though it is increasingly becoming apparent that Nawab Bugti was shot before he was buried in the cave, we must all remember that in Pakistan they shoot first and then arrange everything for a photo op later.

The assasination has left the Balochis seething. There has been rioting in many parts of the Balochistan and in the past the Pakistan Army has proved incapable of preventing attacks on the Sui gas production facilities. A Baloch strike on the Sui facility had successfully managed to cut the supply of gas to parts of pakistan and forced several steel mills in Punjab to close down. The anger among Punjabi steel barons had encouraged Gen. Musharraf to take a harder line on the Balochis and consequently a cantonment had been set up in Kalpars with the help of Khan Mohammed Kalpars, who is a Bugti chieftian opposed to Nawab Akbar Bugti.

It may be recalled that a number of oil companies such as Occidental Petroleum, had expressed interest in being able to carry out prospecting for oil in Bugti and Marri dominated areas. The companies were unable to carry out prospecting as the local Bugti and Marri Sardars had made additional demands on the companies. One report suggests that a Bugti chieftian had quite bluntly lectured an American oil company representive on the need to give greater revenue and benifits directly to the Baloch people. The company representative was unhappy, to say the least.

By having a funeral for Nawab Bugti attended only by members of the Kalpars and Masuri clans, the sworn enemies of the Nawab, the Pakistan Army is now rubbing salt into the Nawab's family's wounds. This may seem highly offensive to you all, but its all par for the course in Pakistan.

Every Pakistani politician has taken it upon himself or herself to rail in the media about the negative impact of the murder of Nawab Bugti on the longevity of Pervez Musharraf's reign. Given how many people are running around helter skelter, screaming on top of their lungs in Musharraf's controlled media, that the end is near, you can be certain of one thing...

Nothing is going to happen.

By making a major show of their grief at the Nawab's death at Musharraf's hands, the Pakistani political elite are divesting themselves of the cost of actually having to do something politically about it.

What rankles among most of them, is not that a veteran political leader of the Baloch people has been killed, but that a member of the RAPE (as they are called on that disreputable forum) has been murdered in broad daylight. Despite all his connections to Eton, and his British Nanny, and good friends like Mary Anne Weaver of the NYT etc... the good Nawab has fallen to the Pakistan Army's bullets. Neither the US Ambassador nor the State Department spokesman is willing to say a harsh word to Musharraf about this. After all Musharraf helped the world so much by wiping out that planned terrorist attack on US bound airplanes from Heathrow.

The RAPE aren't shedding a tear for the Baloch people, they are in fact crying about the current American induced pecking order that places Musharraf far above them. This pecking order allows Musharraf to get away with murder, not just of random homeless men accused of being Al Qaida, if Musharraf desires he could pick any member of his choice among the RAPE and simply shoot them. He could order that their bodies be arranged with a few rocks in the middle of Wana somewhere and then the BBC and CNN will dutifully report that the Pakistan Army has used their brand new F-16s to kill "Al Qaida Terrorists plotting to attack America".

Fed rich on the trickle down from the drug trade of the roaring 80s and 90s, the RAPE now whines about the death of Nawab Bugti in the hope that their plea to their western sponsors will save them from Musharraf's bloodlust.

A large number of people are talking about how India should support the Baloch insurgency. These ideas are premature. Among those that are angry over the Nawab's death, perhaps a recent event has gone unnoticed? the surrender of a large number of Marri forces to the Pakistan Army. Also unnoticed was the surrender of a number of Bugti warriors to the Pakistan Army in Quetta.

The analogies between the Baloch insurgency and 1971 are largely based on hype. The Baloch people are too thinly spread to mount the kind of effective resistance that the Bengali speaking East Pakistanis put up. Unlike the Bengali speakers who were the majority in Pakistan (45 million Bengalis v/s 25 million west Pakistanis), the Balochis are a minority. Their only tactical advantage so far has been their command of the terrain and the PA will soon overcome that with their use of the American supplied helicopter gunships. Also after 1973, the Pakistan Army mapped out all the major water sources in the region. They are now in a position to deny Baloch populations access to these at will. This tactic was very effectively used to bring Bugti to the negotiating table last year.

All things taken into consideration, the essential core of a real freedom struggle is missing in Balochistan and consequently there can be no real movement towards that goal.

A year or so ago, I was asked to comment on the security situation in Sui after the Kalpars Cantonment had commenced building. I was specifically asked to evaluate the threat to the Sui fields and to the pipelines and generations stations in the Rajanpur area. I concluded that subsequent to the deployment of a large number of Pakistan Army units, and the institution of a punitive artillery shelling policy by the Pakistan Army, any further attacks on the Sui complex or the pipelines themselves would be severely disincentivized. I stand by that assessment.

It is difficult to assign such an assessment to the security of Gwadur or other nodes in the Balochistan road network.