A sudden spike in smuggling on the Indo-Pak border has seen the BSF gun down 10 drug couriers so far in 2012. Sai Manish reports
BSF MEN patrolling the fenced frontier with Pakistan are bracing for their deadliest summer ever. From shooting down ruthless smugglers armed with Beretta pump-action shotguns to seizing massive hauls of drugs and fake currency, the troopers are surprised by the sudden spurt in smuggling activities since the turn of the new year.
In the first quarter of 2012, the BSF has intercepted 127 kg of heroin (that’s double of what it caught in the whole of 2011 and more than its busts in 2010); interdicted 10 armed intruders — nine Pakistanis and an Indian — carrying heroin (in 2011, the BSF managed to shoot down four smugglers near the Punjab border); and with 13 guns seized, the BSF has already equalled its entire gun haul of the past two years.
“They just keep coming. Most of these men are hired for the job and some might be from the border villages across no man’s land,” says a BSF officer on the condition of anonymity. “They are becoming more emboldened now because the Pakistanis have reduced deployment on the other side to send more forces to the Afghan border. The (Pakistan) Rangers have seven battalions stationed at the fence whose operational strength has been reduced by a third this year. This fall in vigil has dramatically encouraged drug runners and arms couriers who want to take a risk.”
Apart from the quantum of hauls, what is baffling the BSF is the frequency of it. Week after week, day in and night out, the BSF is invariably stumbling upon drug drops. On 4 February, BSF jawans on a night patrol near Pallopati border outpost in Ferozepur district noticed three intruders through their thermal imagers. By the time they fired flares to illuminate the field, the men had scampered back to Pakistan. Soon, the jawans stumbled upon a bag with 13 kg of heroin, which is worth more than Rs 50 crore in the international market.
A few hours later, the BSF jawans on patrol at the Ghoga outpost in Amritsar sector bumped into two men who fled across the fields. The troopers found a plastic pipe with 10 kg of heroin stuck in it. Within a space of just two hours, the BSF had intercepted 23 kg of heroin along with a pistol and ammunition at one of the most heavily guarded border fences in the world.
On 29 March, BSF men shot down three smugglers — two Pakistanis and an Indian — at the Sundargarh outpost in Amritsar sector after the jawans on patrol came under fire from the intruders. Apart from 17 kg of heroin, they also ended up recovering more than Rs 10 lakh in fake currency and Pakistani SIM cards.
Interestingly, BSF officers believe that it is the Pakistani SIM cards that are enabling communication between drug lords, Rangers, smugglers and commission agents. Most of the Pakistani SIMs of companies such as U-Fone, Telenor, Mobilink and Zong work on the Indian side; in some cases, several kilometers into Punjab. Indian SIMs don’t work beyond the border.
“Their servers are located in Pakistan and therefore it is difficult to get information on the communication links,” says the BSF officer. “Most of the intruders are being constantly updated about patrols via cell phones by their helpers and sympathisers among the Pakistani troops.”
“In the 1980s and ’90s, most of the heroin that came to Punjab was meant for the Delhi and Mumbai markets where there was a massive demand. Now heroin is lapped up in Punjab while Mumbai and Delhi are moving towards designer party drugs and cocaine,” says an officer with more than 15 years of experience in the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), who wished to remain anonymous.
‘The smugglers are alerted about patrols via mobiles by helpers in the Pakistani Army,’ reveals a BSF officer
“This has led to a change in the profile of smugglers. The people who used to earlier work as couriers have now become dealers and commission agents. Many have relocated from border villages to Chandigarh where they have become rich. Now they recruit local boys to collect consignments brought from Pakistan. We are keeping a close watch on some people in Chandigarh, who we suspect have links with drug cartels based in Canada, the US and the UK,” he adds.
The challenges posed by the evolving drug runner has resulted in quite a few embarrassments for the BSF. On 19 April, Punjab Police caught two men on motorcycles with 20 kg of heroin hidden under their seats. The two men revealed that they had been given the consignment at Karnapur near Sri Ganganagar, close to the Pakistani border in Rajasthan.
An embarrassed Rajasthan BSF IG KL Meena reached the spot in Punjab and set up a probe to examine how a significant consignment sneaked past such a secure border post. Clearly, the long borderline is proving to be trickier than ever for the BSF. In fact, many believe that much larger quantities are smuggled in every month.
SO WHAT happens to the arms, fake currency and heroin that escape the border patrols and trickle across Punjab? Enter the State Special Operations Cell (SSOC), the counter- intelligence wing of Punjab Police. A force entrusted with acting as a double filter for the drugs and arms that enter Punjab undetected. However, this year’s statistics reveal that the SSOC might have a lot of catching up to do. If the BSF has intercepted 127 kg of heroin, the SSOC has confiscated 27 kg across the state.
2012 127 KG
In the past two years, the hauls by the SSOC have increased dramatically. They have seized several AK-47, AK-56, AK-74 rifles, submachine guns apart from 30 mm pistols from smugglers who were arrested across the state. Ninety smugglers were arrested in the border district of Amritsar in the past two years. “Most of the guns are used by smugglers for protection and there is no trade in arms going on in Punjab,” says a SSOC official.
Meanwhile, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has also clamped down on international links since many Canada-based cartels are believed to be pumping money to pick up Afghan heroin from Punjab’s two international airports at Chandigarh and Amritsar. In April 2008, the DRI caught Akali Dal youth leader Purushotam Sondhi from Amritsar airport while he was trying to smuggle 26 kg of heroin to Canada. Earlier, BJP youth wing leader Navjot Arora was nabbed by DRI officials in Phagwara in the same month along with 3 kg of cocaine and 11 kg of heroin. Both of them are still in prison.
“This year, there has been a bumper opium harvest in Afghanistan,” says an NCB official. “Even if we plug all the gaps, the couriers are desperate to push it across because now they are getting huge sums and they can put their lives to risk for it. If we stop heroin, the youth of Punjab do smack and synthetic drugs. There has to be a social change to curb the demand for drugs. These seizures are just the tip of the iceberg and thinking only in terms of curbing supply will not help the state.”
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which released a report on 17 April, states that there has been a bumper harvest in nine of Afghanistan’s 19 opium-growing provinces. That should keep the BSF busy at the fence this year more than ever.
With inputs from Prabhjot Gill
Sai Manish is a Correspondent with Tehelka.