Fighting Narco-Terrorism by Law Enforcing Agencies in Pakistan

The Chief of the Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, recently visited the Anti-Narcotics Force headquarters in Rawalpindi with a rejuvenated mission of striking the sources of terrorism financing: drug producers, suppliers and peddlers. His visit comes at a time when Operation Zarb-e-Azb is over a year old and the Karachi operation is nearing its second anniversary, where the police and paramilitaries have been actively cracking down on ‘manshiyaat-pasand’ individuals. Given this environment, it is safe to assume that our war on drugs has officially been merged with our war on terror.

Narcotics smuggling, as a source of income-generation for guerrillas, insurgents and terrorists worldwide, has been under investigation by law-enforcement agencies for decades. While the origins of the term ‘narco-terrorism’ can be traced back to Latin America, and attributed to then Peruvian president Belaunde Terry in 1983, it has drawn considerable international application since then.

As global illicit drug markets expanded, organisations like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Kurdish Workers Party, Tamil Tigers, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Afghan Taliban became associated with production, consumption and trafficking of various narcotics. But narco-terrorism remained as problematic as the concept of terrorism itself.

Theoretically speaking, narco-terrorism can be explained as the use of terrorist tactics by drug traffickers; the reliance upon drug markets, routes and profits for financing terrorism; or the cooperation between drug trafficking organisations and terrorists for mutual strategic aspirations.

To elaborate, under the complicated nexus of narco-terrorism, groups can interact in multiple ways. Purely criminal groups may ally themselves with terrorist organisations. These may be ‘short-term marriages of convenience’, where terrorists supply criminals with protection, contacts, access to arms and safe passages through infrastructure under their control, in exchange for a share of profits earned by their partners in crime.

At times, a terrorist organisation may establish in-house criminal wings to complement its militant efforts, for conducting illicit financial activities (e.g., trafficking, money laundering). Occasionally, a group may morph into a hybrid entity — part criminal, part terrorist. These changes, temporary or permanent, allow terrorist organisations to recruit individuals from different pools depending on their expertise, regardless of their ideological affiliations.

Critical to this nexus are ‘shadow facilitators’. Shadow facilitators may be specialists in black markets, money laundering or communication. They are recruited for their criminal expertise and abilities to connect individuals within neighbourhoods and cities to wider networks of domestic or international organised crime syndicates. Shadow facilitators are the most difficult individuals to trace as they seldom have political or religious profiles, may be educated and at times employed in legitimate professions. They possess a wide variety of contacts and, hypothetically speaking, may even be affiliated with corrupt security officials.

The 2015 World Drug Report compiled by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime confirms that Afghanistan still leads the world’s opiate market, flooding over 90 per cent of it, with an estimated 520,000 acres of land utilised for poppy farming. Estimates from 2011 suggested that 40 per cent of these opiates and heroin are either consumed in or transit through Pakistan, although opiate seizures by law-enforcement agencies have been steadily increasing by the year. The routes of drug trafficking thus become crucial to Pakistan’s counter-narcotics operations.

There are three established routes of trafficking opiates connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan to the global drug trade. The Balkan route connects Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran to Turkey, en route southeast and western Europe. The northern route connects Afghanistan to Central Asian states, including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and Russia.

The southern route takes opium from Afghanistan to Pakistan for consumption or transiting through the Makran coast across the Indian Ocean to east Africa, notably Kenya and Tanzania. Corruption within these states ensures the flow of drugs across borders.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran fall into a geographically identified area of drug production, consumption and trafficking, known as the Golden Crescent. The origins of opium in the Indian subcontinent can be traced back to the times of Alexander the Great. During the 1950s, Iran was the main producer and consumer of opium. The 1979 Iranian Revolution reduced cultivation, increasing demand for Afghan-produced opium, which led to the mapping of the trail of the Golden Crescent.

The Crescent’s activities peaked after the fall of the Soviet regime in Kabul, accelerating under the watch of certain intelligence officials of Pakistan and the US, despite the establishment of the Anti-Narcotics Task Force in Pakistan in 1991 (converted into the ANF in 1995).

Given these regional and international contexts, Pakistan’s domestic battles against drugs and the financing of terrorism will be a long drawn-out one. The interior minister’s assertion last month that Pakistan is winning its war on drugs is amateur at best. It must be noted that relatively speaking, the extent of narco-terrorism within Pakistan (for instance, the links between TTP factions and drug traffickers) is yet to be accurately ascertained, unlike in the cases of Afghanistan or Colombia.

What is clear is that operations within Pakistan are part of larger international struggles that cannot be fought independently by one state, a theory supported by the history of foreign nationals arrested for drug trafficking within and through Pakistan. Realistically speaking, the war on drugs has no foreseeable end both because of the international nature of narco-terrorism and the institutional fault lines within Pakistan.

While the efforts of our security forces are commendable, they will continuously be hampered by structural weaknesses of institutions that encourage corruption by officials tasked with countering narco-terrorism. Such practices are usually witnessed on lower brackets of these institutions, where officials must operate within the same geographies as narco-criminals (e.g., peddlers and smugglers) and, usually to make ends meet, accept bribes in return for providing fake travel documents.

In other words, the police-crime nexus is directly connected to narco-terrorism. Without sustained efforts to financially and professionally secure the livelihoods of security officials, corruption will continue breeding narco-terrorism within Pakistan and beyond.

The Writer Zoha Waseem is an urban security analyst and a PhD scholar in Kings College London.