Terrorists In Northeast India Are Making Money From Opium Cultivation

The intelligence agencies have just sounded an alarm over what has been a long-running problem in the northeast – drug trafficking.

According to a report, the Assam Rifles have cited intelligence inputs indicating the involvement of NSCN (K) in opium cultivation and trade a cause of concern.

The IGAR (North) said in a press release that NSCN (K), along with ULFA (I) and Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), are carrying out the illegal drug business from across the border in Kachin province of Myanmar.


Kachin, Myanmar

The Kachin province, which shares its borders with both India and China.

The province, which forms Myanmar’s north and is connected to India with the Arunachal border, is a restive region where the local army has long been battling an insurgency led by Kachin rebels.

The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang or NSCN (K) is a Naga nationalist Christian paramilitary group founded by S.S. Khaplang.

It is a declared terrorist organisation and has been involved in countless acts of violence against the Indian government and the people.

The NSCN (K) is a breakaway faction, which split from the larger and politically influential group NSCN (IM) founded by Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah.


NSCN-K leader S.S. Khaplang (right) with a cadre.

NSCN-K leader S.S. Khaplang (right) with a cadre.

The Indian Government signed a historic peace deal with the NSCN (IM). The NSCN (K) was not a party to the deal and continues to remain a terrorist outfit working with ULFA and other similar groups against India.

Backing its statement the Assam Rifles referred to photographs uploaded by a senior leader of Khaplang group, Isak Sumi, which shows poppy fields in the background.

Security forces say that money from the sale of opium fuels the Khaplang faction’s terrorist activities. They are able to train cadres, run camps and hire mercenaries for their dirty work.

It is true that drug trafficking is a very serious problem in India’s northeast and NSCN (K) and other terrorist groups have a hand in it.


Khaplang with NSCn-K terrorists.

Khaplang with NSCn-K terrorists.

In September last year, Assam Rifles and the police had busted a drug trafficking module in Nagaland. NSCN (K) cadre Lamkholen alias Alen was apprehended along with a cache of capsules of banned sedative worth of Rs. 3-14 lakh in the local market.

But one big problem for security forces is northeast’s proximity to Myanmar.

Four Indian states – Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland – sharing a border with Myanmar have a high volume of drug trafficking.

Myanmar is one of the three countries that form the infamous Golden Triangle – a region where opium is produced in massive volume. (The other two countries are Laos and Thailand.)

According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium production has gone up in the Golden Triangle by 22 per cent. An estimated 610 tons of opium was produced in Myanmar in 2011, making it the world’s second-biggest supplier after Afghanistan.


Drug Flow Myanmar

The drug flow to and fro Myanmar. The area shaded in blue shows the regions where opium is produced. Namrata Goswami

There has also been a rise in production of other drugs such as chemically created amphetamines and methamphetamines.

Myanmar has totally failed in checking the growth of the drug trade within its borders, and this has resulted in an unbridled rise in production of all kinds of narcotics.

Such has been the problem created by Myanmar that Bangkok accused Nay Pyi Taw of “narcotics aggression” on Thailand.


Policemen and villagers use sticks and grass cutters to destroy a poppy field above the village of Tar-Pu, in Myanmar. Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Policemen and villagers use sticks and grass cutters to destroy a poppy field above the village of Tar-Pu, in Myanmar. Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Due to its 1997-km border with Myanmar, China too faced a similar problem in the early 2000s, but Beijing’s shrewd political strategy ensured that the drug lords operating out of Myanmar shifted their base near Thailand.

India northeast, however, remains at high risk. A 2013 survey conducted in Arunachal Pradesh by the Institute of Narcotics Studies and Analysis (INSA) revealed that parts of the state were lost to opium cultivation.

An overwhelming 90 per cent of the villages in Anjaw district had all families cultivating opium. In another district, Lohit, it was 63 per cent. Both districts border Myanmar’s Kachin province.


Machikul in Manipur is one of the places where opium cultivation has made it look like Afghanistan's opium belt. TheNorthEastToday

Machikul in Manipur is one of the places where opium cultivation has made it look like Afghanistan’s opium belt. TheNorthEastToday

INSA had then warned that the cultivation of opium had risen alarmingly in Manipur and Nagaland too. Machikul in Manipur is one such place where opium cultivation has made it look like, as a report say, Afghanistan’s opium belt.

One significant factor behind the rise in opium cultivation in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur is lack of proper employment.


A poppy field in Machikul, Manipur. TheNorthEastToday

A poppy field in Machikul, Manipur. TheNorthEastToday

Opium cultivation is on which their livelihoods depend and many oppose any form of police action against their produce. In early 2015, police had to use force when narcotics control bureau attempted to destroy the poppy produce.

Wherever opium is cultivated, addiction follows and therefore destroys the lives of the people. But terrorist organisations, such as NSCN (K), continue making hay.

In its report, Assam Rifles stated that the involvement of NSCN (K) in drug trafficking is posing serious problems for the Naga society in particular and North Eastern region as a whole. If India aims to build closer relations with its South East Asian neighbours both strategically and economically, it needs to address this concern urgently.


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