While New Delhi has been improving the infrastructure for expanding trade with Pakistan across the Wagah-Attari land border, a new source of concern has emerged in trade across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. There are presently two check posts across which cross-LoC trade occurs. These are at the Poonch-Rawalkot checkpoint in Jammu region and the Uri-Muzaffarabad checkpoint in Kashmir Valley. A truck carrying 100 kg of heroin (brown sugar) from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) was intercepted by Indian authorities in the third week of January at the Salamabad Trade Facilitation Centre in the Uri sector. The estimated value of the brown sugar seized is Rs 100 crore.
When New Delhi impounded the heroin and filed charges against the driver, Islamabad reacted astonishingly. It prevented 26 trucks from the Indian side from returning across the LoC and also refused to permit the return of 47 trucks from the Indian side. Islamabad asserted that India had no right to prevent return of the impounded truck or to arrest its driver. This is a novel feature of Pakistan diplomacy, virtually demanding diplomatic immunity for drivers involved in drug smuggling. While cross-LoC travel was restored soon, Pakistan remained adamant that trade could be resumed only if its outrageous demands were met. Another strange feature was that while the Indian delegation for talks to resolve the issue was led from the Indian side by the deputy commissioner Baramulla, Ghulam Ahmad Khwaja, the Pakistan side was led by Brigadier (Retired) Ismail Khan of the Pakistan Army, weirdly designated as ‘Director General of Trade and Investment’.
What has emerged from these developments is that unlike elsewhere in the world, cross-LoC trade and investment in PoK is controlled not by civilian officials, but by a retired Pakistan Army officer, who reports not to the Foreign Office or Ministry of Commerce but to the GHQ in Rawalpindi. Hence, on this issue, it is the army and not the civil authority that calls the shots, leaving the country’s diplomats with the unenviable task of claiming virtual diplomatic immunity for a driver caught red-handed and charged with drug smuggling.
This development should surprise no one who understands the link between the Pakistan military and the illicit drug trade. On September 23, 1994, the Washington Post had a detailed report written by Thomas Manton and Pakistani journalist and television anchor Kamran Khan. The report carried an interview that Nawaz Sharif gave them in May 1994, about the Pak Army’s involvement in drug smuggling. In this interview, Sharif who had just been ousted in his first term as PM by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, revealed that just after his election in 1990, his then army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg and ISI Chief Lieutenant General Asad Durrani, told him that the army needed money for its covert programmes. It wanted to raise the money through large-scale drug deals. General Durrani added: “We have a blueprint (for drug smuggling) ready for your approval.” Dumbfounded by this proposal, Sharif remarked: “I was totally flabbergasted.” Earlier in 1992, a report by a consultant of the CIA stated: “Drug corruption had permeated all segments of Pakistan society,” adding that “drug kingpins were closely connected to the country’s institutions of power, including the President (Ghulam Ishaq Khan) and military intelligence.”
Like in the early 1990s, Pakistan is today facing near bankruptcy. ISI needs money for covert operations in Afghanistan and India. Drug smuggling to and through India would in all likelihood be stepped up, especially given growing instances of drug addiction in Punjab. Assistance of Pakistan-linked groups like the Indian Mujahideen and organisations linked to Dawood Ibrahim could well be sought by the ISI. Monitoring at trade checkpoints along the LoC and international border will require substantial strengthening. email@example.com