For more than a month now, there has been a lull in drug smuggling from Pakistan into India via Punjab. The reason, officials say, is this: After the surgical strikes carried out by India across the Line of Control (LoC) on September 29, smugglers and couriers on both sides have stayed away from indulging in any sort of misadventure along the 553-km international border.
“Ever since the surgical strikes, we have not come across smuggling of large consignments across the border. That is because of the large-scale deployment of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Army and heightened vigil by Punjab Police,’’ said zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Dr Kaustabh Sharma.
Even smugglers like peace on the border, it seems. At peacetime, heroin is pushed in at multiple points on the border, through plastic pipes inserted into the fencing on both sides. Sometimes the smugglers simply throw consignments over the fence. They are collected by couriers who bury them underground for a few days and dig it out at a convenient time later. Communication between Indian and Pakistani smugglers is constant — mostly using Pakistani SIM cards, the signals of which spill over to the Indian side.
A visit to border villages at Attari gives a clear picture of the increased vigil being maintained along the border in recent weeks. “Earlier, we used to be frisked and checked a couple of times and then they (BSF) would allow us into our fields. But now the BSF has increased frisking and checking, and they are with us throughout the day while we work,” said Jagtiar Singh, a resident of Rodanwalla Khurd.
In fact, BSF patrolling of the border has been doubled and more personnel have been posted at various points. “We cannot say how long this lull will last. Smugglers from Pakistan are in constant touch with their couriers here in Punjab,” a BSF official posted at the Attari border disclosed to New Indian Express, on condition of anonymity.
While the border with Pakistan is very porous, it is the involvement of local people that makes the task of the BSF more difficult in tackling heroin smuggling. “Here is a scenario where our own people, especially those living along the border, mostly farmers, are hand-in-glove with Pakistanis,” says the BSF official.
Explaining the smugglers’ modus operandi, Sharma says Pakistani smugglers insert 8-10 ft pipes into the border fence and push heroin consignments over to the Indian side. Couriers on the Indian side wait for the right time to retrieve them. “Smaller consignments of one or two kg are thrown over the fence in the dead of night. On the Indian side, the packets are picked up by the couriers. They normally get paid anything between `4,000 and `6,000 per small consignment.”
Sharma says that one kg of heroin sells for about `3.5 lakh normally, and up to `5 lakh. “Heroin, which originates from Afghanistan reaches Pakistan, then India and from here it is transported to North America and Europe. Drug addicts normally need two or three doses of heroin per day. Most addicts in Punjab feel that heroin boosts their libido, which is a myth,” says Sharma.
Asked about the availability of Pakistani SIM cards with couriers in Punjab, the zonal director of NCB says the mobile phone signals from Pakistani telecom service providers spill over to the Indian side.
“In some places, we saw Pakistani networks reaching the Ferozepur district jail. Since they communicate on Pakistan SIM cards, they rarely come on the radar. SIM cards are given to the couriers along with the consignments,” he says, adding that many border residents have made crores of rupees through drug smuggling. They were merely couriers earlier but subsequently got into smuggling full time.
According to sources, while there are several points along the border from where smaller drug consignments are thrown across the fencing, one such village is Naushera Dhallan, which lies just metres from the fence.
Pointing his finger at the fencing from the window of his house, Amandeep Bawa says the entire village is aware of drug being smuggled over the fencing.
“It doesn’t take much effort to throw small consignments over the fencing. Since Pakistani forces allow it, smugglers come close to the fencing and just throw it over. The person here collects it and walks away,” he says. ‘‘This has been happening for decades. We don’t bother about it as we cannot do anything. It’s the job of the BSF to stop smuggling,”