Punjab, for many years, has been a transit point for drugs from Afghanistan. The drug money has become a major source of funding of elections in Punjab and over the time a well-organized drug cartel has come into existence with active connivance of politicians, police officers and drug lords. This drug money is used in financing militancy. To check militancy we will also have to control the drug problem.
On the night of 31 December 2015, four men hijacked a multi-utility vehicle belonging to Salwinder Singh, a superintendent of the Punjab Police, in Dinanagar. In the process, they slit the throat of his jeweler friend Rajesh Kumar, who was later admitted to a hospital. The vehicle was found abandoned about 500 meters away from the airbase. On 2 January 2016, a heavily armed group attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station, part of the Western Air Command of the Indian Air Force.
The National Investigation Agency probing the attack learned from the Gurdaspur (Headquarter) Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh after interrogations that he got paid in diamonds for every drug consignment smuggled across the border. Singh’s jeweler friend Rajesh Verma would accompany him to his clandestine trips so that he could verify the authenticity of the stones. Verma is reported to have made such clandestine trip to the Peer Baba mazaar in Taloor village under Narot Jaimal Singh police station twice in the span of 12 hours on 31 December, along with his cook Madan Gopal and jeweler friend Rajesh Verma. The shrine is located a few kilometers from Bamiyal, the village from where the terrorists were suspected to have infiltrated into India before mounting the attack. It was Verma whose throat the terrorists slit open to send him to paradise (isko jannat pahuncha do), which he luckily survived. Investigations have also revealed that Madan Gopal, who Singh claims to be his cook, is actually his bodyguard.
When a consignment of drugs leaves Pakistan for Punjab, it usually takes two routes. In areas where there are barbed wires on the border, smugglers stuff them into PVC pipes and push them across into India, where couriers pick them up for transporting them to the main land.
Though most of the Punjab border is guarded by barbed wires, the riverine belt of around 100km is unguarded. To push drugs through this region, drained by Ravi and Beas and lined with dense forests, smugglers use boats and couriers. This riverine belt is mostly to the west of Gurdaspur and Pathankot, and in some areas of Ferozepur, making them most vulnerable. Investigators suspect that the terrorists used this tried and tested route used by the drug smugglers to sneak into India and that they even had help from the local drug mafia.
Transporting drugs to the border from Pakistan is not a problem, the real problem starts once the drug consignment reaches Punjab, from where the involvement of a huge network of people at every level becomes necessary. In the border areas of Punjab, it is stored in safe houses for some time – called a cooling off period – and then relayed from point to point through an intricate network of middlemen and peddlers, who charge the dealers on the basis of the risk and distance involved. If it wouldn’t have been for the blue beacon atop the hijacked Mahindra XUV of Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh the terrorists wouldn’t have been able to speed past several police checkposts, where the policemen saluted and just let it through.
But then again there is this question of the 24 hour window the security establishment had from the time Singh and his cook informed the Punjab Police about the imminent attack and the hijacked blue-beacon vehicle. Was this information communicated by the Punjab Police to the Central agencies? Were the security personnel not alerted about the hijacked blue beacon car? How could a hijacked car speed past several checkposts in a situation of high alert? The Central agencies claim they were unaware about this intelligence and that there was a slip-up on part of the Punjab police that led to the delay or lapse in planning the appropriate responsive counter operation. However, according to an intelligence note prepared by additional director general of police, law and order, Hardeep Dhillon, the intelligence wing of Punjab had already issued intelligence pertaining to plans to carry out a spectacular attack in India possibly around New Year celebrations, 5 days prior to the strike.
This should not be a surprise to anyone. The security and political establishment already know about who’s-who in the drug trade. Shashi Kant, who headed departments of prisons and intelligence for several years had submitted a list of politicians with suspected drug mafia links to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2014 after his earlier letter was admitted as a public interest litigation.
Kant, who was ADGP (intelligence), claimed that it was a four-page list, which was prepared by the intelligence department in 2007, and he gave it to the CM. He alleged that the list was kept under wraps and little action was taken as political careers of those named in it thrived after 2007 even after it was submitted to CM Badal.
The government and the investigative agencies have known since years about these drug cartels, the routes they use and also it’s nexus with the police and the politicians. Punjab, for many years, has been a transit point for drugs from Afghanistan. The drug money has become a major source of funding of elections in Punjab and over the time a well-organized drug cartel has came into existence with active connivance of politicians, police officers and drug lords. This drug money is used in financing militancy.
However, it was only after GreatGameIndia published the detailed report, Pathankot Attack & The International Drug Trade on how the Pathankot attack was not just another usual terror incident but related to the international drug mafia stretching from Afghanistan via Pakistan to India from where it is shipped off to Dubai and Europe that the mainstream media started to see the incident in the right perspective. Punjab News Express was the first to take note of it in its editorial piece following which the entire mainstream media acknowledged the central role the drug trade played in the attack taking a much needed departure from its usual contradictory, dumb-founded infiltration narrative.
Although this is a good start, it has brought us to a point where we collectively have to confront many of the unpleasant buried questions that we have chosen to ignore, don’t care about or in some cases suppressed knowingly.
After the NIA found similarities between the Pathankot and Dinanagar terror attacks (in July 2015) they approached the Punjab police asking it to share details of the Dinanagar terror strike. Earlier however even after directed by the home Ministry the Punjab Police were reluctant and refused to transfer the case to the NIA. However, these similarities don’t just end with the Dinanagar terror strike.
There are uncanny recurring patterns to these attacks to the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks of 2008 that we already observed during the attack in Gurudaspur. The most bizarre is the recovery of two Global Positioning System devices (GPS) from the terrorists that shifted the focus of the entire investigation to where the terrorists had actually come from and how they entered the country. A post-operation investigation was launched to establish the route that they possibly took from Pakistan. Three days later, the police claimed that doctors found a glove on one hand of the terrorists carrying a marking “Made in Pakistan”. This claim raised enough heat. It was questioned as to why the police did not find the glove on the first day when they conducted a body search. However, the security agencies have failed to piece together a final report on the route taken by the terrorists based on the coordinates fed into the two GPS devices seized from the terrorists; along with the Punjab Police and the Border Security Force making contradictory claims regarding the route taken by the terrorists for entry into India.
Similar to Gurdaspur attack with the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks also there are still unanswered questions related to the GPS (forgotten by the terrorists in the boat) and the route taken by the terrorists. Investigations have thrown up several questions about the last trip of Kuber, the Indian fishing trawler that the Pakistan-based terrorists used to reach Mumbai.
But this time with the Pathankot attack the rabble rousing balloon using the GPS didn’t fly with the intelligence agencies admitting the modus operandi of the drug cartels to hoodwink them. BSF report on drug smuggling explains how mobile phones of Pakistani companies are used by Indian smugglers and vice versa. SIM cards are frequently changed to hoodwink surveillance. Indian smugglers use Pakistani SIM cards and Pakistanis use Indian SIM cards. Trans-national criminals contact each other from within and outside jails as well. Nonetheless the case of the missing GPS still remains a mystery.
As investigative agencies grapple with the daunting task ahead of them under great pressure from the drug cartels and the seemingly discouraging and obstructive attitude of the establishment, the real questions that could unravel the entire mystery are still left to be answered or even raised. One such case is the role of diamonds in the terror attacks in India.
Role of Diamonds in Terrorist Financing
Diamonds can be vulnerable for misuse for money laundering and terrorist financing purposes because they can transfer value and ownership quickly, often, with a minimal audit trail. They provide flexibility and an easy transportation of value.
A 2003 Report assessed various alternative financing mechanisms that could be used to facilitate money laundering and or terrorist financing. Trading in commodities, remittance systems, and currency were assessed on each of their abilities to earn, be moved, and store value. Diamonds were the only alternative financial device that fit into all of these assessment criteria.
Diamonds possess several characteristics which make them vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing. These include:
- Very high value
- Low weight/mass and relatively small size
- High durability
- Stable pricing
- Ability to retain value over long periods of time
- Ability to go undetected
- Easily bought and sold outside formal banking system
- Subjectivity of valuation
- Readily exchangeable
- Susceptible to fraud
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks serious allegations were made by Washington Post Investigative Reporter Douglas Farah an American journalist, author and national security consultant in his book Blood From Stones – The Secret Financial Network Of Terror that diamonds were used as an untraceable currency and source of income for terrorists.
Following the revelations by the Washington Post in 2001, Global Witness (an international NGO established in 1993 that works to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide) conducted a yearlong investigation into Al Qaeda’s involvement in the diamond trade. In March 2003 Global Witness released an investigative report detailing how Al Qaeda cells had strategically used diamonds for profit and to launder targeted funds. Evidence contained in Global Witness’ report came from the US government and FBI itself.
Role of Diamonds in 26/11 Mumbai Attacks of 2008
Financial Intelligence Unit – India (FIU-IND) is the central, national agency responsible for receiving, processing, analyzing and disseminating information relating to suspect financial transactions to enforcement agencies and foreign FIUs. FIU is a member of Financial Action Task Force – FATF an inter-governmental body which sets standards, and develops and promotes policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
In February of 2014 a report titled Money laundering and Terrorist financing through trade in Diamonds was published by a Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The report revealed that India is one among five countries where the trade accounts of the diamond business are used to launder illegal funds amounting to millions of dollars that are eventually utilized in the financing of terrorists.
The report found that globally, diamond was linked to offences conducted by organized crime, such as drug trafficking, illegal weapons trade and tax offences, and even terrorist financing. And India was on the top of the list.
Almost 6 months before 26/11 2008 Mumbai Attacks the FIU-IND was already tracking the diamond industry for suspicious activities by terrorists. From an article published in DNA Money dated 7th June 2008 titled – Surat diamond business has a terror ring to it:
Sources in the Centre’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) told DNA that high returns in the diamond market and the fickleness of the share market had induced terror groups to turn to Surat’s most glittering trade.
The diamond industry was being scrutinized by the FIU over the past few months and the sleuths were shocked to discover that terrorists were using the industry to launder their blood-soaked money.
“Terrorists groups have started withdrawing money from the share market and are investing in the prosperous diamond industry,” a source in the FIU told DNA.
The president of the Surat Diamond Association, CT Vanani, said the market had witnessed some suspicious activities a few months back.
“A year ago, some people from Mumbai began purchasing diamonds worth crores of rupees. When the industry tried to trace the traders, they turned out to be non-existent,” said Vanani.
The FIU traced all foreign transactions of Surat’s diamond industry, especially those emanating from Belgium. It found that a great deal of money was being invested by terrorist groups.
Isn’t it true that some of the top diamond merchants are on the list of people who have kept their ill-gotten money in Germany-based Liechtenstein bank? Many persons on the list are Gujarati diamond merchants with offices all over world having roots in Palanpur. Isn’t it also true that in May 2014 eight of these diamond dealers were given a clean chit by the Income Tax department in the black money case?
Isn’t it also true that during the Nov. 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai members of the diamond industry were staying at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels for year-end meetings with the Diamond Trading Company, some of whom had a very close shave and managed to escaped including the than DTC managing director Varda Shine, who was in Mumbai to host the DTC conference?
Is it also not true that these members were part the ‘distinguished guests’ hosted at Taj and Oberoi during the last week of November 2008? Most of them were coordinators of intelligence in South Asia. Few names that resided there being, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and elite members of President Elect Barack Obama’s Global Economic Team in India attending the “American Foreign Policy After Elections Conference” organized by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Aspen Institute India in Mumbai.
The members of Obama’s elite economic team attending this conference with Kissinger were Indian-Americans, Sonal Shah (Head Global Development Efforts at Google.org), Aneesh Chopra (Virginia State’s Secretary of Technology), Vivek Kundra (Chief Technology Officer for Washington DC) and Kartik Raghavan (Director at Microsoft). Also reports indicate that Obama’s pick for the US Secretary of Treasury, Timothy Geithner, was absent from these meetings despite his long standing ties to India where he was raised; he is said to have been represented by as yet ‘unknown’ aides from the US Federal Reserve Bank.
The purpose of this conference in India at Taj was to advocate for the planned Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. Though strongly opposed by the Bush Administration and Pakistan’s ISI Intelligence Service in the past, the Obama administration had planned on making it a ‘centerpiece’ towards his goal of achieving peace in Southeast Asia, and to which Kissinger had stated: “The pipeline will be a natural thing to do and I expect the new administration [to be headed by Obama] to begin discussions with Iran.”
Were these distinguished guests rethinking how to save falling western economies with the aid of India? As often, history makes it a habit to repeat itself; in the last 200 years whenever the West was in trouble, the East India Companies (EIC) or subsequent managing partners of EICs plundered India’s human and natural resources for their survival. In this ‘Great Game’ they kept other geo-political players at bay. Since more than the last decade, under UPA and NDA administrations, Indian foreign policy and domestic economic policy is veering dangerously closer to US-British-Israeli economic interests, viewed by other geo-political players as an encroachment. Did other geo-political players viewed this meeting as a penetration of their turf?
Lastly, is it not true that even the latest Pathankot attack were carried out within less than 20 days after the groundbreaking ceremony of what was being called a pipe dream for decades, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline that took place in the Turkmen town of Mary and was attended by leaders of the TAPI countries? And just a week after the surprising and much talked about meeting now known as the Billion Dollar Tea Party of the Indian Prime Minister with his Pakistani counterpart on the occasion of the latter’s 66th birthday during a two-hour stopover on his way back from his visit to Russia?
Why is it that everytime relations between India and Pakistan starts to improve and initiatives are taken to normalize the tensions between the two countries, a terror attack is witnessed by either of the two countries resulting in the deteriorating of the already delicate relationship?
What forces are working behind this? Who doesn’t want to see relations between India and Pakistan improve? Why have we not able to identify these forces since decades? Doesn’t it indicate that out security and intelligence forces are not equipped to face the challenge of this new kind of terror and needs a new and more adaptive orientation in the globalized world of liberalization and privatization?
Certainly good strategic partnership between the two neighbours would mean a strong and stable subcontinent. More importantly, who gains from a weaker and always infighting Asian sub-continent?
“The Art of War” written by TsunZu, which is considered to be the bible of strategy by many says “Expect what your enemy wants you to do and do exactly the opposite to win the war”. The quote sounds deceptively simple but has far reaching implications on the survival of empires and governments. As is the case with many of the terrorist groups, they are controlled not only by the states that sponsor terrorism but by the nations that sponsor the states that sponsor such terrorism too. So though all evidence eventually leads to the North Western frontier of India, to learn who instigates these groups, their actions, their modus operandi and their previous track record would guide us in doing what we as a third world neutral sovereign country should do. We hope to make a beginning in this new direction.
GreatGameIndia Magazine Jan-Mar 2016 Issue