The first quarter of the current year witnessed a record seizure of narcotics along the India-Pakistan border in Punjab, particularly in the Ferozepur sector. Anirudh Gupta finds out how cross-border smugglers have tried to change their strategy and how the BSF has succeeded in countering them.
The first quarter of the current year has witnessed record seizures of narcotics as compared to the previous years along the 553-km-long border that the country shares with Pakistan here. The credit goes to an enhanced vigil by the Border Security Force to combat heightened smuggling activities in the area.
Not only contraband, cases related to the recovery of arms and ammunition have also shown a substantial increase. Sources say till date this year, 127.155 kg of heroin, worth Rs 635 crore in the international market, has been recovered. A huge quantity of other drugs, fake Indian currency amounting to Rs 19.28 lakh, 12 pistols, pump action gun (Baretta) and ammunition have also been seized.
Apart from the seizures, eight Pakistani smugglers were gunned down while six others were arrested. The BSF also nabbed four Bangladeshis and as many Indian drug peddlers involved in cross-border smuggling. Last year, the BSF had recovered 67.97 kg of heroin and fake currency amounting to Rs 41.71 lakh during the first quarter.
Smugglers change modus operandi
Earlier, say the BSF officials, the cross-border drug peddlers used to adopt “conceal and clear” strategy to smuggle contraband to India. However, of late, the agents from the Pakistani side have started coming up to the border fence while taking cover of ‘sirkanda’ (tall wild grass) or standing crops in the fields along the border. Subsequently, they either throw the consignment over the fence or use plastic pipes to push it across the electrocuted barbed wires where their Indian counterparts are ready to receive the consignment.
During the entire operation, the smugglers on both sides communicate through mobile phones using Pakistani SIM cards to evade any interception by the Indian security and intelligence agencies.
Pakistani SIM cards proving a headache
The cross-border drug peddlers continue to use Pakistani SIMs even inside the Indian territory to evade surveillance and interception by the security agencies. The process has been going on for some time now and regular seizure of these Pakistani SIMs is being made. However, the agencies have been unable to find any solution to check the practice, which has been posing a serious threat to the security of the nation.
The BSF officials admit that the Pakistani mobile operatives have their presence inside the Indian border. Pakistani service provider Mobilink, which leads the market share with 30.75 million subscribers, has connectivity up to several hundred metres in Mamdot, Khem Karan and Ferozepur areas while another company, U-Fone, has its signals reaching several villages in Mamdot and Amarkot areas.
Unregistered SIMs in wide circulation
A lot of foreign companies operate in Pakistan, which include Telenor (Norwegian), Zong (Chinese), WorldCall (Oman). Besides, UAE-based Warid also has a large subscriber base in Pakistan. Security officials say that in the absence of any stringent regulatory laws in Pakistan, a large number of unregistered SIM cards are in circulation there, which at times make their way into India.
“It is extremely difficult to prevent the incursion of these SIMs as they can be easily brought here through legal interface like Wagah or Attari and even through other grey channels as well,” say BSF officials. The smugglers who use Pakistani SIMs keep changing the mobile user and their number to ensure they are not intercepted. The BSF officials reveal that earlier both smugglers as well as spies used to operate through satellite phones to execute their tasks. However, security agencies were able to track down their details. But, intercepting the SIM cards is a cumbersome job as their servers are based on the other side of the border.
Modern gadgets aid surveillance
The BSF officials say that modern surveillance gadgets like HHTI (hand-held thermal imagers), LORROS (long range reconnaissance and observation system) and night vision scopes, which have been procured from Israel and a few other countries, are now being used by the troops at forward locations along the zero line. These gadgets have proved beneficial for the troops as they have improved surveillance along the border due to which any movement ahead of the fencing can be easily spotted. Moreover, the installation of high mask illumination pole lights along the border has also increased visibility even during foggy days and the darkest of nights.
Welfare programme for vulnerable youth
Most of the time, unemployed and frustrated youths belonging to the border villages are hired as couriers by the professional drug smugglers. The job fetches them quick and easy money, ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 40,000 for a packet of heroin. The couriers, say BSF officials, are generally unaware about the origin and final destination of the consignment due to which security agencies are not able to apprehend the kingpins behind the drug racket.
The BSF has launched a civil action programme for the welfare of the people residing in villages along the zero line and its hinterland. The programme has given tremendous results as the inflow of information regarding sinister activities has increased, which, in turn, has helped the intelligence agencies keep track on the nefarious designs of the smugglers in the sensitive border areas.
What BSF Inspector General has to say
The BSF Inspector General, Punjab Frontier, Aditya Mishra, says the force has also increased the strength of troops patrolling the border, which has helped in combating the menace of drug peddling. “After the recent recruitment, all vacancies in the force have been filled,” he says. Sources say coordinated efforts were being made with the help of other security agencies to keep a check on the cross-border drug trade, which has paid rich dividends.