Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Can ocean surveillance and patrolling curb drug-trafficking?

Dr G Shreekumar Menon

The Arabian Sea has been one of the many avenues for the rapid rise of global trade and services butconversely has also been a ready pathway for the actionof many transnational organised crime groups. Curbing these transnational groups has been a crucial priority for both coastal and landlocked States across the globe as they pose a threat not only to national security but also to the legal trade and commerce across the globe.

Majority of the illicit activities at sea are usually inter-linked with the regular licit traffic. Hence it isextremely difficult to detect such type of cases.

Let us, for example, visit and traverse the route of the recent Rupees 21,000/ crores seizure effected at Mundra Port, by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), which also happens to be the world’s largest seizure of drugs. Information presently disclosed in public domain indicates that the contraband emanated from Kandahar in Afghanistan from a company named Hassan Hussain Limited. It made its initial foray into the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, by the land route. From there the
journey began to Mundra Port in Gujarat, India, declared as ‘talc stones. The intended recipient was Aashi Trading Company in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.

Let us explore this route to understand the security architecture prevailing, and the likely legal impediments that a container cargo containing contraband will have to encounter.

Kandahar is under the direct control of the Taliban, and the consignment would have therefore proceeded to the Iranian Port of Bandar Abbas with minimal checks and balances. The Taliban would have extorted their commission, and allowed the consignment to proceed to the Port of Bandar Abbas. The Taliban, would have for sure, known about the clandestine cargo, and its intended final destination.

Bandar Abbas Port is an entirely different theatre of operation. Iran’s main naval base is located at Bandar Abbas. The complex hosts a missile site where Chinese- built cruise missiles such as the CSS-N-2 Silkworm, HY-2 Seersucker and C-801 Sardine are tested, assembled, manufactured, and upgraded. The Revolutionary Guard Corps protects the complex with HAWK, SA-5 and SA-2 air-defense missiles.

Intelligence observers estimate that Iran generally keeps eight SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missile batteries stationed near Bandar Abbas, as well as at least 12 Silkworm anti-ship missile sites around Bandar Abbas and Kharg Island. The military complex also houses Iran’s fleet of Chinese-made Houdong fast missile boats. Experts estimate that Iran has armed approximately twenty of these craft with Saccade C-802 missiles. It is into this high-security environment that the contraband entered smoothly, we have to presume that it was not detected at all, thereby putting a big question mark on the level of security prevailing there.

It is an entirely different story if there was active connivance of the authorities in routing the consignment to India.

Shahid Rajaee Port, Bandar Abbas, has a Customs facility spanning a massive area of 4800 hectares of land. This port has Iran’s largest container terminal. The port is a Special Economic Zone due to its strategic location. It has connections to 80 well-known ports with 35 container lines. All terminals at Shahid Rajaee Customs have up-to-date facilities and boasts of 40 separate docks.

The contraband consignment encountered no problems whatsoever at the high-security Bandar Abbas Port and through the massive Customs facility without any hitch.

The next leg of the journey would cover the Gulf of Hormuz, and thereafter into the Arabian Sea.

The Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea are intensely patrolled by navies of various countries, as well as joint patrolling.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 (UNCLOS), sets out the legal framework applicable to activities in the oceans, including countering illicit activities at sea. On 27 November 1997 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted Resolution A.872 (20), which contains Guidelines for the Prevention and
Suppression of the Smuggling of Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursor Chemicals on ships engaged in international maritime traffic. This was revoked and replaced by the Revised Guidelines for the Prevention and Suppression of the Smuggling of Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursor Chemicals on Ships engaged in International Maritime Traffic. In addition, IMO works closely with other international
organizations such as the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), on matters concerning drug smuggling on board ships.

The Djibouti Code of Conduct (2017) covers illegal maritime activities in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. These activities include: (a) Human trafficking and smuggling, (b) Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, (c) Trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances. (d) Arms trafficking, (e) Illegal trade in wildlife, (f) Crude oil theft, and (g) Illegal dumping of toxic waste. A revision was signed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on 12 January 2017 and it became known as the Jeddah Amendment to Djibouti Code of Conduct 2017 (DCoC). So far 16 of the 20 DCoC signatory States have signed the Jeddah Amendment. They are: Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen.

India has joined the Djibouti Code of Conduct/ Jeddah Amendment, as Observer, along with Japan, Norway, UK and the US as Observers following the high-level meeting of the Djibouti Code of Conduct/ Jeddah Amendment (DCOC/JA) held virtually on 26 August 2020.

Under the Code, which became effective from the date it was signed, signatories declared their intention to co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of transnational organized crime in the maritime domain, maritime terrorism, and other illegal activities at sea.

In supporting the implantation of the code of conduct, IMO has developed strong partnerships with key implementing partners including the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the European Union; United States Africa Command (US AFRICOM), Canadian Coast Guard, the One Earth Future Foundation’s Stable Seas project, the Institute for Security International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mohammed Bin Nayef Academy of Marine Science and Security Studies (Saudi Arabia), Djibouti Regional Training Centre, British Peace Support Team (Africa), and NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Training Centre (NMIOTC, Greece).

In addition to the above, there are platforms like the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Further, the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) is a multinational maritime partnership, which exists to uphold the International Rules-Based Order (IRBO).

It is a 33-nation coalition of Combined Maritime Forces and is based in Bahrain established to monitor, board, inspect, and stop suspect shipping to pursue the “Global War on Terrorism”.

Countries presently contributing to CTF-150 include Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Pakistan, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other nations that have participated include Italy, India, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Thailand and Turkey. The command of the task force rotates among the different participating navies, with commands usually lasting between four and six months. The task force usually comprises 14 or 15 ships.

Inspite of such a formidable force operating in the Arabian sea, this massive contraband consignment sailed through effortlessly, to reach its destination at Mundra, Gujarat State, India.

The smooth transit through a huge phalanx of naval forces is because the patrolling at sea is to interdict unidentified vessels. The targets are usually small fishing vessels, and small craft. which may be carrying contraband. The big container ships and cargo ships ply without interruption, as they have authorized permissions and identities. It is these vessels containing licit cargo, that are made use of by terror groups and traffickers to clandestinely carry contraband cargo. It is simply impossible for any Navy to apprehend a Container Ship, and physically check the cargo. Hence the contraband cargo has a smooth sail from the country of origin to the point of destination.

The next and final entry is into the Port of Mundra. India has around 15 lakh containers and this itself is not sufficient for our import-export traffic. There is heavy pressure on the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Finance – Customs, for quick clearance. A shipload of containers is expected to be cleared within 16 to 24 hours.

In FY 2020-21, Mundra port alone handled 144.4 million tons (MT) of cargo. The port handles dry cargo, liquid cargo, crude cargo, and containers. Mundra port is also a special economic zone (SEZ). SEZs are designated duty-free enclaves in India where the Indian Customs law does not apply. It was from this Mundra port that on 16 September 2021 the DRI, on prior information, seized the world’s biggest seizure of narcotic drugs valued at a mind-boggling Rupees twenty-one thousand crores. This seizure has raised many legal issues apart from the threat to national security. A total of eight persons including four Afghan nationals, one Uzbek and three Indians have been arrested so far. A special Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Court in Gujarat has directed the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) to investigate several aspects of this case including the manner in which the Port is administered. Many issuesrelating to national security, cargo clearance modalities, Customs checks, including coastal and blue water patrolling will come up for the Court’s detailed scrutiny in the coming months.

Concealment in containers is happening very intelligently, taking advantage of the fact that only 2% to 10% of containers worldwide undergo inspection.

Only 5% of all containers shipped to US ports are physically inspected. This figure is estimated to be still lower in Europe. In India also, 100% check of containers is impossible. The thrust of the Government and all stakeholders on expeditious clearance of cargo, results in low level of examination and acceptance of declarations by importers at face value. And people wonder why there is trouble eliminating drug trafficking, arms trafficking and human trafficking.

Had it not been for the timely information received by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the prompt interception, the consignment would have smoothly proceeded to its final destination –
Vijayawada. The fact that none of the enforcement and intelligence agencies from Mundra Port to Vijayawada had any inkling of the contraband likely to transit through their jurisdictions, raises several security questions and concerns.

From the month of March 2021 there has been a spurt in the movement of narcotics in the Arabian sea region. The American exit from Afghanistan is reckoned as a major factor contributing to this trend. The gradual easing of COVID-19 related restrictions with consequent increase in maritime traffic density, is also another contributor of this trend. Major drugs seized included Methamphetamine, Cannabis, Heroin and Khat. The seizure of large quantities of methamphetamine during the recent months remains a concern for the region, including a single seizure of 55,836 kg by Omani authorities. Indian Coast Guard made twin drug seizures, and in one case seized five AK 47 rifles with 1000 rounds of ammunition, apart from drugs, from foreign fishing vessels, off Minicoy Island, Lakshadweep, India.

The Government needs to have a comprehensive reviewof the existing maritime patrolling at sea and the quality and quantity of Customs checks at various ports, including those designated as Special Economic Zones.

The author Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) Ph. D (Narcotics), is

  • Former Director General National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, and Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India
  • Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, USA.
  • Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA 
  • Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.
  • AOTS Scholar, Japan

Dr G Shreekumar Menon can be contacted at shreemenon48@gmail.com

Afghanistan, Taliban and the capitulation by the US

Lalit Shastri

The United States has buried the past and seems to have forgotten its war against terror that started in the wake of the 9/11 attack on America. For the purpose of counterterrorism, the US wants to engage with the Taliban that unleashed terror and violence against the people to capture power and formed a government in Afghanistan along with other terrorist outfits like the Haqqani network using weapons of mass destruction left behind so insanely by the US and its allies.

Look at the travesty – the Taliban Government will be inaugurated on 9/11.

With the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, the US has changed track. Now the US will not be engaged in any war against terror. The war has ended and there are no enemies. Now the buzzword is counterterrorism. The spirit – when it comes to confronting terror and fighting terrorists and those harboring the terrorists – has mellowed down and the (US) approach now is outright sheepish.

Of course, one would be totally off the mark if one were to give the US any credit for acting against the harbourers of terrorists all these years because it remained in the forefront when it came to funding and arming Pakistan to the hilt and using it as a US colony to train, arm and build an army of jihadis and terrorists to fight the Russians when they were in Afghanistan before 9/11. The trend continued even long after the Russians left Afghanistan.

Look at the language of diplomacy they – the Americans – are using after The Taliban have created a new interim government that includes Sirajuddin Haqqani as Afghanistan’s interior minister. As leader of the Haqqani network, known for its al-Qaeda links, he is on the FBI’s most wanted list and is a designated global terrorist. On the surface, the Taliban is opposed to the Islamic State of Khorasan but the knowledgeable are talking of the links between the Haqqani network and ISIS-K. The link between the Haqqani group and Al-Qaeda is also too well known and thats where lies the convergence among terror groups that are now in power in Afghanistan.

The much hyped Doha talks that culminated in the sudden capitulation by the US

The US is neither naive nor ignorant not to understand the Jihadi ideology and goals. The way the Americans and partners left Afghanistan after a series of Doha talks can be summed up as nothing else but as capitulation. The Americans chose to leave the hapless citizens of Afghanistan at their own mercy after promising them the moon and this is one of the darkest chapters in human history. The world has watched the horror unfold – we have seen how people wanting to flee from the Taliban were clinging to a US Boeing C-17 on the Kabul runway. We have seen women being lashed, beaten and even killed by the Talibani fighters only because they were women. But all this has failed to stir the sensibilities of those in power in the US.

On 8 September, coinciding with the announcement of an interim government in Afghanistan, and following the US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken’s talks with allies and partners on Afghanistan, the readout by the US State Department spokesperson said that the US will continue to press for an orderly transition of power to an inclusive government with broad support, especially women and minorities.

Blinken has gone on record seeking unity among nations to hold the Taliban accountable on counterterrorism while stating that every diplomatic, economic, political, and assistance and tool will be used to uphold the basic rights of all Afghans; support continued humanitarian access (obviously with the support of Pakistan, which has all along been and still remains a safe haven and breeding ground for terrorists) to the country (Afghanistan); and ensure the Taliban honors its commitments (what about the commitments at Doha that were blown to bits when the Taliban unleashed terror and violence against the people of Afghanistan).

On leaving Afghanistan, the way it did, the US in an effort to salvage its image, now at the rock bottom, tells the world that its a mission brought Osama bin Laden to a just end along with many of his Al-Qaida co-conspirators. The US also reminds all about the cost in terms of 2,461 U.S. service members and civilians killed and more than 20,000 who were injured, including 13 U.S. service members who were killed in the second fortnight of August by an ISIS-K suicide bomber.

Is it only failure of the US intelligence to forwarn about the collapse of the Afghan military and the opening up of Kabul to the Taliban within a matter of 24-hours or there is more to it …? The world expects the knowledgeable to throw light on this…. At this stage one cannot help but throw up this question.

The US President and others in the US administration have gone on record saying that they have succeded in insulating their country from terrorist threat like necver before. Well thats too self-centred a position to be taken by a nation that shouts from rooftops about its might, both military and ecomomic, and pretends to be the saviour of democracy and protector of human rights across the world. The terrorists in Pakistan and their operatives and sleeper cells in India are bound to be emboldened with the Taliban now in power in Afghanistan.

The US has left a gaping gap by abandoning the war against terror. For a country like India which is busy restoring normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, a new war begins. If India joins the chorus with the US, it would only end up turning a blind eye to the new dangers and threats the country now faces due to the abdication of the role, the US undertook 20 years ago. In this abdication the US media too has chosen to become a partner: For the New York Times, those who have usurped power in Afghanistan are “Stalwarts” (Taliban Appoint Stalwarts to Top Government Posts). As per the Cambridge dictionary, “stalwart” means “loyal, faithful and dependable”.

India for united, democratic and sovereign Afghanistan

Newsroom24x7 Network

New Delhi: India is of the view that the Afghan peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled. Any political settlement must be inclusive and should preserve the socio-economic and political gains of the past 19 years.

India supports a united, democratic and sovereign Afghanistan. india is deeply concerned about the increase in violence and targeted killings in Afghanistan and has called for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.

This came as the response from the Official Spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to media queries on the announcement by the US of withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan before September 11, 2021.

The Official spokesperson said:

“We have noted the decision of the United States to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and to end its military operations there. We are closely following the ongoing intra-Afghan peace process. Afghan people have seen more than four decades of war and unrest and deserve long-lasting peace and development.

India has participated in the Doha Conference, the Geneva Conference and recently, the Heart of Asia Conference in Dushanbe. India remains engaged with the Afghan stakeholders and also our regional and international partners regarding next steps.”

Extended Troika asks all parties to end war: Urges Taliban not to pursue a Spring offensive in Afghanistan

Newsroom24x7 Network

Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov’s opening remarks at the meeting of the extended Troika on peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, Moscow, March 18, 2021

Moscow: The extended “Troika” comprising representatives of Russia, China, the United States, and Pakistan, which met here on Thursday 18 March have urged all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to reduce the level of violence in the country and on the Taliban not to pursue a Spring offensive, so as to avoid further casualties and to create an environment conducive to reaching a negotiated political settlement.

Moscow hosted the regular meeting of the extended “Troika” that focused on making progress in the intra-Afghan process to reach a negotiated settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

In his opening remarks, Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov said that the situation is all the more alarming against the backdrop of the approaching spring and summer when combat activities are traditionally invigorated. “To my knowledge, the signs of this are already there”, he observed while expressing regret that efforts to launch a political process in Doha had not produced the “desired effect”. 

The event was also attended by representatives of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, prominent Afghan political figures, and representatives of the Taliban movement, as well as Qatar and Turkey as guests of honor.

Rolling the agenda for the meeting, the Russian Foreign Minister said, it is particularly alarming that the radical terrorist groups, primarily the Islamic State (ISIS), are trying to use the current situation to strengthen their positions “on the ground.” In our estimate, ISIS has not given up its attempts to entrench itself deeper in northern Afghanistan with a view to extrapolating their plans to Central Asia. All this creates the prerequisites for the further flourishing of drug trafficking that is a serious challenge to Afghanistan, the region and the rest of the world, and is a major source of funding for terrorist activities.

In the spirit of the discussions, as well as provisions of joint statements on the outcomes of previous “Troika” meetings held on March 22, April 25, July 11, and October 25, 2019, and online conferences held on June 3 and November 30, 2020, the four states participating in the extended “Troika” have:

  • Acknowledged the widespread and sincere demand of the Afghan people for a lasting and just peace and an end to the war and confirm that a sustainable peace can only be achieved through a negotiated political settlement.
  • Called on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to reduce the level of violence in the country and on the Taliban not to pursue a Spring offensive, so as to avoid further casualties and to create an environment conducive to reaching a negotiated political settlement.
  • As stated in the UNSC resolution 2513 (2020), said they do not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate and called on the Government of the Islamic Republic and the High Council for National Reconciliation to engage openly with their Taliban counterparts regarding a negotiated settlement.
  • Urged participants in the intra-Afghan negotiations to engage immediately in discussions on fundamental issues to resolve the conflict, including the foundations of the future peaceful and stable Afghan state, the content of a political roadmap leading to an inclusive government, and the modalities of a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. At this pivotal moment, the four States have also called on the parties to negotiate and conclude a peace agreement that will bring an end to over four decades of war in Afghanistan.
  • Strongly advocated a durable and just political resolution that will result in the formation of an independent, sovereign, unified, peaceful, democratic, and self-sufficient Afghanistan, free of terrorism and an illicit drug industry, which contributes to the creation of pull factors for the voluntary, sustainable, and expeditious return of Afghan refugees; stability; and global security.
  • Called on all Afghans, including the Government of the Islamic Republic and the Taliban, to ensure that terrorist groups and individuals do not use Afghan soil to threaten the security of any other country.
  • Have reaffirmed that any peace agreement must include protections for the rights of all Afghans, including women, men, children, victims of war, and minorities, and should respond to the strong desire of all Afghans for economic, social and political development including the rule of law.
  • Encouraged all concerned countries to support the Afghan people and contribute to a lasting peace in the interest of all. We reaffirm our commitment to mobilize international political and economic support for a post-political settlement Afghanistan.
  • Appreciated the long-standing support of the State of Qatar to facilitate the peace process, and we support the continuation of discussions between the parties’ negotiating teams in Doha, which began in September 2020 and which have resulted in meaningful progress toward a political settlement.
  • Recognised and welcomed all international efforts that are underway to facilitate and support a negotiated settlement as soon as possible. We note that the UN Secretary General Guterres’ appointment of Mr. Jean Arnault as his personal envoy on Afghanistan and regional issues.

The extended Troika has welcomed the UN playing a positive and constructive role on the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.