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Pakistan drug dealers chose Sri Lanka as a hub for smuggling

Pakistan drug dealers chose Sri Lanka as a hub for smuggling

The South Asian region experiencing geopolitical turmoil, has also been hit smuggling of narcotics. The drug trade, in turn is fueling Islamic extremism.

While Pakistan is one of the major drug trafficking countries in the South Asian region, it maintains a studied silence on its own culpability in partnering this nefarious trade. Islamabad's well worn tactic is to pin disproportionate blame for drug traffiking on Afghanistan, which is mainly engaged in the production of heroin.

Sri Lankan government under former President Maithripala Sirisena launched a severe crackdown on drug dealers and smugglers, which revealed in graphic detail, Pakistan's connection in this deadly but lucrative trade.   Sri Lanka is known to be in the clutches of Pakistan drugs traffickers and evidently, the Sri Lanka Navy has reported them to the media.

Sri Lanka serves as a transhipment hub for heroin trafficked into the country mainly from the Indian continent. Unsurprisingly, Sri Lanka accounts for a disproportionately large number of arrests. Such detentions show that traffikers favour the smuggling of heroin. There are many local drug dealers namely Samantha Kumara alias Wele Suda who was arrested in 2015 had direct links to Pakistan drug dealers. He was extradited from Pakistan after being arrested there. Also Mohammed Siddik, a former resident of Dematagoda, who was suspected operating a major heroin smuggling network between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, He had fled to Pakistan several years back, along with Wele Suda and was arrested finally after an Interpol Red Notice was issued for his arrest in 2015.

In an interview to an English newspaper in Sri Lanka last month (November), Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka M. Ashraf Haidari noted that Taliban-produced drugs entering Sri Lanka through Pakistan and even the Sri Lanka Navy knows well that much of the narcotics originates from Pakistan where drug kingpins work hand in hand with the Taliban, who facilitate the cultivation and production of drugs in Afghanistan. He also cited that there are over a dozen terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and IS (Islamic State), operating under the Taliban umbrella with safe havens in our immediate neighbourhood. He stressed that the terrorist attacks carried out daily by these groups over the past 19 years have cost Afghanistan in direct and indirect ways; while undermining regional stability and international security.

The Pakistan Embassy reported that 41 prisoners in Sri Lanka were extradited to Pakistan recently under the 2004 Pact between the two countries. The entire group of 41 were convicted for drug trafficking and there are several more of them in police custody in Sri Lanka facing trial and not convicted as yet. According to the Sri Lanka Navy, between 2016 and now (2020) nearly six teams of Pakistanis and Iranians were arrested in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) en route the Arabian Sea most of the time. On March 31 in 2016 111kg of heroin was nabbed in a flagless big boat. The boat suspected to be of Pakistan origin and 10 Iranians and one Pakistani were arrested.

Though  it was considered a stateless boat, the big boat was of the traditional boats that sail in the Arabian sea. They were arrested in the South of Sri Lanka by the Navy. Again in 2019 March 24, another set of 9 Iranians were arrested south-west of Sri Lanka smuggling 107kgs of heroin bearing no flag but suspected to have linked with the Pakistanis drug traffickers. Also in 2019, July 10, 70kgs of heroin was confiscated with Iranians on a flagless boat. The trend has been that the Iranians were used in the smuggling of drugs by the Pakistani drug cartels.

On December 18, 2019, a Pakistani national was sentenced to life in prison by Colombo High Court Judge Gihan Kulatunga after he was convicted for trafficking and possessing heroin. He was arrested in Wellawatte and had more than 01 kilograms of heroin in his possession. In the year 2020, on February 25, 219 kgs of heroin were taken into custody along with two Iranians and four Pakistanis also while sailing in the south-west of Sri Lanka. On March 2020, another biggest haul of 614kg of heroin was nabbed and nine Pakistanis were arrested. The latest drug trafficking reported was on April 10, 2020, with 279kgs of heroin illegally transported by five Iranians, one Pakistani and one from Myanmar.

According to a top maritime expert, most of the country of origin cannot be traced because flagless boats are used for smuggling for drugs but in the South Asian region its best known that Pakistanis and Afghans are behind this illegal operation. The Sri Lanka Navy point out the drug smugglers often sail closer to countries in South Asia and drop some parcels to small fishing boats and that is then distributed in many areas in the country.

Reiterating the fact Pakistan is behind most of the drug trafficking, the Afghan diplomat said that is why Afghanistan and Sri Lanka need to work together to fight drugs. “We can do together to fight narcotics, including its cultivation, production and trafficking to Sri Lanka and the rest of South Asia. That is why we have welcomed the appointment of Ambassador-Designate Piyal De Silva, who, as a former Navy Commander, possesses relevant counter-narcotics experience, and we look forward to working with him to develop the necessary security and law enforcement institutional ties to stem the flow of Taliban produced drugs to Sri Lanka through Pakistan,” the Afghanistan Ambassador said in the interview.

It is also suspected that the most wanted underworld Don Dawood Ibrahim who lives in Pakistan is involved in major drug trafficking nexus between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Dawood Ibrahim was alleged to have been aided by Pakistan ISI and Narco money goes to Jihadist terror groups. Also, several Indian media highlighted that the drug money from Pakistan-based cartel may have funded for the terror attack in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019. According to Indian sleuths, drugs are boarded on boats and shipping vessels from Karachi and transferred to Sri Lanka.

Pakistan responding to the Afghan Envoy, said that Afghanistan was mainly responsible for  the production of narcotics. He pointed out that statistics show that poppy cultivation has increased under the present government as compared to the Taliban regime. The Pakistan high commission in Colombo reiterated they are also fighting terrorism and warring faction under the Afghan warlords have been thriving on drug trafficking business. There is cross border terrorism between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the possibility of narco traders slipping through its porous borders it noted. Last month (November), the Indian Coast Guard intercepted a boat carrying a massive quantity of heroin off Tuticorin but the boat belonged to a man in Negombo, Sri Lanka, however, originated from Karachi, Pakistan. At the interrogation, it was revealed that the agents operated in Pakistan and they have been a source of drug supply to South-East Asian countries through Sri Lanka. This particular haul of drugs was meant to be transported to western countries and Australia..