Organised Crime and the Illegal Market in Weapons in Southern Asia

Tara Kartha, Research Fellow, IDSA


Organised crime has catapulted into one of the primary though less understood threats to security, especially in developing nations. Once seen as largely national networks which profited from illegal activities on the fringes of society, organised crime appears to have "internationalised" itself, and become largely transnational enterprises with budgets that rival the entire gross domestic product of some countries, and a reach and energy akin to major multinational corporations. The threat from these emerging empires—for it appears that they are still to realise their full potential—is multifaceted. In developed countries, organised crime erodes economic sovereignty and stability even as it provides a range of illegal "services" that may range from the flesh trade to money laundering. Most of these crimes are not new, and indeed commodity smuggling ( for instance) has existed ever since the inception of the nation state that taxed its populations and sought to implement its laws. However the threat from organised crime is seen as having grown sufficiently large and sophisticated to a degree where it practically replicates the state at some levels—with its own laws, money, and financial institutions—and where it can no longer be within the "control" of any one state. Developed states are increasingly aware that organised crime activities require them to cooperate with not only each other, but also with developing countries, which may provide the materials for organised crime to operate. Such materials may include commodities like narcotics on the one hand or services from porous banking systems on the other.

In developing countries the threat is far more than simply economic erosion or financial losses. In many places where organised crime has taken root it either tends to take over the state itself, or merges with conflict to mutate into a full fledged military security threat. Examples of the former include parts of Central America which are completely under the control of drug cartels, while the whole of Afghanistan is part and parcel of a criminal economy. Examples of the merging of organised crime with conflict includes the conflict in Afghanistan- Pakistan region, and the emergence of terrorism in India. Other examples of such collusion abound, though not on the same scale. Columbian drug cartels have contracted out the protection of their crop to guerilla armies, while a cooperation along the same lines is apparent in northern Myanmar. Since the maximum number of armed conflicts occur in the developing world, it is this linkage of arms and organised crime that has proven to be the greatest security threat to the developing world. The admixture of weapons, narcotics, crime and an added element of covert war has proved to be a daunting challenge, since each merges with the other and (as will be brought out) makes neat divisions of criminal and state activities difficult to distinguish.

This paper deals with the linkages between organised crime and light weapons smuggling in South Asia. It is acknowledged that light weapons smuggling forms only one facet of the vast transnational enterprise of organised crime, which may include activities as diverse as computer crimes and the flesh trade. But the point is that the induction of weapons into any conflictual situation—be it ethnic, criminal, religious or political—immediately escalates the level of violence to a degree where it goes beyond the capability of most police forces across the world to handle. Escalation may continue to the point wherein it becomes a grave national security issue to a country, and cause immense loss of life before it can be reduced at all. Thus the basic point that emerges is that light weapons trafficking has serious immediate and long term implications for the security and stability of states, especially the smaller and weaker ones.

Defining Organised Crime

The involvement of organised crime in light weapons movement in South Asia is difficult to estimate precisely, since one is almost immediately confronted with the problem of a diversity of actors, both state and non state, some profit-orientated and some not, so that actual differentiation between what constitutes organised crime, and what constitutes state action becomes difficult to distinguish. While discussing the problem of organised crime therefore, the definitional problem is one that has to be assessed. One definition which has been widely accepted is that " …the business of organized crime has been described as providing goods and services that happen to be illegal...".1 The main motive here is profit, with "goods" being whatever commodity that will provide the maximum profit for the lowest possible risks. This may include both national and transnational trading, depending on the nature of the "goods" involved. However when the directing authority or main actors involved include quasi "governments" (as in the criminalised economy of Afghanistan) or full fledged state institutions (like the intelligence services of Pakistan) then the problem of definition becomes even more difficult, since "profit" here is not readily calculable.

Other definitions of organised crime also tend to primarily take into account the "profit" factor. For instance, in 1988, Interpol defined organised crime as " Any enterprise or group or persons engaged in a continuing illegal activity which has as its primary purpose the generation of profits, irrespective of national boundaries". However over time the definition was expanded to include not only the corporate structure of organised crime but also the increasing tendency to use violence. Thus Interpol then defined it as " Any group having a corporate structure whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities, often surviving on fear and corruption"2 Thus again the accent is on profit, without taking into account the "power" factor which increasingly seems to be the motive of criminal state actors or institutions in South Asia.

Analysts like Lupsha however do take into account such "marriages of convenience" between dominant state institutions and crime, which he describes as "linked organisations". This implies that the two operate at different levels but have a symbiotic relationship. But in Asia, the definitional problem arises from the frequent melding of the two into one organisation. Lupsha has also developed a model that explains how organised crime evolves. This involves the predatory, parasitical and symbiotic stages. In the predatory stage, street gangs use violence to maintain dominance of an area through violence, after which they gain recognition from legitimate power brokers, local political leaders and economic "influentials" who can use the gangs organisation and skills for their own purpose. At the parasitical stage, the gang develops a corruptive interaction with these legitimate power sectors, emerging as a full fledged organised crime group when it is able to co-opt political power to allow it to utilise the legitimate sectors of the community. Here it becomes a near equal to the state. At the symbiotic stage, the parasitical bond becomes one of mutuality, with the host itself dependant on the parasite to sustain itself. This model can be evaluated in terms of Asian organised crime.

Another term that is often used to describe the transnational threats that emanate from this region is "narco-terrorism". This is defined by analysts like Wardlaw as " the illicit movement of prohibited drugs across international borders by individuals or groups for financial gain and/or political purposes. While this does describe the activities in terms of narcotics, what is being considered here is the transnational and illicit movement of weapons—to kill and dominate—for strategic and political purposes, by states and non state actors. For the purposes of this analysis light weapons while a sub set of organised crime may be considered as a vital activity with "interests for power" dominating at the higher level, and "profits" at the lower level. This definition may be tested by analysing the actual linkages and interests involved in light weapons trafficking in the region. This paper outlines the modes, actors, patterns and motivations to illicit trafficking of weapons in Southern Asia. However the focus is on the Afghanistan- Pakistan region, and South Asia., though the links to the rest of Asia are also outlined. This focus is maintained for two reasons. Firstly, this area provides the largest incidence of weapons movement, and therefore provides an ideal case study . Secondly, the need for research brevity makes it impossible to cover so large a canvas.

At the outset it is as well to identify the various but related factors that contribute to making Southern Asia the "heartland" of the weapons trade and crime. These are:-

l Within Asia are the three largest opium producers in the world— Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar. As a basically illegal activity, this requires requisite numbers of weapons to sustain it.

l Afghanistan has the distinction of being the one country with the largest quantities of weapons within that are not produced by itself. Afghanistan can easily be assessed to have more light weapons within it than both India and Pakistan combined.

l As virtual "non states" Afghanistan and Cambodia offer themselves as the base for a variety of criminal activities. Pakistan is increasingly following the same path.

l These non states are also characterised by a complete breakdown of the law and order machinery. Other states in Asia like Myanmar and Nepal suffer variously from the same problem.

l Both land and sea borders within Asia are hugely difficult to police, and therefore allow easy access to traffickers.

l Demand is fuelled by the many "hot spots" in Southern Asia including Southern Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, sporadic violence in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, the Indian North East, Aceh, East Timor, Cambodia, the eastern and western borders of Myanmar, and Eastern China. It must be noted that all these conflicts are basically transnational in nature. That is, the weapons, the men, the money and in the case of India and Central Asia even the ideology, comes from outside the country.

l The movement of weapons into society in Pakistan, Russia, China and to an extent in Sri Lanka further fuels ethnic/sectarian/ criminal conflict and therefore demand.

l The most dangerous factor that fuels demand is the deliberate propagation of a divisive and radical religious ideology that extols violence and death. That this is religion again (and again?) being used as a cloak for strategic interests (and at the lower levels for personal power) is the unfortunate reality.

l Finally and most importantly, covert war by proxy in parts of Southern Asia has continued even after the end of the cold war. It shows signs of having gone out of control, with a variety of actors involved for personal or ideological benefit.

The region of Southern Asia can be divided into roughly two main trafficking patterns. In fact a dividing line can be said to run through India, where the west (Iran, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Russia , parts of China, Pakistan and the western borders of India) is marked primarily by state activity in cooperation with state actors, with strong quasi-independent operations running alongside. This is illustrated by Figure -1. To the east (Eastern border of India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, parts of coastal China, and South East Asia) operations are largely carried out by non state actors, with intelligence (mainly Pakistani) activities also involved at some levels .

Since the largest numbers of transfers and affected countries lies to the west, this paper concentrates on that area, with the transfers to the east simply outlined through a map which marks the main routes.

Weapons Trafficking—Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the cycle of war continues with obvious state assistance from neighbours who buy weapons from further afield— usually Ukraine, Albania, Bulgaria, and other parts of Eastern Europe— or produce them in covert factories in their own countries. This usually reaches the combatants either by truck (from Pakistan to the Taliban) or by train and road (Iranian and Russian assistance to the Northern coalition). Saudi Arabian money finances much of the effort for the Taliban side, while a tax revenue (zakt) from the production and sale of drugs also contributes heavily to Taliban coffers, an amount estimated to be close to $20 million from this alone. Apart from this is the tax on transporters, on heroin production, and additional taxes at borders. Much of this for obvious reasons is banked in Pakistan, where the main middle men in terms of transportation and finance ("unaccounted" loans are regularly provided by the Pakistani traffickers to farmers in Afghanistan). Much of the hard weaponry already exists in Afghanistan since it has been estimated that around $6-8 billion worth of weaponry was supplied to all sides, (1979-1992). Therefore much of the trafficking is in ammunition rounds, though weapon replacements are also apparent . This trade in weapons from the international black market to fight a "state" war are therefore funded from a criminalised economy.

Weapons in Afghanistan are not just for fighting the fratricidal war. At one level, weapons are required for the drug mafia who move like small armies, with anti aircraft guns often mounted on their all terrain vehicles. This drug mafia has been largely co-opted by the Taliban, in return for which these actors pay substantial amounts to the "kitty", with the Helmand and Nangarhar dominating. These convoys move largely towards the Makran coast of Pakistan. This trade which is protected by Pakistani coastguards, was carried on by the Nabi Islam and Buledi groups (Sunnis) which are virulently opposed to the Iranian clergy, who are themselves understood to be carrying arms for resistance groups in Iran (through the Mand and Dalbandeen sectors along the border). This level of weapons trafficking therefore has a clear profit interest as well as state interest.

Another route that has been steadily growing is the Central Asian route both in terms of narcotics as well as weapons. The level of cooperation between the drug and arms traffickers is worthy of notice here, as also the fact that there are very few ethnic barriers in the trade. This was particularly apparent in the recent attack on Batken in Kyrgyzstan, when a group of well armed and trained "fundamentalists" —who according to a Pakistani journalist (M. Illyas Khan in Herald January 2000) included Afghans, and Pakistanis in addition to Uzbeks—occupied entire villages and held Kyrgyz personnel hostage. It was said that at least one reason for the incursion by "fundamentalists"—led by Namagani of Uzbekistan—was that the incursion would have dominated the main land route of narcotics into Osh and from there onwards to China , Russia and Europe. The drug trade from Afghanistan is dominated by the Khorog strongmen (heroin) while opium is more or less a peoples trade. The route into Osh was also once the stronghold of Tajik Islamic resistance groups. As one Russian military officer commented, here the conflicts are so layered with the interests of the drug mafia that it becomes difficult to tell them apart. Terrorist incidents in Uzbekistan led to that country blaming Pakistan (though not official Pakistan) for the attacks. This level of trade therefore has a more direct organised crime-terrorism linkage that however could not be sustained without some degree of Taliban assent.

It is worth noting that the price for an AK-47 in Russia is around $400-1000. That this is far more expensive than in the bazaars of Pakistan (Rs 6000-13,000) seems to indicate the direction of weapons flow, and leads to the somewhat astonishing conclusion that trade in weapons is taking place in both directions, and may indicate a re-cycling of weapons (with new material being pushed in for one group by state assistance, and being sold off individually or in lots at some point in time to the criminal gangs. This in fact has been the usual cycle that has been apparent in most conflict areas. The huge rise in organised crime groupings in Russia while in part a result of the chaos following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however also owes its rise to the attendant rise in narcotics trafficking and weapons smuggling across the poorly controlled border. The rise of Central Asian mafia, and indeed the emergence of completely new actors here is indicative of the vitality of the "Afghan link " well beyond its borders.

At a final level is the trade which is carried on in Afghanistan with or without the "control" of the Taliban. Weapons are continuously being bought, traded or gifted to the various malcontents from surrounding countries and from afar, who come into Afghanistan either for training or looking for shelter. What can be said with certainty is that the Taliban do nothing to either prevent these malcontents from arriving, and certainly in many cases have given active encouragement. The most recent arrival was the Uzbek separatist leader Tahir Yuldashev who leads the Ferghana based Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan., while Chechens are understood also to have appeared following the Taliban "recognition" of the breakaway republic.

The maximum number of camps for training are along the borders of Afghanistan both east and west, with mainly front offices in Kabul, though Rishkor just outside Kabul also trains those wanting to move into Central Asia. The largest and most well equipped camps are along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, (Khost) since these were once staging posts for the mojahideen to launch their attacks against the Soviets. Here the Uighur, Kashmiri, Egyptian, Arabs, Sudanese and others meet and train in separate camps. Training includes indoctrination as well as three month capsule courses in almost every aspect of covert warfare. These were also once the staging camps for Al Queda, the group led by Saudi billionaire Usama Bin Laden. The largest group operating here is the Harkat ul Ansar, which has camps both here, as well as along the Central Asian border and various camps inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir (see below). It is important to note that there is a easy and apparently fairly constant movement between the XUAR, the Northern Areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Uighurs who fled to Gilgit, were then shepherded to Afghanistan, reportedly to the care of Usama. Movement also occurs in the reverse direction, with weapons (and narcotics) moving through China to reach the coastal areas of Guangdong, as well as Yunnan. This appears to be a profit based trade, with the organised crime groupings dominated by the Uighurs of urban China dominating the trade.

This part of Afghanistan which adjoins Pakistan is under virtual control of Pakistani intelligence the ISI, (Interservices Intelligence), and "fed" by the Pakistani transport mafia under the control of the ISI and IB (Intelligence Bureau) in a relationship that goes back over 28 years since the time Pakistan was the main actor in the shuttling of US supplied weapons and money for the mojahideen. The ideological cover is provided by the largest Islamist groups the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) and the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI). These groups have huge numbers of seminaries under their tutorship, from where regular batches of volunteers are sent to train for the Afghan, Kashmiri and other wars where Islam is seen to be in danger.

In essence therefore, the trade here can be summarised as follows.

Table 1

Group Main supplier Subsidiary Intermediaries


TALIBAN Pakistan ordnance Eastern Europe, Army contracted

Central Europe Truckers

Northern Alliance Russia, Iran As above Export Agents

Terrorist groups Pakistani intelligence Pakistani arms Arms dealers,

bazaars, covert Trucker and

stocks smuggling mafia,

Drug barons Unknown. Arms bazaars Some under Pak intelligence.

Other groups Black market Extremist religious Arms bazaars

groups (Pakistan)

Apparent here is a strong state interest, which is linked to various non state interests who are themselves interested in profit( drugs) and power (terrorists). All activities here are transnational, and impinge adversely on the targeted state's security. Thus these two levels are highly linked, with a closely symbiotic relationship but with different motives. The state level seeks state interest—defined widely and often in violent terms. Its own control over the country has been through either buying local commanders or making it worthwhile to them to "join up". This means that in essence they are left alone to pursue their activities, which in turn fills Taliban coffers. Terrorists also appear to bring in considerable money, besides which they are the extended arm of the Taliban in terms of defining their ideology in other states. Here the question is not so much of organised crime, as a criminal state with a criminally sustained economy. Transnational activity can therefore hardly be called criminal, since there is no recognised law operating in Afghanistan. But these activities would clearly be considered criminal under Pakistani law. Therefore the contextual terms of reference as far as Pakistan is concerned must be considered anew .


The fact that none of the above would be possible without active support and assistance from Pakistan is obvious, as also the fact that a long term covert operation has been sustained for a certain strategic space. Alongside however are various other motives—both institutional and personal. General Zia was able to tighten his hold on Pakistan itself by portraying himself as an Islamist and a front line state against the "evil" forces that were the Soviets. In the process the Intelligence agencies—controlled and commanded by an army officer—increased their fortunes and power within the country, which they have since been loath to lose. Alongside were the Islamic parties who also garnered a clout that was quite disproportionate to their actual numbers or their ability to win elections. Apart from this several other vested interests continue to operate that drives the arms trafficking in the region.

Pakistan's support to mojahideen/jehadis/razakars/fedayeen goes back a long way (1973) when Pakistan began to arm and train batches of 30-40 disaffected elements, an operation that was carried out with help from the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)3, the Saudis and possibly the Chinese. As the operation gathered force, the need to legitimise the operation brought in the Islamist parties who then declared a jehad— oddly enough which was then financed not just by Saudi money, but also by narcotics trafficking, especially in heroin, a process that had been completely unknown to Afghanistan. The movement and distribution of weapons, (and the movement of narcotics on the return journey) was controlled by the Pakistani intelligence—who farmed this activity out to the truckers (Pashtuns) who moved the arms to the mojahideen commanders, and took the heroin to Karachi and later to Lahore for export. This laid the basis for the urban mafia that thrived in major cities.

The weapons were skimmed off by a variety of actors. Estimates vary, but most agree that upto 60 per cent of the weapons aid never reached the mojahideen, but was pilfered by Pakistani intelligence as well as by independent actors all along the chain of transport.4 Thus weapons moved into the major cities as well as into the hands of diverse ethnic and sectarian groupings who were armed by the state to take on the democratic parties (who had formed a coalition against General Zia).

The corruption endemic to such activities soon eroded the Pakistani state right up to the very top. The BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) of Pakistan "laundered" the drug money (as well as assisted in the movement of arms) providing Islamabad with funds to fight a series of covert wars not only into Afghanistan but also into Kashmir. As commentators note, so melded were these operations with the highest figures of Pakistani bureaucracy that it was difficult to know where the bank's operations ended and that of the state began. The former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on record to state that the (then) COAS General Aslam Beg had approached him with a plan for using narco-dollars to fund covert war in Kashmir. Later financial scandals involving the Mehran Bank revealed the extent of unaccounted money in the hands of the army, and its steady supply to intelligence, who in turn used this also to influence national elections The motive here was obviously state and institutional "interest", with the army, intent on preserving its own role in decision-making, while the "state interest" was interpreted as the launching of covert war.

At another level was that of personal profit. Much of this narco-money obviously was linked to political actors whose cooperation was necessary at all levels of the arms and drugs trade. As a Pakistani commentator put it, "Pakistan is silently and visibly being kidnapped by narco-barons. They can influence and buy anyone at any level in any department. The judiciary, the civil administration and the police cooperate and coordinate with narco barons.."5 Thus a cycle of corruption was apparent after 1992 at the very highest political levels,6 with even the former Prime Minister's immediate family involved.7

At the lowest level were the totally "black" markets—the arms bazaars of not only the Frontier, but also those that mushroomed in urban areas. These were controlled by ethnic groups who were however having some difficulties in selling to anyone of any persuasion . They even undertook "home delivery", though they preferred not to get involved in transborder operations. Thus while being a facet of organised crime, these were suppliers to transnational groups but were not themselves actively involved.

Currently the following groups were not only armed but were into the trafficking business.

l The Pakistani intelligence—commanded at all times by a senior officer of the army—which had grown from a small internally orientated group into one that was at least four times its previous size, and had access to almost unlimited amounts of money and weapons. Its increased clout even in foreign policy was noted by Pakistani moderates.8

l The army itself, which was noted to have salted away more than 3 million AK-47's for covert operations

l The religious parties, who had been fundamental to the jehad, soon were imparting armed training in their own seminaries. This increased after 1994 when there was obviously "big money" in the business of setting up the Taliban.9 These groups began to operate into Central Asia from 198410 and India in the same period as part of a strategic game plan that involved the spread of the jehad. Their operations into China (post 1992) led to the formation of the National Movement of Uighur Muslims and the Xinjiang Moslem Liberation Front whose members fled to Gilgit after a crackdown in March 1997.

l Ethnic and sectarian groups who were supported by the army to defeat or support a particular government (as well as those armed by the government itself like the mojahirs of Karachi). These were used to "control" the internal situation.

l Provincial administration officials especially along the Frontier— mainly Khattaks, Saifullah, Afridi and Arbab Pashtun tribes—are part and parcel of the drugs for guns racket, which is in turn subcontracted to the Frontier tribes .

l The drug barons of Lahore and Karachi who had intimate connections with the ruling families—were sub-contracted the trafficking trade into India. They soon developed links with the mafia of Bombay and later Madras. Their spread into the Middle East and South East Asia marks a rise in influence and reach and has been marked after 1990.

l At the lowermost levels were the Pashtun trucker mafia who operated into Lahore and Karachi which were the major depots for the drug trade, the smuggling communities of (Pakistani) Gujerat, and the criminal groups of Muzaffarabad.

In Pakistan again—if the illicit trafficking of arms is to be considered a crime—then the "organized crime" is the state apparatus itself, which operates in tandem with a variety of non state actors of various countries at the lowermost levels, and who operate transnationally. The latter may not exist without the active help and assistance of the former in terms of assistance from political actors, intelligence agencies, powerful drug barons linked to the state, and jehadi groups sustained by state funding. Thus the web of links between the two—the state and crime are so multifaceted as to make the two indistinguishable. Here organised crime may be said to be "double hatted". It is the state, and it is the criminal as well.

Target States: India

The geography of the Kashmir Valley makes it well nigh impossible to smuggle in weapons from anywhere else other than Pakistan. Gun running was completely absent prior to the mid 1980's. In 1987, Border Security Forces seized contraband worth 51.44 crores, but recovered a mere 33 rifles and 92 pistols while on internal security duties.11 In 1989 this figure on border seizures alone had jumped to 98 AK's (AK- 47 and AK-56) and included 9 rocket launchers, 64 rockets, 185 guns, and 181 detonators, and significantly 77.5 kg of explosives. Groups of Kashmiri youth were moved to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) for arms training quite openly, while selected groups were later sent to Afghan warlord Hekmatyar's camp, and yet others to Jallaluddin Haqqani12. As militants were infiltrated back into the Valley, each was made to carry a full weapon load, which was then given to the "local commander" who then distributed them at his discretion.13 By 1996, the Kalashnikov's seized crossed 16, 772 AK's.14

The trafficking basically relied on cross border tribes (like the Gujjar and Bakarwals who also worked as guides during the tourist season). Inside Kashmir, the weapons were cached away until they were distributed by the "Area Commander" of a particular group. Radio intercepts reveal that such infusions of weapons were usually in response to a particular request, and were usually for a large operation which if successful meant a better pay packet for those concerned (in effect a template of the Afghan strategy). The numbers of weapons supplied grew as it was part of Pakistan's plan not to allow any group to become too powerful. Thus there was a steady rise in the number of groups—from 10 in the early 1980's, to 60 in 1990, 180 in 1992, and 206 in 1994 ( some of these were made up of no more than ten to twelve individuals).15 Since each of these had to be outfitted, the actors involved in trafficking increased.

Further downwards (in the Punjab-Rajasthan sector) existing conflictual divisions had been exacerbated by the slow supply of weapons like the AK. Prominent militant heads were invited to base themselves in Pakistan, and were then supplied plentifully with weapons. The methodology adopted here was to co-opt the smuggling community (again transborder) who had seen their profits decline with the freeing of gold from import restrictions, and the lifting of other restrictions. The extent of the linkages between the criminal community and the ISI was only revealed clearly after the serial blasts against India's commercial centre of Bombay in 1993. Investigation revealed that the transport and landing of the explosives had involved close cooperation between both, while the nexus between these groups with militants in Punjab (themselves often in the business for profit) meant in essence an all—India operation. Since then, links have also been apparent between the largest Bombay don, and the brother-in-law of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Also Sikh rebels became the mules in the cross border heroin trade, carrying heroin into India in return for money and weapons. In one particular transaction, one heroin baron brokered a $375,000 arms deal between merchants from the infamous arms bazaars—the Darras—and the Sikh militants. Other sources point out that the DEA had got wind of a 140 ton heroin shipment which was to pass from Pakistani Punjab to India, whose receipts were to be used to fund ethnic groups. A Pakistani journalist (who was cruelly beaten and forced to leave the country due to his investigative reporting on the narcotics nexus) recounts how different smugglers "deal" with different items. For instance , one of five such groups in the (Pakistani) Punjab dealt mainly with AK-47's while the other dealt with RPG's. They were contracted to supply till the border and no more, after which it was the responsibility of the militants themselves. Thus a convergence of interest arose not only between the drug traffickers, intelligence agencies and militant interests, but also between the requirements of Pakistan's Afghan policy (which required getting the heroin to market) and India policy (which called for destabilisation where conventional war had clearly failed) .

In India, organised crime appears to be more relevant as a term than elsewhere in Asia. Clearly there are powerful profit and power orientated structures at work here which operate transnationally, and sell both goods and services. These groups are hierarchically organised, and identify themselves by their allegiance to this or that mafia don. Clearly, there is considerable "cooperation" between them and some state entities like customs. But at present this is restricted to buying influence to further their trade. In other words they try to co-opt the state apparatus, - not dominate it as in Pakistan.


The strengthening of border controls in the west had the inevitable result. The trade moved into Nepal both in terms of mafia as well as intelligence activity. Organised crime has a clear run in Nepal and syndicates are said to meet several times a year to synergise their business dealings. The link to arms smuggling is not clear, but it is certain that Nepal is also a base for various militants groups in the region including the innovative Tamil Tigers. That all these groups are involved in the narcotics trade (to various degrees) may mean they are also being used in much the same way as the Sikh militants were used in an earlier period, with weapons sources being made available in return for transporting the drug. However there is as yet no clear proof of this. What is apparent is that Tribhuvan airport in Kathmandu has been the nerve centre for drug exports from both Afghanistan and Myanmar, (with various nationalities including Europeans involved) and that the Indo-Nepalese border continues to be the incoming point for weapons and foreign currency, and more recently forged currency in millions. The Pakistani intelligence has found Nepal a far easier base of transactions, both for institutional and personal benefit. The recent arrest and deportation of a Pakistani embassy official on the charge of passing counterfeit currency is an instance of personal profit, while the involvement of other embassy officials in getting some arms to the hijackers of an Indian Airlines aircraft recently are indicative of the latter. Additionally it is also reported that a Nepalese member of Parliament handed over responsibility of customs administration to a well known drug and gold traffickers syndicate, in exchange for daily payments of thousands of dollars.

Nepal offers the classic case of a weak state being partially "rented" by criminal syndicates, with intelligence agencies also operating alongside. With its porous air and land routes, and loose administration it offers crime the ideal stamping ground, and is an ideal entry point into India, and also Bangladesh, and from there to the rest of Asia. The groups that traffic in weapons include the following:

Table 2

Groups Recipient group Countries of operations

Mafia Possibly north eastern and Bangkok, Bangladesh,

Sri Lankan groups Thailand, London, US

Pakistani intelligence+local Kashmiri groups As above plus Central

assistance Asia, West Asia,

Arms traffickers (low level) Any group with hard cash Bangkok, Thailand, Myanmar,

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

Since the mid 1990s Bangladesh has become an important transit point for weapons, with the port of Chittagong proving to be the most important point of entry. Several consignments of weapons are known to have come in by this route, (For instance Bangladesh impounded two vessels carrying more that 500 A-56's, 80 GPMG's. 50 rocket launchers, and over 2,000 grenades)16. The most recent joint operation by Indian armed forces led to the seizure of US and Chinese weapons of various types, all originating from Cambodia or Thailand.17 Thai and Myanmarese nationals were also part of the ring that used tribes who once operated along the coast and carried contraband in their fishing boats. Many of these (Arakanese Muslims) have since graduated to faster sea going trawlers, but the older trading route still exists. That this route is not the easiest one is apparent both by the price of illegal weapons (which tend to be more than 4 times that in the western part of India) as well as the fact that northeastern groups continue to look to contacts along the Nepal border for their weapons

A relatively new factor that has emerged is the rise of a large number of madrassas under poor control that have sprung up over the years and the concomitant increase of "fundamentalist" groups (led by the so called "ex-Afghans"-Bangladesh nationals who had fought there) and who reportedly are being funded by the Taliban movement. The underground Harakatul Jehad group is one such, and it uses around 421 religious schools across Bangladesh, with funds channeled through various channels including Africa.18 The attacks on writers, poets and "liberal" persons have been on the rise, causing at least one writer to note that the "Taliban" had appeared in Bangladesh with the backing of the Pakistani intelligence services.19

Trafficking patterns into India's northeast highlight some interesting points. Firstly, the need to access weapons has led to the coming together of groups with completely divergent motives. Secondly, the vitality of certain areas for arms trafficking (since it may sit astride a convenient route) has often led to the birth of new "militant" groups, who may appear and disappear within a short period. Third, many make the transition from courier to full-fledged suppliers within a surprisingly short period. The rise to nouveau riche status indicates that there is considerable money in the business.

The trafficking patterns of Sri Lanka are different—in that these are dominated by Tamil Tiger personnel who seldom farm out contracts to anyone outside their immediate group. Since they have their own sea going seacraft, they are not bound to tie in with any group, and in fact have often provided others with services. In fact the Tigers have no scruples about using anyone suitable for their purpose, and are understood to have cooperated with the Afghans, Palestinians, and other groups. Their narcotics operations however may have been farmed out, since at present there has not been a single piece of evidence linking the Tigers to heroin trafficking, though the incidence of such movements has clearly gone up.

While Bangladesh offers a transit point for weapons , it is nonetheless an important "cachement" area, where weapons can be stored and passed on at convenient times. While there are allegations of Bangladeshi and Pakistani involvement in the arms trafficking—together with some NGO's operating there—the actual organised crime input within Bangladesh appears to be minimal.

In Sri Lanka, the Tigers form the most formidable organisation that deals in criminal activities. They are also well able to tap into existing criminal organisations on a mutually profitable basis. But here again the basic motive is self-determination, not profit.


The core of organised crime in Southern Asia is clearly built around the criminal economy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region (the two are grouped together since the border is now non existent on paper and in deed). Here there is a curious melding of profit and power in terms of organised crime actors interests and state interest. When the two coincide, the result is a blend of terrorism and violence which may serve the needs of both. The proliferation and availability of light weapons allows the perpetuation of this violence by both actors for whatever ends.

The question may then be asked as to why a profit orientated industry—which is what organised crime (or for that matter most types of crime) is understood to be motivated by—would need violence and therefore light weapons to perpetuate profits. At one level the sheer physical need for protection has been brought out. At a larger level however is the fact that organised crime will naturally "link up" with states that allow it free run of their territory, and conversely therefore will actively resist any intrusion upon its business. This accounts for much of the violence within Pakistan, where violence is endemic between rival street gangs, and sometimes with governmental institutions involved. For instance, it is common knowledge that intra-institutional competition is rife for control over lucrative criminal areas, leading often to violence between state groups themselves. At the macro level is the fact that conflict - or rather the sustainment of it—has become a lucrative venture for almost everyone involved , from the fighters to the controlling bodies. Much unaccounted money is involved, and in the tradition of this region, money is "skimmed off" all along the way. Political parties in power seeking to "buy" elections therefore have recourse to a steady supply of finance as long as the conflict continues. Thus the political accomodation of crime—which provides the infrastructure for moving weapons and money—continues and swells, providing them with a "power outcome" that ensures continued profit and diversification into other areas.

As brought out the criminal economy of Afghanistan is orientated towards Pakistan, which offers the infrastructure, financial and physical to sustain it. The various institutional, ideological, strategic (and personal) linkages have been outlined. Linked to this is the infiltration that occurs from Nepal, the ideological spread into Bangladesh and Nepal. Sri Lanka's terrorist group stands on its own, but feeds into existing networks where they exist (as in Tamil Nadu and Bombay) As noted they have also moved into Nepal. Thus what is apparent here is the growth of a superstructure that is built over the criminal networks operating out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Lupsha's concept of the development of transnational crime—from predatory to parasitical and finally to the symbiotic stage—offers a model for analysing organised crime, where the final stage—where crime and state becomes mutually reinforcing—assumes a bottom up progress. However in both Afghanistan and Pakistan of today, what is apparent is the reverse—that is, the top down approach, where the state creates a parasitical culture for its own purposes. Overall organised crime—when viewed as a set of non state actors acting nationally or transnationally to trade in illegal goods—has been created and used as a tool by the state itself.

However what is worth noting is that while the criminalised state model continues, the effect of this on neighbours has been to push them either up the ladder of organised crime activity or to create nodes where there were none before. For instance, the relevance of the Lupsha model is apparent in Nepal—where organised crime has made a recent entry, and has begun to reach the second stage (parasitical) with sections of the state apparently using organised crime for its own purposes. Similarly Bangladesh has also begun to feel the first inroads of criminal actors, though their reach is as yet not readily understood. India may be also said to be in the first stage, with the particular expertise of criminal gangs in Bombay growing from a national network to a transnational and international net which is often being used by political and economic influentials for their own ends.

However, here the term organised crime must be used with some caution, since the circumstances are quite unlike the Latin American, Italian and Chinese type structures where an old, near traditional organisational set up defines organised crime. Light weapons trafficking is not a crime issue any longer, in that it cannot be tackled as a law and order problem. It is far more a threat to national security itself. This is why in large parts of Asia , it is the army which is battling the threat. In the future, there is little doubt that the threat is set to grow. The trends in the future could be along the following lines:-

l Demand for light weapons has already been kick started in all these countries. Lacking full-fledged implementation of gun laws, and therefore with nothing to stop the flow, further movement of weapons can be expected.

l Much of this is likely to be pushed by ideology , and mostly towards urban areas.

l A huge secondary movement of weapons—that is from the original owners to others for profit—will increase the concentration of weapons in societies, even as the supply into this area continues.

l As more money comes into organised crime structures they are likely to attract the best brains in the business. Thus loosely structured gangs can be expected to stabilise and grow.

l Borders will come under more and more pressure. As such any possibility of "controlling" these interstate borders becomes even more difficult.

l Other groups from China, and South East Asia can be expected to "log in" into the Asian crime cartels.

The end result could be twofold. An energisation of organised crime cartels—with all its attendant infrastructure—could assist states immeasurably in prosecuting new or wider forms of covert war ( including induction of counterfeit currency, cyber warfare etc.), and make the allocation of responsibility for such activity that much more difficult. At the other end of the scale—which to an extent has already occurred in Pakistan—organised crime could take over entire resource areas, (narcotics, oil, etc) and enforce its control through terrorist groups.

As brought out earlier, the threat to developing countries from these developments is a "hard security" issue in terms of sovereignty of borders, control of territory and other basic attributes of the modern state. The threat to developed nations is however equally serious. With an annual turnover estimated as US$1 trillion a year, the breadth and energy of these groups can threaten even otherwise established economies. China is now debating the fall-out of reaching the inevitable accomodation with organised crime groups based in Macau, while in the United States, law enforcement has learnt to live with these groups, keeping them as far as possible within some boundaries. However now Chinese groups base themselves in the United States, from where they are not readily controllable, while terrorist groups targetting the US are based in Afghanistan. Each may be used by players to further their own ends. The bottom line is therefore that no country can claim "immunity" from the depredations of organised crime, which should point towards greater cooperation. That this still eludes the international community speaks volumes about the continued linkages between power and profit.



1. This definition is by Abadinsky, quoted in John McFarlane "Transnational Crime as a Security Issue", Paper presented to the 3rd meeting of the CSCAP Working Group on transnational crime, May 23-24, 1998.

2. As defined in Fenton Bresler Interpol, (Penguin: London, 1992). Abstracts in <>

3. Edward Girardet, Afghanistan: The Soviet War (New York: St Martin's Press, 1985) p.166.

4. Christina Lamb Waiting for Allah (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1991)

5. Khalid Quayoom in Nation, July 15, 1997.

6. For a description of the political nexus see "Sowing the Wind"—the CIA Report on narcotics in Pakistan, as published in The Friday Times (Karachi), September 3, 1993.

7. See Nation (Karachi) for a report on a sting operation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency involving a Pakistani Air Force officer, and Mr. Zardari, husband of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

8. General K. Arif, then Vice Chief of Army Staff during the Zia period notes the independence and lack of accountability of the ISI. See General K.M. Arif, Working with Zia, (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1995) .

9. Former Interior Minister Naseerullah Babbar noted that the Taliban had been trained under his guidance in 1994. He also noted that he had been responsible for the training of the first mojahideen during the tenure of Z.A. Bhutto from 1973, This was noted during a rally to mark Defence Day. As reported in The News, September 8, 1998, p.12, see FBIS-NES-98-251.

10. For an account of the first incursions see an account of an intelligence officer Brig. Mohammed Youssef and Mark Adkin, The Bear Trap, (Lahore: Jang, 1992).

11. Ministry of Home Affairs Annual Report, 1987-99, p.12.

12. Interview by author with Pakistani militant, Srinagar, May 1998.

13. Kashmir Governor G.C. Saxena in Interview. See Frontline September 28-October 12, 1990.p.18. Typically, a group of thirty would be given around 30 AKs 30 pistols, 6 LMG's, an assortment of explosives detonators, anti personnel mines, and kits that included winter clothing and parka coats. In an interview with militants, Srinagar, June 1998.

14. Ministry of Defence Annual Report 1995-96, p.116. Annexure 1V.

15. Jasjit Singh, Light Weapons and International Security, (Pugwash, BASIC, IDSA, American Academy of Arts and Sciences: New Delhi, 1995), p.78.

16. Robert Karniol "Bangladesh Seizes Arms Vessel off It's Coastline" Jane's Defence Weekly, March 27-April 3, 1996.

17. Times of India, February 13, 1997.

18. Hong Kong AFP Report "Bangladesh on Alert for Bin Laden backed Terrorism" in FBIS (Internet edition) 28/1/1999.

19. Arshad-uz-Zaman "Taliban in Bangladesh" <