Heroin Highway: How Afghan Drugs Find Their Way into India

How high-stakes heroin trafficking is taking place across LoC in Kashmir.

Updated
India
3 min read
Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway near Uri. (Photo Aabid Shafi/The Quint)

This is the highway connecting Srinagar in Kashmir with Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The road is also used to transport goods between two parts of Kashmir as part of the cross Line of Control (LoC) trade between India and Pakistan which was initiated in 2008.

A recent report published in Slate magazine reveals startling details about how this route is being used to smuggle Afghan heroin into India. Journalist Michael Edison Hayden and photographer Sami Siva travelled to Uri near the LoC in Northern Kashmir where they met the man who made the biggest heroin bust in Kashmir’s history.

Kaman Aman Setu or the Bridge of Peace is the vital link between the two sides of kashmir. (Photo: Aabid Shafi/ The Quint)
Kaman Aman Setu or the Bridge of Peace is the vital link between the two sides of kashmir. (Photo: Aabid Shafi/ The Quint)

In the article titled ‘Kashmir’s Heroin Highway’ , Kameshwar Puri of the Jammu and Kashmir police,  who intercepted a truck carrying a huge quantity of heroin in January 2014, says that trade is worth billions of dollars.

We found 148 sacks of almonds, and 114 of them contained a 1-kilogram brick of acetyl morphine, a kind of heroin, embedded in the center. The drugs were completely pure, so after it reached suppliers in India, 114 packs could have easily been stretched to 500 kilograms or more and then shipped to America and all over the world. It was quite a find.
–Kameshwar Puri

Trucks carrying goods from PoK as part of the cross LoC trade in Uri Kashmir. (Photo: Aabid Shafi/ The Quint)
Trucks carrying goods from PoK as part of the cross LoC trade in Uri Kashmir. (Photo: Aabid Shafi/ The Quint)

The incident led to the arrest of the driver, who Puri terms a small cog in a well-networked wheel of drug smugglers spread from Afghanistan to India. The incident even halted trade for a brief period of time before diplomacy between India and Pakistan restored it.

These colourful trucks are mostly hand painted. (Photo: Aabid Shafi/The Quint)
These colourful trucks are mostly hand painted. (Photo: Aabid Shafi/The Quint)

In the article, Puri says that he was astonished at how the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway had become a narcotics trafficking route. The report says heroin channeling across the Pakistan border on India’s northern side is leaving a trail of addiction that isn’t likely to be eliminated anytime soon.

The road that leads to Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. (PoK) (Photo Aabid Shafi/The Quint)
The road that leads to Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. (PoK) (Photo Aabid Shafi/The Quint)

However, Kashmir is not the only entry point for opiate-based drugs to reach India. Punjab, where in some cases bags of heroin are simply tossed over the border fence like tennis balls, has been a major transit route for drugs to find their way into the country.

While Kashmir has a less significant problem with heroin usage, experts insist that it is on the rise and more heroin is available than ever before.

There are several checkpoints along the route that regulate movement of vehicles and people to the border area. (Photo: Aabid Shafi/The Quint)
There are several checkpoints along the route that regulate movement of vehicles and people to the border area. (Photo: Aabid Shafi/The Quint)

The report further sheds some light on drug addiction in Punjab where youth are shooting imported Afghan heroin in large numbers. It says since these drugs are sold in small quantities, it’s hard for the establishment to trace the traffickers.

A heroin addict prepares heroin before using it. (Photo: Reuters)
A heroin addict prepares heroin before using it. (Photo: Reuters)

One heroin user from Punjab, quoted in the report, feigns ignorance about how drugs are smuggled.

I have no idea how the heroin gets here. We users only see it when it’s really small. It just shows up one day.

Border checkpoints like the one in Uri and others across India’s border with Pakistan have become the last line of defence against the growing epidemic of heroin addiction in the country – one that threatens to change the culture of the region for decades to come.

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