Mizoram in northeast India has emerged as the biggest hub for all kinds of smuggled goods- in South Asia.
A porous border with Myanmar (earlier called Burma) — barely a kilometre away as the crow flies – has made Mizoram meaning “land of the Mizos” heaven— for smuggling of guns, drugs, gold, and precious stones.
The crux of the problem is a 722-kilometre border with Bangladesh and Myanmar. Mizoram has 404 km of the unfenced international border with Myanmar manned by Assam Rifles and a 318 km long border with Bangladesh guarded by the BSF. What makes smuggling so easy is the free movement regime which allows people to travel up to 16 km on either side without any VISA restrictions.
According to a report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Myanmar is a major supplier of opium and heroin to East and Southeast Asia, as well as Australia. According to the latest estimates, there are more than 3 million heroin users in the region consuming approximately US$10 billion worth of illicit drugs annually.
According to an estimate Myanmar produced 405 metric tons (mt) of opium in 2020. A majority 84% of opium was cultivated in northern Myanmar’s Shan State, followed by Kachin State 12% while Kayah and Chin States accounted for 4% of the total.
Opium and heroin remain an important source of income for an organized crime though the production of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs has increased. All said and done, the synthetic drug market continues to expand and diversify.
Every year millions of tablets of Yaba –also called ecstasy or madness drug produced in the Wa State of Myanmar are smuggled in through Mizoram. The Chin tribals illegally settled in Mizoram but originally hailing from Myanmar form the conduit of the drugs smuggling network.
Myanmar is today one of the biggest producers of methamphetamine an illegal drug used during World War II to keep soldiers awake. A combination of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine it is an ingredient in a number of over-the-counter medicines from cough syrups and weight loss supplements.
The ecstasy drugs produced in the Wa and Kong areas of Myanmar are in big demand in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore where it is commonly used as a party-drug and hence sells at a premium.
In the biggest drug haul in Mizoram’s history in 2019 around 6 lakh tablets of Methamphetamine worth over Rs 20 crore concealed in bags containing red chilli powder were seized in the Serchhip district on the Mizoram-Myanmar border.
In this manner, huge quantities of ‘China-white’ heroin (also known as ‘heroin No 4’) are smuggled into India from Shan State in Myanmar into India in soap cases, cosmetics, and toys – anything that can help to conceal their presence.
In yet another anti-drug trafficking operation Indian security forces seized 93 cases of smuggled cigarettes worth Rs 1.20 crore in Champhai district on the Indo-Myanmar border.
Myanmar’s Shan State is the biggest producer of yaba tablets. According to a senior Assam Rifles officer, there are a number of makeshift factories across the border in Myanmar where fertilizer smuggled out from Mizoram is processed to form highly-priced ecstasy drugs also called ‘Ya ba’ or ‘bhul bhuliya’.
The so-called factories produce over 1 billion yaba pills and amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) which is re-exported to India.
Apart from Mizoram cross border drug trafficking is rampant in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Manipur.
China is the world’s largest producer of gold. Mizoram is the fastest growing hub for gold smuggling. During the last two years, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and other enforcement agencies have seized more than 800 kgs of gold consignments being smuggled in through Mizoram. In a number of cases, Champai district in Mizoram and Moreh in Manipur has emerged as the nerve centres for smuggling high-quality Gold biscuits, each weighing 166g and with a purity of 99.76%.
One of the main reasons behind the boom in the China-Myanmar smuggling network is the fact that Myanmar’s gold often called ‘Burmese Gold’ is at least Rs 400-500 per gram cheaper than Indian gold. As a result, a smuggler earns at least Rs 4 to 5 lakh from one kg gold in the black market
The involvement of Myanmar-based smugglers came to light back in 2018 when the Indian security forces arrested two Myanmar nationals with 7.482 kg gold bars, estimated at Rs 2.45 crore in the international market. During interrogation, the duo disclosed that the recovered gold was smuggled in from Myanmar through the Indo-Myanmar border of Zokhawtar in Mizoram.
DRIED BETEL NUTS
Dried betel nuts are another commodity being smuggled into India mainly through Myanmar. The illegal trade in dried betel nuts is estimated to be worth more than Rs 3,500 crore annually. Dried Betel nuts are the main ingredient in all varieties of the Rs 25,000 crore, and growing gutka and paan masala market in India.
During the last three years, DRI and other enforcement agencies have arrested more than three dozen people connected with the illegal trade, and almost all had links with Mizoram. Most of the illegal consignments of dried betel nut were smuggled in through Zokhawthar Land Customs Station in Mizoram, in connivance with security forces and enforcement agencies personnel. The Khawmawi village in Myanmar, which is located on the east of Zokhawthar is the focal point of the smuggling network.
Betel nuts are ferried in gunny bags to Khawmawi on small pickup vans and transferred to Indian vehicles. The border crossing of the illegally imported betel nuts take place with the blessings of some police and customs officials and move towards Champhai for storage. On reaching Champhai, the betel nuts are issued transit permits by the Mizoram Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited and shown as the produce of Mizoram. In this manner, truckloads of smuggled betel nut find their way to different gutka factories in Gujarat, Rajasthan, New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Maharastra and Haryana.
GREY MARKET FOR GUNS
Mizoram is the transit point for a different type of Chinese-made weapons, machine guns, AK-47 automatic rifles, pistols and grenades. A Chinese-made AK-56 is easily available for Rs 2 lakh, while a sophisticated Austrian Glock pistol can be available for Rs 3 lakh.
China is supplying firearms to armed ethnic groups like United Wa State Army (UWSA), Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Arakan Army (AA) and the Shan State Army (SSA) who in turn supply arms to different insurgent outfits in northeast India and Bangladesh.
According to high-level intelligence sources, Norinco, a Chinese state-run ordnance factory, is selling arms to insurgents. Norinco is China’s largest manufacturer of assault rifles, pistols, rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition. The Sagaing region in Myanmar is one of the nodal points for the sale-purchase of illegal arms and training camp for the insurgents.
In Myanmar, which is home to scores of rebel outfits, the menace of weapons smuggling from China is posing new challenges to government agencies. Recently, a consignment of 500 Chinese assault rifles, 30 universal machine guns, 70,000 rounds of ammunition and a huge cache of grenades were supplied to the Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting the Myanmar state.
A number of rebel outfits In Myanmar follow the directives from China to pay their cadres and fund their nefarious militant activities. China is supplying arms and ammunition to the Arakan Army, which is active in Chin and Rakhine states of Myanmar bordering Mizoram to revive militancy in north-eastern India. The United Wa State Army and Arakan Army— are acting as Beijing’s proxies by supplying weapons and providing hideouts to insurgent groups in India’s northeastern states.
China has been providing sanctuaries, arms and training to Naga, Manipuri and Mizo insurgent groups. The Chin refugees, who are illegally settled in different places in Mizoram, are also involved in arms smuggling. Many insurgent groups either produce drugs or extort money from drug traffickers to purchase sophisticated arms.
This way; China today is keeping the North-east on the boil while simultaneously profiting from the arms sales, unlike the past when China was supplying weapons and training to the insurgents for free