Drugs smuggling has increased in ‘quantum’ post-US exit  from Afghanistan: Top Navy official

MUMBAI, Sep 27:  Smuggling of narcotics has increased in “quantum and size” post the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan in August  2021, especially in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), a top Indian Navy official said on Tuesday.

Vice Admiral Ajendra Bahadur Singh, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command, said China’s footprint in the maritime domain of IOR has grown manifold over the last decade, with increasing presence of its warships, research and fishing vessels apart from merchant ships. He termed the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, which started on February 24, as a “landmark” event which has already started shaping a shift in global geo-politics and world economy. He also pointed out to the extensive fishing by large fishing trawlers belonging to “extra regional countries”, especially China, operating in the North Arabian Sea.

Although not in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the “detrimental effect” of extensive fishing on the downstream fish catch merits coordinated action by all coastal nations, Vice Admiral  Singh said. “Narcotics trade has increased in quantum and size post the US withdrawal (from Afghanistan). Much of the narcotics are coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran,” he said.

The senior Navy officer was responding to a question at the ‘Arabian Sea Dialogue’, a seminar organised by the Observer Research Foundation here. In his address at the event, Vice Admiral  Singh said the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan after two decades has once again created instability in the region and it would take some time for the situation to stabilize.

“Many times we wonder, what did 20 years of (troops) deployment (by the US) achieve for any country in the region,” he said. The US retreated from Afghanistan in August last year amid a swift takeover of the war-torn country by the Taliban. He said narco-trafficking constitutes nearly 50 per cent of the contraband smuggling in the region and has serious consequences on younger generations and societies.

“Our ships undertake regular operations to curb narco smuggling at the sea — from the Makran coast till the Maldives — seizing contraband worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In our view, these operations will weaken the foundation of terrorist activities in the region and dry up their funding,” Vice Admiral Singh said.

The Mumbai-headquartered Western Naval Command guards India’s maritime borders adjoining Pakistan and also the country’s vast EEZ, is an area of the sea in which a country has special rights regarding exploration and use of marine resources.

Indian security agencies have seized drugs worth thousands of crore from Maharashtra and Gujarat in the last one year. To address the challenge of Illegal Unreported & Unregulated (IUU) fishing, there is an urgent need to review existing mechanisms of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, Vice Admiral Singh suggested.

“We could together create a new framework to prevent depletion of our vital food resource. In my opinion, IUU fishing directly impacts food security of the region and could be one of the priority ‘areas of collaboration’ between India and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries,” he said.

The Indian Navy officer said overall, the world has witnessed a more assertive China and this aggressive posturing has been evident both in South and East China Seas as well as closer in the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean Region. Referring to the tension between China and Taiwan post-visit of senior US officials to the latter in the recent months, Vice Admiral Singh said sabre-rattling and tension in the Indo-Pacific are again gathering steam with the recent developments in the self-governing island. This could disturb the status quo and may have a larger impact on the global security scenario, he cautioned.  (PTI)