How Myanmar's Drug History Engulfed Manipur #397
Myanmar's Drug Cartels in the Golden Triangle have a history. They are now impacting Manipur and the drug trade in the West. Let us investigate.
What started off as a contamination of the invaded people is now a full blown global menace. That is how history works.
Small actions that were undertaken in one part of the planet explode over time given greed, profiteering, violence and ideological hate into a web of evil that is very difficult to control.
When a teenage kid in the hinterland of the United States dies today of meth overdose or an old guy from opioid addiction started by his doctor for his pain, they would not even have an idea where the origin of their destruction really started.
A journey that has engulfed Manipur in violence and humiliation as well.
The tentacles of evil are large and intertwined.
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Opioids and Drug Cartels
America has an opioid crisis. The pharmaceutical companies and doctors have pushed these opium-filled meds for pain and hooked their patients onto them. These addicts then spill onto the dark web or the backstreets and go for the opium anyway.
This election season in the US, the drugs coming into the US made by the Chinese are one of the hottest topics. There is a reason for it.
Drug cartels in Mexico are now not just pushing drugs like fentanyl across the American border but also the illegal immigrants.
Quite simply, this is a war going on.
Now, let us go 8825 miles to the West over the Pacific and you come to another place - Manipur. Almost on the same latitude!
A war is going on there as well.
Since May 3rd this year over 160 people have died in violence that started in Manipur. A state that was the transit for the drugs from the infamous "Golden Triangle".
The Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh has put the blame on illegal immigration and drug cartels.
Interestingly, the media in the US and India is busy trying to wash away the obvious links between illegal immigration, violence and drugs.
Today let us go into the details and also the history.
Opium and Wars
When the Arabs invaded India, they brought not just their ideology and violence but another debilitating import - Opium!
Opium was apparently introduced in India by the Arabs around the ninth century AD. Thereafter, use of opioids gradually spread over northern India, especially among the nobility. Use of opioids in the form of raw opium (afeem) and poppy husk (doda) became ethnographically acceptable (Ganguly, Sharma, & Krishnamachari, 1995). Opium use became acceptable not only for men but also for women and children in limited amounts. (Source: Addictions in India / Science Direct)
Opium spread throughout northern India. Soon it was being traded along the Arab>India>China trade routes.
Opium, since then, has been an accomplice of wars being waged.
When the Portuguese came to Asia, they changed the trade, specifically maritime trade, completely. Colonization was the objective of every trade competition. So, they started to send Indian opium to China. With Macau, which was their colony, as the base.
The proliferation of opium was also precipitated by major changes in the Asian maritime trade. Prior to the 16th century, opium was traded on a limited scale in China and Southeast Asia by Arab, Indian and Chinese merchants. The arrival of European maritime traders from the 16th century onwards, however, transformed the nature of the opium trade. The Europeans saw colonisation as a means to control and to further their interest in the commercial enterprises of the region. The Portuguese were among the first Europeans to supply Indian opium to China in the 16th century, but rose to prominence only in the 19th century when it wrestled and gained a share of the China opium market, using its colony Macau as a staging post to import opium into China. (Source: Chasing the Dragon: The Scourge of Opium / National Library Singapore)
In the 17th century, the Dutch established themselves in India and took over from the Portuguese. The Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie; VOC) took the opium trade baton via Bengal. Opium from Hugli area was bought and sold in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Malacca and the Indonesian Archipelago.
The VOC also acquired monopoly rights to the import of opium into parts of the Indonesian Archipelago, commencing with the Mataram kingdom in Java in 1677. According to J. C. Baud, Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies (1834–36) and Minister of Colonial Affairs (1840–48), an average of 56,000 kg of Indian opium were brought into Java annually between 1619 and 1799. (Source: Chasing the Dragon: The Scourge of Opium / National Library Singapore)
As the British took over the sovereignty of Bengal after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, they pushed the Dutch out of the Opium trade from India.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Britain was experiencing a problem with its trade with China: it bought more than it sold. Chinese goods such as silk, porcelain, and especially tea were very popular. However, Chinese merchants did not want to buy British goods in return. As a result, Britain had to pay silver for the goods that it was importing, eventually risking a silver shortage. Britain’s solution to this trade imbalance was opium. Opium is an addictive and dangerous drug made out of plants. Britain started growing opium in its Indian colonies and exporting it to China, where it spread through the population. China now started experiencing its own problems: it was losing silver, and there was a rapidly growing rate of opium addiction amongst its people. In response, opium was completely banned in China in 1796. However, British merchants kept illegally smuggling opium into the country. (Source: Hong Kong and the Opium Wars / National Archives, UK)
Now, the British monopoly of the opium trade sky-rocketed the exports of Bengal's opium to China.
The first Opium War between the Chinese and the British was waged from 1839 to 1842. The Chinese had to literally sign the Treaty of Nanjing at gunpoint.
The Opium imports into China brought in by the British skyrocketed after that to 87,000 chests in 1879.
In the Second Opium War China fought both Great Britain and France. The French joined the British in the war using the execution of a French Christian missionary in China as an excuse.
It is instructive to note that starting the Second Opium Wars, the work of the Christian missionaries was in some way intertwined with the Drug trade in the Indo-China region.
As the Chinese lifted the ban post the Second Opium War, the local produce started growing. The annual production from China became more than 22,000 tons!
The Yunnan tribes were pushed to grow more poppy and the cultivation expanded to Kokang and Wa areas as well. It was also being grown the Kachin Hills as well.
That Kachin area? It is still the second-highest growing area in Myanmar.
Mark the main areas of Opium production because we will discuss them in subsequent sections.
To understand what is happening in Manipur and the rest of the world via Myanmar today, we need a quick walk down Myanmar's history.
Myanmar's History - a primer
Myanmar gained independence on January 4th, 1948. Sao Shwe Thaik was its first President and U Nu its first Prime Minister.
At the time of its independence, Burma was in ruins. World War II between the Allies and the Japanese in that part of the world had left things in ruins. Infrastructure like ports, airports, oil refineries, railway lines, bridges, and factories had been bombed and destroyed. Towns like Mandalay had been severely damaged. There were weapons all over with people and the society was pregnant with an insurgency movement.
The Mujahideen soon took control of northern Arakan (Rakhine State) and a communist uprising swept through urban centres throughout Burma. Within a year, fighting between the Burma Army and the Karen National Union would reach Insein on the outskirts of Rangoon. (Source: Myth of Burma Independence / Lost Footsteps)
The Arakan or the Rakhine State is where Rohingyas come from.
Around the world, things were in flux as well:
- Cold War had started with the USSR and the West
- India got partitioned
- Israel was created in May 1948 and the first Arab-Israeli war was fought
- China's Civil War was drawing to a close
The last one was the most significant.
As China's Civil War was coming to an end, Burma's civil war was picking up.
On October 1st, 1949, the Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse Tung declared the creation of the People's Republic of China (PRC).
The People's Liberation Army entered the Yunnan province in December 1949 and the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) or KMT troops began to cross over into Burma. General Li Mi, who was the erstwhile commander of the Eighth Army took charge of the KMT troops within Burma. The troops went into the Shan state. (Remember the table of opium production earlier - which showed that 85% of dry opium production comes from this state?)
The PLA entered Yunnan in December 1949, only months after Chairman Mao had declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing. KMT troops responded by crossing into Myanmar in their thousands, occupying swathes of territory between Kengtung and Tachilek, on the border with Thailand. (Source: In Taiwan, the legacy of the KMT's Burma retreat / Frontier Myanmar)
The Burmese Army came against the KMT troops in July 1950 and took back Tachileik. However, the KMTs regrouped and started working with the local Shan people and the tribals there. By 1953, they had amassed 12,000 troops and were managing local taxes and even built an airport at Mong Hsat with flights to Taiwan.
To get a better grasp of the geography, let us look at the area there.
The KMT was asserting itself and the Americans jumped into the fray as well.
By 1953 they had recruited over 12,000 new troops, imposed local taxes, and built an airport at Mong Hsat with regular flights to their fellow Kuomintang (KMT) forces who had fled in the opposite direction to Taiwan. Huge quantities of arms and supplies were flown in together with secret American trainers and other government officials. Soon the KMT took over the whole region east of the Salween River, moving up toward the Kachin hills and down toward the upland areas controlled by the Karens, with whom they made a sort of tactical alliance. In March 1953, they were on the verge of taking all the Shan States and were within a day’s march of the regional capital, Taunggyi. (Source: KMT Invasion of 1950 / Lost Footsteps)
Now what all this did was to start a chain reaction in the world of the drug industry, specifically the Opium trade, that would take the world by storm for many decades.
This is very significant.
Let us start our discussion on the Golden Triangle and its impact on India and beyond.
Golden Triangle - Drugs and Human Trafficking
Golden Triangle is the area where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet at the confluence of the Ruak and the Mekong Rivers.
This region has now become one of the biggest centers of global centers of opiate and methamphetamine production globally!
A few miles downstream at the small town of Houay Xai on the Laos side of the Mekong, border authorities are celebrating their own significant seizure of drugs; the previous night following a tip-off, a military land patrol caught drug mules carrying 500 kilograms of crystal meth. The previous month 7.1 million methamphetamine pills had also been seized in the same area. The drugs tracked down in Laos and Thailand had originated in illegal industrial-scale laboratories operated by militias and criminal gangs in the remote mountainous jungles of northern Shan State in Myanmar and were being transited through both countries to the Thai capital, Bangkok, but also across Southeast Asia and to distant lucrative markets including Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. (Source: Huge increase in transnational crime and synthetic drugs in SE Asia requires cross-border cooperation / UN News)
These areas in Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar are not just centers for Opium production but also human trafficking.
Lawless enclaves have also emerged in Cambodia and Laos. Crime networks in Cambodia alone have lured an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people into slave-like conditions beyond the reach of law enforcement. In Myanmar, the number could be two to three times higher. The victims’ stories all have a similar ring: A Kenyan national responded to a Facebook ad for a high-paying job in Thailand and was tricked into illegally crossing the border to a scam zone in Myanmar; a Malaysian man began a romantic relationship through social media and, after a single meeting, wound up trafficked into Myanmar; a group of Indian tech workers responding to advertisements for lucrative information technology jobs in Cambodia were trafficked to a remote part of that country. Once in the zones, the victims are given three choices: staff online scams, pay ransom or face physical and psychological torture. (Source: Myanmar’s Criminal Zones: A Growing Threat to Global Security / United States Institute of Peace)
The drug trade in the Golden Triangle has a strong tie-in with the Chinese Triads.
So Opium production and drug cartels are directly linked to the drugs being pumped into the US via Mexico.
This trade originating from the Golden Triangle with Opium production based out of Myanmar, has had a major impact on India.
Impact of Opium Trade on India
India shares a 1600 km border with Myanmar. Specifically the Kachin state which is the second largest opium-producing region within Myanmar. The porosity of the border means that these drugs pour over into India.
As the drug industry turned towards synthetic methamphetamine or meth, the symbiotic relationship between some pharma operations on the Indian side and the Opium cartels on the Myanmar side started working together.
Five years ago, when cold pills first trickled across Myanmar’s untamed border with India, many local officials were baffled. Where was this medicine going, and why were smugglers so interested in it? Today, the cross-border trickle has become a torrent and everyone knows why the Indian-made pills are so valuable: they are bound for secret laboratories in lawless eastern Myanmar that churn out most of mainland Southeast Asia’s methamphetamine, or “meth”. Cold pills contain pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient of meth, a highly addictive drug whose ever-soaring popularity is rattling governments across Asia. (Source: Indian cold pills pour over remote border to fuel Myanmar narcotics boom / Reuters)
The proliferation of drugs in India from Myanmar is extremely significant. 90% of all drugs smuggled into India have their origin in Myanmar.
It is estimated that 90% of the smuggling of drugs in India has its origin in Myanmar (Hueiyen News Service 2009), and these drugs not only include opium and heroin but also amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). The India-Myanmar border in Moreh of Manipur is known to be the major hub of drugs (Sen 2022). Lately, Moreh has been experiencing a range of drug seizures and arrests. Drugs reach Moreh through Myanmar’s Tamu village and then flow to Imphal to Nagaland’s capital Kohima and Dimapur. Another Indo-Myanmar border village New Somtal is used as a route for smuggling to Sugnu and Churachandpur in Manipur to Imphal, Kohima and Dimapur. The two other routes are Kheiman (a village in Myanmar) to Behiyang and then to Imphal and Dimapur (Nagaland), the final known route starting from Somrah (Hueiyen News Service 2009). (Source: Challenges To India’s National Security: The Illicit Flow Of Drugs From Myanmar To India-Pre And Post Myanmar Coup Of 2021 / Centre for Joint Warfare Studies)
Three Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) are the main kingpins behind the drug flow into India.
- Kachin Independence Army (KIA)
- Arakan Army (AA)
- United Wa State Army (UWSA)
Who are the Kachins?
Kachins are an ethnic Christian group with different tribes in Burma.
The Kachin are a majority-Christian ethnic group made up of numerous tribes, located in Upper Burma. In 1876, Protestant missionaries cultivated relationships with the Kachin and many converted to Christianity. Kachin leaders signed separate treaties with the British that granted them significant autonomy in the area known as the Kachin Hill Tracts. The Kachin also allied with the British during WWII, while the majority Burmans switched their allegiance to the Japanese. They were one of the ethnic minorities that comprised the Burmese military in the colonial period at the expense of the Burmans. They received a semi-independent state as a result of the 1947 Panglong Agreement, but this agreement was abrogated following the military coup of 1962. This decision led to a several-year civil war with the central government. Fighting resumed again in 2011, although China sought to broker a peace deal to preserve security near its borders and ensure the safe passage of oil and natural gas over Kachin lands. The Kachin seek not only greater autonomy, but a say in how natural resources in their lands are used and how the wealth generated is directed. (Source: Kachin / Harvard Divinity School)
The Kachins are presented by many Western media organizations as "victims of ethnic cleansing" by the Myanmar Army which is trying to fight the drug cartels. So articles like these are quite common.
But is that the truth? Just as the moderate Muslim groups harbor and back the Jihadi terrorists, the local Kachin Churches back the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the name of "religious duty" and "prayers".
The Kachin drug-peddling KIA has often been found with large hauls of drugs and weapons.
The Myanmar Army raided the headquarters of an offshoot of the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Shan state on Thursday, seizing illegal drugs, interrogating leaders, and confiscating about 1,000 weapons, an officer in the militia told RFA’s Myanmar Service. (Source: Myanmar Army Seizes Drugs, Detains Leaders in Raid on KIA Offshoot Group / Radio Free Asia)
Despite the fact that the Myanmar authorities have regularly seized drugs and weapons from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the international media deliberately tries to keep the drug angle out of its reporting on KIA and Kachins and instead portrays them as "rebels".
It is quite obvious how the geopolitical battle is being fought in Myanmar.
Meanwhile, China is playing its own hand. The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). It connects the very route that the KMT fighters took when they were thrown out of China - Kunming to Yunnan to Shan State.
Kukis and the Kachins: Drug and Religious Connections
So why did we discuss all this when we started discussing the Manipur situation and what happened there after the Chief Minister declared the fight against drugs?
There is a connection between the Kuki National Army (KNA) within Manipur, the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) in India and Bangladesh, and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) from Myanmar.
The Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) an insurgent group which aims at establishing a separate State within Bangladesh were armed trained by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) of Myanmar. The KNF also trained by Kuki National Army (KNA) at Manipur, according to sources. The members of KNF took three months of commando training from Kuki insurgent group active in Northeast India and northwest Myanmar, sources added. KIA is a non-state armed group and the military wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). The KNA is a Kuki insurgent group active in Northeast India and northwest Myanmar. It is the armed wing of the Kuki National Organisation. (Source: Kachins training up Kuki-Chins to create separate State in BD / Daily Observer)
Here is some profile information on these organizations from the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
Kuki National Front (KNF) "was formed under the leadership of Ranco Thangboi Kuki on May 18, 1988 primarily to counter the National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) hegemony in the Kuki-inhabited areas. Besides having links with several Kuki militant groups, the outfit maintains close ties with several valley-based outfits like the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and People's Liberation Army (PLA). It is also said to have links with the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K). Unspecified reports state that about 300 KNF recruits had undergone training in Kachin Independence Army (KIA) camps in Myanmar."
The Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and its armed Wing, Kuki National Army (KNA),is were formed in 1988. The first batch of the cadres, under the command of Thangkholun Haokip, was trained by the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) in Myanmar. The KNO/KNA maintains strategic linkages with the Kachin Independent Organisation/ Kachin Independent Army, the Democratic Alliance of Burma, an alliance of pro-democracy exile organizations and ethnic insurgent organizations in Myanmar and the Federation of Ethnic Nationalities of Burma. It is also known to have close working relationship with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K). Earlier, it maintained links with outfits such as the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and Assam-based United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). However, such linkages have weakened over the years. KNA is also an affiliate of the Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front, an umbrella organization of several militant outfits, including the ULFA, UNLF and the NSCN-K.
We need to look at the Manipur conflict now and the various players working the narratives and agendas in real-time.
From Ethnic Fight Fueled by Drug Cartels to Religious Conflict
When we look at the situation in Manipur it is these Kuki violent terrorism-cum-drug peddling organizations that are deeply involved in their conflict with the indigenous Meitei tribes.
Disinfo lab has done a fascinating set of X (Twitter) threads on the conflict. They are worth exploring in detail. At the beginning of the conflict in Manipur, the tweets/X's told a different tale. Of an ethnic conflict.
Around May 4th and 5th, the narrative shifted from the Tribal/Ethnic/Drug discussion to the Christian Genocide/Hindutva Nationalism overdrive. Remember, these were all new accounts.
By May 5th, the Kukis had set up an advocacy group in the US and Canada called the North America Manipur Tribal Association (NAMTA).
This organization NAMTA may have been initially created to fight the ethnic battle in the West against the Meiteis, but it soon went into the religious conflict area. Please read this thread from Disinfo as well.
With the CIA, the Church in Manipur - the Evangelical Free Church of India (EFCI), was involved and had links with the usual suspects - the IAMC, Open Society, and the Khalistanis. To read all about it, please read the X thread from Disinfo Labs.
Manipur Conflict: Drugs and Ethnicities
The Manipur conflict has been that of how the British played the ethnicities against each other.
First things first - Kukis are NOT indigenous to Manipur. Meiteis are.
There has been regular violence perpetrated by the Kukis on Nagas and Meiteis. The recent clashes also were a result of Kukis' antagonism to Meiteis. The violence began when the Kukis protested against the Meiteis' demands for official tribal status. The Kukis argued that this would strengthen the Meiteis' influence on the government and society. The Kukis also believed the Meiteis would use the status to buy land or settle in Kuki areas.
Over the years, as we saw earlier, Kukis and Kachins came together based on drug trade, terror objectives, and religious affiliations.
In the last few years, the Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh had launched an attack on the drug cartels. In June 2022, the War on Drugs 2.0 was launched and the drug routes were being choked. The Armed Police of Manipur (Manipur Rifles & Indian Reserve Battalions) were empowered and using the NDPS Act they were enabled to crack down on drug trade.
Here is a good discussion on the Manipur situation by Abhijit Chavda.
Let us look at the complete picture now.
Global Battles of Drug Syndicates and Cooption of Media and Religious Groups
The Manipur situation cannot be understood unless one goes into the history of Myanmar, China, and Britain. What is happening currently is the re-energizing of the drug trade with lots of international actors in tow. That is when Manipur CM was cracking down on the drug trade.
It would be instructive to remember that it was this very government led by Modi that had launched a surgical strike in Myanmar in 2018 against the Kachin rebels.
What had started off as the Arab invaders' curse on India has today become the basis of a global epidemic of opioids. An epidemic that is engulfing the vast populations within the United States and Asia.
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