Submitted by Great Game India, a journal on Geopolitics and International Relations
A designated Global Terrorist and Opium King, Abdul Rashid Baluch has been released in a US-brokered Taliban-India prisoner swap. The Afghan Taliban have confirmed that it has freed at least three Indian hostages in exchange for the release of at least 11 Taliban commanders from a high-security prison in Afghanistan in an apparent deal that included a prominent regional leader caught five years ago personally escorting a shipment of nearly a ton of opium.
Taliban-India Prisoner Swap
The ice-breaking meeting between Afghan Taliban and US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad finally showed results after a prisoner swap agreement was compiled with the release of at least three Indian engineers under Taliban custody since 2018.
Eleven Taliban commanders have been released from a high-security prison in Afghanistan, according to Taliban officials, in an apparent deal that included a prominent regional leader caught five years ago personally escorting a shipment of nearly a ton of opium.
Seven Indian engineers working for a power plant in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan Province were kidnapped in May 2018. One of the hostages was released in March. The release of Indian prisoners is being confirmed by the Afghan Taliban but is not being verified by the Afghan government.
On the other hand, the Indian government has also not been notified of the release of Indian engineers. The Indian government sources maintain that they are in touch with the Afghanistan government as reports of the release have brought to their notice.
The releases, which took place on Sunday, came just days after Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States diplomat and chief negotiator with the Taliban, went to Islamabad, Pakistan, and met with Taliban representatives. It was Mr. Khalilzad’s first meeting with them since President Trump called off negotiations with the insurgents on the eve of a potential breakthrough.
The insurgents have been holding three American University of Afghanistan professors since August 2016, one of them an American said to be in poor health. In return for their release, the Taliban have demanded the release of Anas Haqqani, a member of the feared Haqqani network, a wing of the Taliban. He is a stepbrother of the network’s leader and is one of the most prized prisoners of the Afghan government.
What was downplayed however in the Indian mainstream media was that one of the prisoners released is a designated Global Terrorist and Opium King.
Abdul Rashid Baluch – Global Terrorist & Opium King
What has drawn attention to this latest release is the notoriety of one Taliban figure in particular: Abdul Rashid Baluch, who was on the United States Treasury Department’s “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” list and was arrested in a narcotics raid five years ago.
Baluch was a Taliban shadow governor, a regional official in charge of military and political operations in the southwestern province of Nimroz, when he was caught with a huge shipment of opium. The drug bust was held up as a major revelation in how the line between Taliban insurgents and the narcotics mafia had blurred in Afghanistan. (Taliban officials have denied that Baluch was involved in drug trafficking.)
Despite evidence of Baluch’s involvement in terrorist attacks, Afghan prosecutors deliberately tried him on stricter counternarcotics charges. They feared that the counterterrorism process was vulnerable to political deal-making.
Now, the release of Baluch, especially if it is tied to the United States peace talks with the Taliban, once again brings to the fore the concern that the American negotiations did not address the complexity of the conflict — and particularly how to consider the Taliban’s increasing hold on the massive drug trade in the country.
If his release was a unilateral Afghan government decision, it is unlikely that the Afghan government would decide on the fate of a United States-designated terrorist figure without first consulting the Americans.
Baluch was arrested in Nimroz, a smuggling hub on the border with Iran, in July 2014. An Afghan special forces helicopter swooped down on two vehicles racing through the desert, seizing nearly a metric ton of opium, light and heavy weapons, ammunition and satellite phones. The main person they detained had insisted he was a carpet seller, giving his name as Muhammad shaq, but investigators confirmed his identity as Abdul Rashid Baluch when he was transferred to Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Both Afghan and Western officials at the time played up his case, and his arrest in a counternarcotics operation rather than a counterterrorism raid. He was tried in the country’s high-security drug court and given an 18-year sentence. His release now, under circumstances lacking transparency, is the latest instance of a major drug smuggler going free.
Late in 2014, Hajji Lal Jan Ishaqzai, another major kingpin, bribed his way out of prison by paying millions of dollars. Long among wanted international smugglers, he had been arrested in 2012 after a shootout and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
What should concern Indian authorities is that decades ago another prisoner was released in such hostage-for-prisoner swap, who later came to India’s most wanted terrorist.
How India Swapped Its Most Wanted Terrorist
On 24 December 1999 Indian Airlines Flight 814 also known as IC 814 was hijacked by gunmen shortly after it entered Indian airspace. Hijackers ordered the aircraft to be flown to several locations. After touching down in Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai, the hijackers finally forced the aircraft to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which at the time was controlled by the Taliban.
What is not known to many still is that there was a mystery man on that flight. His name is Roberto Giori and he was the owner of De la Rue who controlled 90% of the world’s currency-printing business. The 50-year-old Giori, who holds dual Swiss and Italian nationality, is one of Switzerland’s richest men. Switzerland sent a special envoy to the airport to deal with the abduction of its currency king. It also put pressure on New Delhi to come to a solution that ensured their safe release.
It is believed that a ransom was paid by the Indian Government for the safe release of Roberto Giori; the negotiation of which was carried out by a team headed by current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
The motive for the hijacking was reported to be the secure release of terrorists held in Indian prisons. The hostage crisis lasted for seven days and ended after India agreed to release three militants – Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar.
Just a year after his release, Masood Azhar founded Jaish-e-Muhammad. A year later carried our an attack on Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly as well as the Indian parliament itself. He is also believed to be the mastermind of Pathankot attack and Uri attack; and most recently the Pulwama attack.
Afghan Opium funds Terror Attacks in India
It was only after GreatGameIndia reported on how the Pathankot Airbase Attack of December 2015 was not just another usual terror incident but related to the International Drug Cartel stretching from Afghanistan via Pakistan to India from where it is shipped off to Dubai and Europe, Indian mainstream media picked up on it and re-oriented their usual line. Not only the drug cartel’s role was highlighted but also the possible nexus of security agencies was also be probed and the infamous Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh (whom Punjan Police tried to portray as a hero) was investigated by the National Investigation Agency and was released on questionable grounds.
Punjab, for many years, has been a transit point for drugs from Afghanistan. The drug money has become a major source of funding of elections in Punjab and over the time a well organized drug cartel has came into existence with active connivance of politicians, police officers and drug lords. This drug money is used in financing militancy. To check militancy we will also have to control the drug problem.
26/11 Mumbai Attacks
It was announced on Jan. 27, 2006 in the British Parliament that a NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would be replacing the US troops in Helmand province as part of Operation Herrick. The British 16 Air Assault Brigade would make up the core of the force. British bases were then located in the districts of Sangin, Lashkar Gah, and Gereshk.
In December of 2007, this Britain-run drug-money-laundering and terrorist-networking operation was about to be exposed when Afghan President Hamid Karzai learned that two British MI6 agents were working under the cover of the United Nations and the European Union behind his back, to finance and negotiate with the Taliban. He expelled them from Afghanistan.
One of them, a Briton, Michael Semple, was the acting head of the EU mission in Afghanistan and is widely known as a close confidant of Britain’s Ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. The second man, an Irishman, Mervin Patterson, was the third-ranking UN official in Afghanistan at the time that he was summarily expelled.
These MI6 agents were entrusted by London with the task of using Britain’s 7,700 troops in the opium-infested, Pushtun-dominated, southern province of Helmand to train 2,000 Afghan militants, ostensibly to “infiltrate” the enemy and “seek intelligence” about the lethal arms of the real Taliban. Karzai rightly saw it as Britain’s efforts to develop a lethal group within Afghanistan, a new crop of terrorists.
When it comes to opium and offshore banks, Britain rules supreme. In 2005, poppy fields in southern Afghanistan began to bloom, and it became evident to the bankers and the geo-politicians of Britain and the US that cash to support the financial centers and the terrorists could be made right there. The main managing bank of Afghan opium smuggling is HSBC Bank.
The drug money thus generated to fund the financial centers and terrorists through HSBC was responsible for ongoing terrorist attacks that have destabilized most of South Asia. The most important of these was the massive attack on Mumbai.
HSBC created Reliance Black Money Laundering Network
What is noteworthy is that the guy who created Ambani family’s Black Money laundering network was also none other than the director of the HSBC Bank in Geneva, Robert Plasses. It was through HSBC Bank that Reliance stashed Black Money in Swiss Banks and later snapped all ties with the shell firm after money laundering probe was initiated. The biggest Indian account holder in Geneva branch, its website now hosts porn. Coincidentally the same Income Tax Commissioner’s office were the files related to Ambani family’s Black Money cases were kept was very recently broken-in and important files stolen.