Sanctuary Asia Editor's Response To The Rebuttal Of The October 2016 Cover Story 'Treacherous Links'
The article by Nicole Benjamin Fink, a highly-regarded researcher, who has worked with various cultures and conservation challenges for the past 16 years, has evoked a response from Trishant Simlai and Raza Kazmi questioning the veracity of some of the arguments put forth by the author in the October 2016 issue of Sanctuary Asia. Responses are invited to both the original view and to the critique. To fully understand the issues being discussed, both pieces must be read together. The views of the Editor, Sanctuary Asia, are in alignment with those of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2016 report, which states:
“There is increasing recognition of the dangers wildlife and forest crime pose not only to the environment but to the rule of law and stability, and of the potential for the criminal proceeds to fuel conflict and terrorism.” (Source: World Wildlife Crime Report 2016.)
Responding to the author’s statement that: “The business of terrorism is straightforward,” Simlai and Kazmi respond that “Anybody with a remote academic interest in issues related to terrorism will refute this, terrorism is extremely complex with a wide range of drivers – which include historical injustices, freedom struggles, socio-political scenario, control of resources, ethnic insecurity, immigration and religion – on local, regional and even national levels.”
Editor’s response: While the motivations might be complex, the actual business of terrorism is indeed straightforward. It relies on random violence to deal with perceived injustices, historical or not, and it treats innocent victims, human or animal, as ‘acceptable collateral damage’.
Simlai and Kazmi state that: “There is extremely poor evidence of how terrorists use endangered animals and how much that contributes to their functioning.”
Editor’s response: Just one classic example of the infamous elephant poacher Veerappan and his association with sections of the LTTE suggest the direct link between terrorists and poachers. While the Sri Lanka-based LTTE did not kill the elephants in Sathyamangalam, India, they encouraged Veerappan to do so. Elephants were thus used as coinage to help acquire weapons, IEDs and meet other terrorist objectives.
Simlai and Kazmi state: “We were particularly struck by the use of the expression ‘tribal warriors’ to describe these groups as it portrays a deep seated colonial stereotype denoting values that are primitive and savage as seen through the use of language.”
Editor’s response: Simlai and Kazmi interpret the author’s words inaccurately. Nevertheless, rhino poaching did help finance the Bodo agitation, and terrorism and violence were strategies that ended up killing at least one range officer plus 11 guards in the core area of Manas. Armouries were looted. Bridges were blown up by cadres of Bodo tribals. This happened in North Telengana where almost 20 tigers died when ill-equipped forest protection staff and officers were coerced into abandoning their posts in the face of murderous assaults. About Manas… I personally met the late Upendranath Brahma, charismatic student leader of the Bodos, at the BNHS when he had come to Mumbai for radiation treatment in the late 1980s. Over conversations lasting hours, I explained that using rhino horn to fund the Bodo agitation amounted to destroying the heritage of the Bodos. Initially reluctant to accept the point being made, he eventually agreed and, went further to state that he deeply regretted the death of the rhinos. On his return to Kokrajhar, to the day he died, he ordered his cadres not to allow any further poaching. But by then over 100 rhinos, several elephants and sundry wildlife including tigers had been slaughtered. Nothing can change that fact. Nor the fact that the rhino killings in Manas were not merely condoned, but encouraged by militants for years.
Simlai and Kazmi state that: “Maoists could be held culpable for these rhino killings only if they were intentionally diverting the military to allow the poachers to have a free run in these areas.”
Editor’s response: The modus operandi as exemplified by the Manas example was to divert forest staff, so poachers would have a free hand to kill wildlife… in exchange for a share in the blood money. Whether ‘intentional’ or not, is academic. That Maoists encouraged rhino poaching in Nepal and profited from the rhino horn trade is incontrovertible.
Simlai and Kazmi state that: “Global terrorism and the international ivory/rhino horn trade are distinct problems requiring different strategies. Conflating the two undermines efforts against both.”
Editor’s Response: The international ivory and rhino horn trades are not ‘distinct problems’. They are umbilically linked as opined in the New Scientist Magazine, issue 2969, dated, 17 May 2014: “The illegal wildlife trade is worth an estimate $29 billion a year; some of that money ends up funding groups like Boko Haram and their violent ideology. It is time for a global awareness campaign to alert us all to the ways we encourage the slaughter of endangered animals, the dubious trade in scarce natural resources and the terrorisation of vulnerable people.”
The global strategy to protect elephants and rhinos must be unified. Linkages between the illegal trades in arms, narcotics, wildlife and human trafficking are unambiguous. The operatives, middle-men and couriers, often run dual lives with legitimate business fronts. The original article does not state that terrorism is the ‘sole’ driving force behind poaching. Poverty, corruption and greed undoubtedly are part of the toxic soup. No one, least of all India, advocates the ‘militarisation’ of protected areas, but where rogue armies are now turning to wildlife for funding, it would be artless on the part of anyone to suggest that armed militias ‘requested’ to desist. Thus far, India’s Home Ministry has shown little sign of recognising the deep connection between poaching syndicates, the underworld, insurgents and terrorists. More, not less, strategic coordination is required between Interpol, India’s Narcotics Bureau, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, RAW, IB and military intelligence agencies. If we fail to wake to the threats, poachers in league with anti-national elements, including terrorists, will continue to use unprotected forests to convert timber and wildlife to cash.
In conclusion: It is Sanctuary’s position that the precautionary principle dominates the discourse and that policymakers accept prima facie real and present danger posed by the arms-narcotics-human trafficking-wildlife-trades and, the link with terrorism-insurgency, as a threat to India’s internal security.
On a separate note, it also concerns us that, as with climate change and the tobacco industry before that, powerful global financial forces lobbying for the legalising of the ivory and rhino horn trade, may be promoting ‘false news’ and motivated academic debate in overseas universities, to obfuscate the danger posed by legalising the ivory and rhino trades. Such attempts, thwarted recently at the CITES meeting held in Johannesburg, could end up benefiting insurgents and terrorist groups across the globe, whose operators take advantage of revolving doors and smoke screens to tap into all manner of ‘legal’ and illegal trades.
Author: Bittu Sahgal