A number of ruling Bangladesh Awami League leaders and their influential friends, who are officially named as ‘godfathers’ of yaba smuggling into the country through Cox’s Bazar, are none among the 22,000 arrested during the countrywide anti-narcotics drive.
Haji Saiful Karim is the one who is a government’s commercially important person (CIP), and has strong connections with high officials and the ruling party leaders.
He tops the law enforcers' list of 5-6 dealers who control illegal import of 50-60 per cent of yaba from Myanmar and its trade across the country.
Mujibur Rahman, younger brother of ruling MPAbdur Rahman, Nurul Haque Bhuttu, Shahjahan Ansari, Nurul Huda and Zafar Ahmed have also been involved in yaba trading, according to law enforcement officials.
The yaba tablets enter Bangladesh through Teknaf border of Cox’s Bazar before they are distributed through peddlers all over the country.
More than 150 suspected drug dealers were killed apart from arrest of thousands in the law enforcers during the 55 days of anti-drug drive.
The drug ‘mafias’ like Saiful, however, remained untouched.
And despite the ruthless operations that drew criticism by rights groups, yaba smuggling has not yet come to a halt either.
Senior officials of the police have admitted that yaba smuggling will significantly go down if Saiful Karim is arrested.
However, the authenticity of crossfire that claimed many lives came under serious question when the audio record of telephone conversations of Teknaf’s councillor Ekramul Haq was revealed by his wife.
Ekramul Haq was killed in an anti-drug drive on 26 May.
Addressing a press conference on Anti-Drug Day home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “ The anti drug drive has got public support. It is underway and will continue.”
Bangladesh government’s official data shows the total number of drug addicts in the country is more than 7 million and most of them consume yaba.
The law enforcement agencies have recovered more than 40 million pills of yaba last year.
According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), only 10 per cent of total drugs are generally recovered in any country. By that estimate, 400 million yaba pills worth TK 60 billion are sold each year in the country.
Law enforcers claim pills of around TK 100 billion are sold each year in local markets.
Such a huge turnout remains an incentive for smuggling yaba despite the ‘zero tolerance’ policy by the law enforcers, said several officials of RAB and police.
The ‘capital’ of yaba
Yaba trade has turned out to be another normal business for many in Cox’s Bazar.
Many people who were fishermen or salt farmers have become rich and own luxury houses and expensive cars only by selling yaba.
According to a detained drug dealer, drug mafias like Saiful Karim have their networks even in Myanmar.
Once a consignment arrives in Bangladesh border, the people of the dealer help release it as they have influence on the administration.
In exchange, the ‘godfathers’ cut TK 5 commission for each tablet.
Four to five such consignments containing up to 1 million tablets arrive every week, according to investigation.
The ‘godfathers’ make a net profit of more than TK 10 million in a week.
Several deputy and additional commissioners of DMP said the profit of yaba trade is distributed at various levels, including among police and BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) members.
Occasionally low quality yaba pills are confiscated through negotiated deal. The law enforcers too from time to time make 'exhibition' of their recovered narcotic substances that were found in abandoned places.
The officials said the local administration is well aware of the identity of the yaba traders along with the top ones and their location, and the yaba transport routes.
They added, if the Teknaf and Cox's Bazar administration is not strict the smuggling will not stop.
The police headquarters officials said there are cases filed against more than 15,000 drug traders across the country. About 3,000 of them are big fishes.
The police have started making the lists of the traders. Already a list of about 10,000 has been finalised.
There will be more drives against them once the lists are updated, the officials said.
The anti-drug crackdown launched on 4 May had been conducted in accordance with compiled lists of all the intelligence agencies.
It has not been made clear of how many enlisted drug dealders were detained so far.
Director general of narcotics control department Jamal Uddin Ahmed said the big ones went into hide-out since the crackdown was launched. Several have gone abroad, he added.
In reply to whether the ongoing drive is enough to catch the big fishes of the illicit trade, the official said, "Let the drives continue; it can be said later on."
The police headquarters officials said 22,000 drug addicts and drug traders have been arrested across the country by this time. A total of 14,933 cases have been filed against them, he added.
RAB director general Benazir Ahmed said the operations will be carried out until the situation becomes normal. He said, the problem has not been created in a day, so it cannot be solved overnight.
Yaba still being smuggled in
Several law enforcement officials admitted that despite the drives, yaba tablets are being smuggled in through Naf river and sea routes. The narcotics are spreading from Teknaf throughout the country.
An official said the law enforcement deployed at the border are confiscating yaba pills everyday. As the influential ones are out of touch, drug trafficking still cannot be brought to a halt, he observed.
Teknaf 2 BGB deputy-commander major Shariful Islam Jamadar said BGB's strict vigilance on the border made it possible to seize the yaba consignments. In June 151,065 tablets were recovered, he said.
Teknaf model police station officer-in-charge Ranajit Kumar Barua said the inflow of true tablets is still on, but their number has come down.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat and Nusrat Nowrin