Bangladesh at the hub of three drug trafficking regions

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Bangladesh, a country that does not even produce narcotics, faces serious threat due to its geographical location at the centre of Asia’s three main drug trafficking regions -- the Golden Triangle, the Golden Crescent and the Golden Wedge. International drug smugglers use Bangladesh as easy transit.

The Department of Narcotics Control has been conducting research on the drug trafficking routes including these three routes. The Golden Triangle, east of Bangladesh, comprises the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Bangladesh only shares a border with Myanmar. The drug trafficking route comprising the borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan is known as Golden Crescent. It is located west of Bangladesh. And, the Golden Wedge, which is north of Bangladesh, consists of the Indian states of Himachal and Uttar Pradesh, and Nepal and a part of Bhutan.

Drug dealers have been keeping an eye on Bangladesh for more than four decades. Initially, heroin and phensedyl dominated the drug trafficking scene, with other drugs coming later. In the meantime, yaba tablets have spread out widely across Bangladesh over the last decade. Its main ingredient methamphetamine has been coming to the country for the past two years.

Methamphetamine is known as ice or crystal meth in Bangladesh. The manufacturing of this has increased alarmingly in the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent. There was a huge upward trend in manufacturing crystal meth from 2015 to 2019. Myanmar, one of the countries comprising the Golden Triangle, has been producing crystal meth, targeting the markets of six countries including Bangladesh, according to the latest world drug report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Consignments of crystal meth have been coming to the country for over two years. The DNC said 22 consignments of crystal meth were seized in the country last year. Dhaka and Chattogram are largely the market for this substance. Like yaba, crystal meth may spread across the country widely.

Crystal meth is more dangerous than yaba. Though methamphetamine is the main ingredient, yaba contains only 15 per cent of it. On the other hand, ice or crystal meth contains 96 per cent of methamphetamine. It looks like crystal glass and causes various problems, including insomnia, loss of memory and dementia. Besides, methamphetamine also causes various physical and mental problems including weight loss, kidney and heart problems, depression and stroke in the long run.

Since Bangladesh is at the centre of three main drug smuggling regions, international drug rings, especially Sri Lankans and Nigerians, are active in the country. They use Bangladesh as transit to smuggle narcotics to other countries. Recently, the DNC learned about the three yaba factories in the Indian state of West Bengal. The agency gave the list of these factories to India during a virtual meeting in October 2021. At that meeting, officials informed their Indian counterparts that crystal meth and yaba were entering Bangladesh from Myanmar via several states of India. Drug smugglers are also using India’s sea routes. At that meeting, Bangladesh said drugs in various forms including phensedyl, heroin, hemp and buprenorphine injection is entering the country from India.

Drug peddlers started smuggling phensedyl into Bangladesh after manufacturing it in factories along the Indian border since early 1980s. Phensedyl became available in the country since then. The situation remains as it was. DNC fears if yaba is manufactured in India now, it will be a matter of serious concern for Bangladesh.

Crystal meth in Asia

Till 2015, countries in North America were the main manufacturer of crystal meth. Now this drug is being manufactured in Asia. There has been a growing tendency to set up meth labs in various countries of Asia. Crystal meth production has also increased in Iran, China, Afghanistan and Myanmar. A big market of crystal meth has also been created in Asia.

Three countries in North America have the highest number of meth labs. The UNDOC report said the US, in North America, has 56 per cent (890) of meth labs that were found in 2019. The highest number of secret labs were found between 2010 and 2019. Till 2015, 10 per cent of crystal meth manufactured locally at secret labs in Iran was smuggled into Afghanistan. Now the drug is being manufactured in Afghanistan. The security forces of Afghanistan with the help of the US conduced a large-scale drive in May 2019 and destroyed 68 meth labs.

According to a report of The Economist, police in Laos seized a truck along with 55 million (5.50 crore) yaba tablets and 1.5 tonnes of crystal meth in October last year. A week before, the country’s police also conducted two raids in the same area and seized 16 million (1.60 crore) yaba tablets. The bordering area in Laos is known as Golden Triangle. These consignments of drugs are smuggled to Laos from Shan state of Myanmar.

More concern over Myanmar

Myanmar is manufacturing crystal meth targeting the market in Bangladesh, Laos, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand of the South-East Asia. The UNODC said Myanmar is also trying to create the market of crystal meth in Japan and Australia.

Last year, more than 30kg of crystal meth was seized in the country and its source was Myanmar. Consignments of ice are coming into the country via the yaba route.

Dulal Krishna Saha, chief chemical examiner of DNC, has been involved in drug testing, examining and research at the DNC’s forensic lab for 22 years. He told Prothom Alo more consignments of crystal meth have been coming for two years. He feared this may expand like yaba in next 2-3 years.

Drug main enters Bangladesh from Myanmar via land and sea routes. And it was yaba beforehand. People concerned have been having a hard time to tackle the spread of yaba. Now, crystal meth, which is more dangerous than yaba, is coming and that is a new concern. Officials at DNC fear if it cannot be controlled now, a riskier situation may arise. They also traced 15 drug trafficking routes connecting to Myanmar.

Bangladesh has no direct contact with other countries over narcotics related issue expect India, Myanmar and Iran. UNODC organises various meetings and seminars where regional countries present their situation on narcotics. At that time, Bangladesh disused the matter with the delegation of various countries, said Bazlur Rhaman, deputy director (operation) at DNC.

Bangladesh informed Myanmar during a bilateral meeting about the influx of yaba and crystal meth. Myanmar immediately responded positively. But how much Myanmar is actually sincere is another matter, additional director general of DNC Azizul Islam said.

Bangladesh is in risky position geographically, he said adding the DNC is going to take to the field with three plans in new year to control the narcotic situation. These are widespread campaign and publicity to make people aware of narcotics; a new strategy in raids against drug dealers, and special initiative for the treatment and rehabilitation of the addicts.

From across the border

Other than crystal meth, several synthetic drugs have also been seized in the country over the last three years. It includes phenethylamine that looks like cocaine, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), DMT (dimethyltryptamine) and magic mushrooms (psilocybin mushroom). Another type of drug called khat, a psychotropic leaf that grows in Ethiopia, was also seized. Conventional and nonconventional narcotics are entering the country through 32 bordering districts.

Air, land and maritime communications are very easy among the countries producing narcotics in South Asia and southeast Asia. Since Bangladesh is the transit, drugs enter the country easily from Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar. Drugs also come from India without any difficulty as Bangladesh shares border with India on three sides.

A research on drug trafficking routes by the DNC said several dishonest members of Bangladesh’s law enforcement agencies receive huge amounts of money from the drug dealers and help them in drug smuggling. That is why drug dealers can traffic narcotics without any fear.

Smugglers have been bringing yaba and crystal meth via Cox’s Bazar border in various ways. However, all-out effort is on to prevent this drug smugglings, Cox’s Bazar Border Guard Bangladesh-34 commander lieutenant colonel Md Mehedi Hasan said.

Women, children are drug peddlers, youth are addicted

According to a research of the DNC, about 1 million (10 lakh) people are involved in drug dealings directly and indirectly. Some 100,000 women and children are involved in drug trafficking. Most of these women and children peddling drugs are poor and they are being used as drug peddlers in exchange of a little money. Besides, one fourth of drug addicts are youth and half of the youth are student.

Youth are becoming more addicted to drugs. It is causing damage to their physical and mental health in addition to harming their studies. If narcotics continue to expand in such way, social values will degrade, criminal activities will rise, corruption will spread and the law and order situation will deteriorate, people concerned observed.

Professor of North South University M Imdaul Haque, who researches on narcotics, said, “Drug trafficking has become multidimensional. Smugglers now use the Dark Web and law enforcement agencies do not get the information. Bitcoin is used for transactions. So, it has become difficult to trace drug trafficking rings. Our country’s law enforcement agencies are not as savvy with technology as the drug dealers. If initiative is not taken to enhance the capacity, the drug threat will increase.”

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna