The law enforcement had all information about the borders which were used for drug trafficking, the routes, that patrons of the drug dealers, and yet they chose to turn a blind eye towards all of this. Many of them not only helped the peddlers, but were also actively involved in the business.
A number of officials of the law enforcement agencies, including the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), Bangladesh Police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Bangladesh Coast Guard and the Department of Narcotics Control, revealed this to Prothom Alo.
Seeking anonymity, they said drug lords who have strong political backing are running the rules here, with the help of certain members of the law enforcement.
When asked about the failure of those entrusted with the responsibility of containing the menace, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said, “There might have been lack of sincerity. I think all the parties involved lacked integrity. Who was not involved in this drug business? Can you name one profession?”
For decades, the media have been publishing reports on the dreadful situation caused by the drug trade. The government has also pointed to narcotics as the country's biggest problem on a number of occasions. But there has never been a large-scale move to contain drugs. Even the prime minister expressed her concern on the issue on several occasions, but the law enforcement hardly acted the way they should have.
On 31 January, PM Sheikh Hasina ordered the national parliament to start an operation against drugs. However, things finally started moving when she repeated this call at the anniversary programme of RAB.
Till date, over a hundred persons allegedly involved in the drug trade have been killed in crossfire, but the question remains, what has the law enforcement been doing till date?
A government report revealed that the busiest route for trafficking yaba is from Jadirmura Point to Shahpari’s Island, a 14-kilometre stretch along the river Naf.
Yaba also enters the country through Cox's Bazar and Bandarban. After crossing the border, it is trafficked to different areas through two routes on the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf highway. Yaba is also being transported to Chittagong, Narayanganj, Barisal, Patuakhali, Bhola and Khulna through the sea route.
The report categorically mentioned where the drugs are sold after they cross the border. It even said that drugs were transported over the Sunamganj border through a long pipe with the help of BSF and BGB members.
According to the report, the railway is also a popular option for the peddlers. It said the Simanta Express, Rupsha Express and Khulna Mail are used to transport phensidyl between Khulna and Dhaka while north-west bound Uttara Express, running on Parbatipur-Akkelpul-Santahar-Rajshahi route, is used to transport cannabis and phensidyl.
On the Dhaka-Ishwardi-Natore-Santahar route, trains like Ekota, Varendra, Titumir and Nilasagar Express transport yaba. Joydevpur, Tongi, Bhairab and Akhaura are the biggest drug markets, the report added.
Despite all this information being available, what was BGB doing?
Its director (operations) brigadier general Mujibur Rahman told Prothom Alo that they topped the list when it came to yaba seizure. “That is why traffickers now prefer the sea route than the land route,” he claimed.
Commander Abdullah Al Maruf of the Bangladesh Coast Guards said they had seized over 8 million yaba tablets in the first five months of this year.
Members of BGB and Coast Guards are recovering abandoned drugs.
Asked about why they don’t arrest the drug peddlers, Brigadier General Mujibur Rahman, said the yaba traders simply abandon the big consignments in a place.
He said they recover the abandoned yaba following intelligence information.
He said, “There is a demand for narcotics. The network is big. There may have been slackness on our part too.”
Coast Guard spokesperson Abdullah Al Maruf said the fishing boats and trawlers used to transport yaba and the Coast Guard patrol boats moved at almost the same speed. Most of the time the boats carrying drugs, manage to get away.
Members of BGB and Coast Guards are accused of assisting the drug peddlers instead of arresting them.
On 28 March, police detained Md Akayed, 25, a member of BGB Battalion-10 in Pirojpur’s Jhalakathi with 360 yaba tablets.
Detective Branch of police also caught red handed Lat Mia Emon, 28, a member of the Coast Guards in Chittagong. He allegedly used to share drug money with drug traders in the area.
The members of the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) are also blamed.
In November last year, DNC’s assistant director Anowar Hossain Khan detained an official of the department, Kamonashish Sarkar with 68 kg of hemp and 28 bottles of phensidyl.
DNC’s director general Jamal Uddin Ahmed, however, blamed the loopholes in the narcotics control law and shortage of manpower.
He said, “We recently took action against a few officials.”
The members of police are mostly blamed in this regard.
Several high-ups in the police said no one knows better than police about the drug peddling.
There is an allegation that despite having enough information, police do not conduct drives to halt the drug peddling. They rather assist the traders.
Addressing a crime observation meeting of police superintendents and police officials on 11 February this year, a deputy commissioner said the police high-ups demand huge amounts of money for recruitment, transfer and promotion of their colleagues. That is why they desperately collect money from the drug dealers.
Soheli Ferdous, an assistant inspector general (AIG) at the Police Headquarters, said you cannot say that the police are totally blameless, but action has been taken against those found guilty.
Exterminating narcotics, the AIG added, is not the sole responsibility of the police.
Former inspector general of police Nurul Huda said, “The police are responsible to prevent the crime before it takes place.”
“There is an annual assessment report for police, in which they can be made accountable. Even, the parliamentary committee could seek answers from the law enforcement as to why they have failed to take proper action. Besides, the court can also passed a suo moto motion on the matter,” he added.
*This piece, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Quamrul Hassan and Toriqul Islam.