Despite numerous anti-drug drives and so-called gunfights, the drug trade has increased over the last one year.
According to the police and narcotics control department, the law enforcement seized 51.4 million yaba pills and 10 quintals of heroin in the last 12 months. They say the amount was larger than the preceding years. In the past, the volume of yaba has never exceeded 40 million pills.
A countrywide anti-drug drive was announced on 4 May 2018 and actually launched on 15 May. A total of 358 drug traders were killed in the drives till 14 May this year. Among them, 169 were killed in gunfights with police while 106 with RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) and 12 with BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh). The rest of the 71 were killed in gunfights among themselves, the law enforcement claimed. A total of 95 were killed in Cox's Bazar alone.
According to the statistics of the law enforcement agencies, drugs are entering both by the land and water routes. Huge narcotics recovery is evidence of the use of these multiple routes.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that these huge recoveries were a result of the drives. There is nothing else to it, he said. People are conscious and they inform the authorities and that is why the drugs could be recovered, he said.
Director general of the narcotics control department, Md Jamal Uddin, said drugs are not that easily available now. Those who are involved in the drug trade, are not in the open, he said, adding that drugs are being sold in secret and on small scale due to the drives.
However, concerned quarters have said they are not optimistic about the drug trade being contained. They see a lack of coordination among the law enforcement agencies regarding the drives.
Supreme Court advocate Shahdeen Malik says statistics prove that method adopted by the government to eliminate drugs is not working. The people will lose trust in government institutions if such drives continue and the institutions will fall apart, he observed.
The number of drug addicts stands between 60 to 70 million, as per government assessment. These people spend Tk 90 billion on narcotics per year which is three times larger than the annual budget of the national border security force and three-fourth of the budget for the police.
Around 3,000 traders, with 350 ‘godfathers’, control the business across the country. They are on the lists of various government forces and the lists are updated by the home ministry annually.
Other than the drives, the government also gives scope to the yaba traders to surrender. A total of 102 yaba traders surrendered to the home minister and the inspector general of police at Cox's Bazar on 16 February. They are in jail now. Discussions are going on regarding surrender of several others.
Cox's Bazar police super Masud Hossain told Prothom Alo, there is a government decision over allowing the yaba traders to surrender. He could not, however, confirm the number of fresh drug traders intending to surrender.
The drug has not been solved by these surrenders and crossfire. The perpetrators must be identified first, president of Cox's Bazar Chamber Abu Morshed Chowdhury said. "The godfathers cannot be traced if the traders are killed. If the government was so successful in so many sectors, why could not it eliminate drugs?"
The smuggling and sales of yaba have not stopped though the yaba traders are in jail, according to the locals of Cox's Bazar. BGB, RAB, police, Coast Guard and the narcotics control department recovered 1.2 million yaba pills from Teknaf's border areas and Ukhia in Cox's Bazar in April. Yaba is being seized almost every day.
Yaba is still being smuggled into Bangladesh through several points along the Myanmar border, Cox's Bazar 34 BGB’s Lt Col Ali Haider Azad said. Yaba trade is taking place in the Cox's Bazar Rohingya camps. A total of 230,000 yaba pills were recovered from 30 smugglers at different points of Ukhia in April, he added.
The police super of Cox's Bazar police sent a report to the police headquarters on 15 April saying many among the 1.1 million Rohigyas residing at Cox's Bazar refugee camps were involved in yaba trades. They were crossing border easily as there were no barbed wire fences there and bringing in yaba and arms, it stated.
A total of 73 houses and 27 vessels owned by the yaba traders from Teknaf were vandalised secretly after the anti-drug drive was launched, concerned sources reveal. The latest attack was carried out on the house of Salim Ullah, a drug trader in Islamabad, Teknaf on 2 May.
No steps were taken against the yaba business patron former MP Abdur Rahman Badi, former upazila parishad chairman Zafar Ahmad and their families. Their families were on the list of yaba traders but are roaming freely since the drive was initiated.
According to field level police officials and several BGB officers, as Cox's Bazar is in the focus, the yaba traders are changing routes and mediators. Fresh traders and syndicates are emerging at various locations, they said, adding that, many drug dealers also went on hiding due to the drive.
The narcotics traders prefer the east border instead of the south. Yaba was seized at border along Sylhet a few days ago. They are also approaching the northern region instead of Teknaf while many have been re-entering the country though a different border via India.
There is huge demand of narcotics in the market and the traders are determined to make that extra profit, said M Imdadul Haque, narcotics researcher and a university teacher. He thinks persons from political parties along with the administration are directly backing the traders. The government must not carry out any drive just to show the people. It must be committed to solving the problem, he observed.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.