Bangladesh’s war on drugs, far from over

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In Teknaf, about 100 drug traffickers gave themselves up at a rare ceremony that played out at a local school on February 16. The coastal town that borders Myanmar rose to infamy as a hub of yaba trade.

The surrender of traffickers, brokered by the government, is the latest effort in Bangladesh’s crackdown on drugs. About 300 people have died in the so-called crossfires and 25,000 others have been arrested since the government started its nationwide anti-drug raids in May 2018.

The crackdown came after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a speech pledging to curb drug problems. Many likened it to the Philippines’s controversial war on drugs that has triggered criticism from rights groups.

Security forces separately claimed that the deaths were a result of gun violence during anti-drug operations. The deaths occurred in clashes either between drug dealers and law enforcement officials, or between rival gangs. However, some relatives of the dead claim that the victims were taken from their homes by law-enforcement officers and executed.

The surrender by traffickers on February 16 emerged as a major symbol. The traffickers submitted 30 kg of yaba tablets and 30 weapons in exchange for flowers in a show of cooperation.

Most popular stimulant

Bangladesh recorded 9,069 narcotics cases in January, accounting for 52% of all police cases, according to the latest government data. Some seven million people use drugs in Bangladesh, with yaba being the most popular stimulant, according to the Department of Narcotics Control. Security forces seized a record 53 million yaba pills in 2018.

Inspector-General of Police Mohammad Javed Patwary vowed to expand the initiative to every district as Bangladesh’s drug war appears far from over. “All forms of legal support will be provided to those who have turned themselves in to the police. We will try to complete their cases within a short time,” Mr. Patwary said in the presence of his boss, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, during the surrender.

Mr. Patwary pledged to free Bangladesh from the scourge of illicit drugs and ordered his deputies to continue anti-drug operations against the banned methamphetamine-based substance.

“This formal surrender is part of the government’s ongoing war against drugs,” said Mr. Khan at the programme. “Those who surrendered would be given a second chance to live a normal life. Those who haven’t yet will face dire consequences,” Mr. Khan said.

Not everyone is convinced.

“The government has been talking about steps to stop drug abuse over the last 12 years, but has failed to bring it down. What you’re seeing in the name of yaba traffickers’ surrender is a farce,” said Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, a senior leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, an Opposition group that opted out of parliament.

Jatiya Party’s Fakhrul Imam, a member of the Opposition camp in Parliament, also raised questions over the involvement of former Awami League MP Abdur Rahman in the government’s efforts to prevent drug peddling. Mr. Rahman, popularly known as Bodi, reportedly tops a government list of drug lords, wielding huge influence over the yaba route from Myanmar’s border areas to Teknaf in southeastern Bangladesh.

Mr. Rahman denies any connection to illicit drug trade. Amid a public outcry over his alleged links to yaba trade, the Awami League handpicked his wife Shahin Akhtar as the candidate for the December election. After winning the polls, Ms. Akhtar and her husband vowed to fight yaba trade in the tourist district of Cox’s Bazar and asked the traffickers to surrender.

The ceremonial surrender by the traffickers does not end Bangladesh’s struggle to contain drug problems. In parallel, the killings of offenders in anti-narcotics raids are continuing. More deaths in “gun violence” have been reported from different districts since the surrender. That means Bangladesh will face further questions over its handling of drug lords as the killings violate the offenders’ right to life and a fair trial.

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