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Dhaka Tribune

In the line of fire

Shootouts and crossfires will not solve the drug problem

Update : 30 May 2018, 11:24 AM

Bangladesh is in a state of shock. 

In the last two weeks, according to reports published by major daily newspapers, 96 “drug dealers” have been killed by law enforcers. You read that right, an average of almost seven extra-judicial deaths every day in “shootouts” and “crossfires” of alleged drug dealers. 

The numbers are very likely to have gone up by the time this article is published. Almost all the stories by the law enforcers were, as expected, near identical: “… high-profile drug peddlers either fled or engaged in gunfights with law enforcers, which caused their deaths in shootouts.”

Interestingly enough, Bangladesh does not even produce much narcotic drugs (natural opium derivatives, partially synthetic drugs like heroin, synthetic drugs like morphine) or psychotropic substances (amphetamine-type stimulants, etc). 

Unfortunately, because of the country’s geographic position, it has become a transit country, and hence faces major domestic drug abuse. Drugs are being smuggled from neighbouring countries via land, water, and air routes. 

Addiction to drugs like yaba, heroin, phensedyl, pethidine, and other psychotropic substances are on the rise at an alarming rate. According to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) published in 2012, diversion of pharmaceuticals originating from neighbouring India have been one of the biggest threats for Bangladesh. 

Most of these smuggled drugs from India are produced locally there -- the country itself having the highest number of heroin addicts in the world. Moreover, the smuggling of yaba tablets through the porous Myanmar border poses another major threat. First, arriving in Bangladesh in 2006 as an expensive drug for the rich, yaba is now more mainstream. 

Our country is on its knees right now with the rampant drug abuse problem. Young people and their education are being affected most, who are supposed to be the future of the country. The development of the whole country is being thwarted by this. 

Citizens, young and old, want this problem to be solved at the earliest. Also, it is no secret that the country’s judicial process is long and tedious, years being taken to solve such cases, and sometimes, unfortunately, the crime cannot be proven, and the criminals become free and go out to repeat their crimes. 

So, naturally enough, many people are in support of RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) and police taking the law into their own hands and serving “quick justice” to the drug dealers. 

I hate to be the devil’s advocate here, but I think killing drug peddlers and traffickers is totally unacceptable. What’s more disturbing is the fact that the current home minister, instead of taking action against those law enforcers responsible for the extra-judicial killings, is in support of them. 

He has been quoted as saying: “High-profile drug peddlers either fled or engaged in gunfights with law enforcers whenever they went to arrest them on the basis of intelligence. Under such circumstances, law enforcers do what they should do.”

While “quick justice” is a romantic idea loved by many, it is completely wrong and unethical for one to take the law in their own hands, even for law enforcers. If we, the common citizens of Bangladesh, allow this to happen, it is very likely that things will soon get out of control. 

This method may be used by many for political or personal vengeance, wrongly accusing an innocent person of being a drug dealer. This practice may even increase corruption and extortion by certain factions of law enforcers themselves. 

These scenarios aren’t just figments of my imagination, but have already started happening. Several relatives of those deceased have said that they have been victims of setups.

Major opposition parties of the country have alleged that their party men have been wrongly accused of carrying drugs, just because they belong to certain political parties.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and several other organizations have already protested these extra-judicial killings. But in such a situation, our opinions should not even be divided. We should all be univocal in protesting against these atrocities. At the same time, we should have zero tolerance and give maximum punishment to the wrong-doers, but not by breaking the law ourselves.

To tackle the situation, land borders, international shipping lines, and airports need to be more tightly controlled. The police and RAB intelligence agencies should be given even better training and equipment to be able to find out the drug dealing networks and dens and bring those responsible to the law. 

The parliament should introduce the severest of punishments to those found guilty. Many governments throughout the world have turned to severe measures like these for drug-related crimes, and other major crimes, but have failed miserably with such tactics. 

Law enforcers and the legal systems must work together efficiently to ensure quick and severe punishments to all people related with the drug trade, irrespective of their social or political status. 

Shootouts and crossfires and violence have never really solved any problem, and never will. 

Mahdin Mahboob writes from New York, USA.

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