What shape will money laundering, terror financing, smuggling, and the drug trade take in the post-pandemic world?
Devious minds are at their best in times of crises.
The two great wars produced a new class of nouveau riche, exploiting every shortcoming in the economy. Wealth and personages were transferred through the corrupt but admirable efficiency of the informal sectors, and black markets thrived. Be it the American prohibition of liquor in the early 19th century, through their Great Depression, the Spanish flu contagion, or the famine of Bengal, these minds met quietly to plan for their future.
During Bangladesh’s War of Liberation and in the immediate post-independence period, a similar-minded group spread their tentacles to the consternation and frustration of even the giant personality of the Bangabandhu.
As governance improved, the pernicious switched focus. They were shaded under the umbrella of legal business vis-a-vis the arms industry and the questionable drug and smuggling pursuits. The word “questionable” isn’t used lightly as compared to “illegal.” Theatres of war by uninvited powers in crumbling countries have, to a large extent, made a mockery of legality.
Some call it “intervention.” Others term it as violation of sovereignty, but that’s a dying voice. In countries where drugs are produced, politicians and law enforcers are either bought off or nudged by their inability of intervening to look the other way.
The occasional haul of arms and drugs that makes media headlines is popularly regarded as a falling out between perpetrators and pursuers more than anything else. There are always exceptions to this unwritten rule. The enormity of the issue is best reflected in the growing demand to legalize drugs and willingness of some governments to begin the process such as the Netherlands.
From organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaeda to the rebels in the Middle East and Africa, sophisticated arms and armaments appear as if conjured up by some magician. There is no magic but only vested interests. If there was the willingness to trace them, the link with the major armaments producers would be blatantly exposed. The media always asks the question as to the source of finance to identify the rogue nations or groups. That’s where they stop in deference to EM Forster’s oft-quoted “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” In today’s world when everything is quiet, a conflagration somewhere is needed.
At state level, it is to experiment with strategy and new weaponry usually on people that are wallowing in misery as it is. At the mercenary level, it is to keep the wheels of production running. No surprises therefore, that the arms industry has never gone bust no matter the nature of economic strife, nor have they requested stimulus of any kind. It’s just as unsurprising that defense budgets don’t come under the scissors.
Dark clouds are emerging over the nimbus of the current pandemic. Governments and organizations are individually and collectively bending backwards to address one of the biggest economic and health crisis ever seen. Forecasts of recovery range from moderate to dire. And in the middle of all this, the dubious minds and politicians are softly probing towards future domination of the world. China and India have troops lined up face to face, little Nepal has cast its stake in the sand, and the US is seeking newer avenues to size up China economically as well as prevent adventurism in the Pacific.
With tariffs having failed to create too much of a dent in the robust Chinese economic model, President Trump now wants Russia, India, and Australia to join a virtual or face-to-face G7 summit, describing the current conglomeration as being outdated. He had used similar terms to get NATO funding in line and the United Nations to trim its fat. Trump’s ostensible target appears to be China. The carrot and stick approach with Russia may well be Trump’s bargaining chip to benefit India that should be delighted at prospects of a united front against China and in line with its aspirations for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
That chip seems more of a probability what with Europe’s reluctance. After having lost out in arm-wrestling to the US in coughing up contributions to NATO, the joint defense arm designed to protect against Soviet and now Russian adventurism, they aren’t amused.
Economically speaking, China has spread its influence in Asia and Africa through a combination of aid and the road and belt initiative. The second strategy has also embraced parts of Europe and the Middle East.
Massive property and asset ownership in the US and humongous debt purchase from Europe makes it a formidable factor. Let it also not be overlooked that the country has a robust armaments industry that joins in with others.
The dubious minds that operate seamlessly beyond and above all the law-making and enforcement in the world are rubbing their hands in glee. Arms and ammunition are easily accessible whether on the streets of London or the villages of Bangladesh.
Money laundering, terrorism finances, international smuggling, and the drug trade haven’t been daunted by this epidemic for all the economic collapse. In the coming years, these are likely to take on a new disguise, resting comfortably on the shoulders of job losses and unemployment.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.