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OP-ED: Compromise in an unequal war

  • Published at 03:43 am August 5th, 2021
DRUGS
BIGSTOCK

When malice targets us, there is no point in turning the other cheek

The streets of Amsterdam are steeped in history. 

Roads that crisscross the lifeline canals have well-marked cycling lanes with frequent reminders that one can get knocked over should they stray from the footpaths. One of the antiquated British laws, still applicable to Bangladesh, is if a bullock cart meets with an accident, it’s the victim who is to blame not the bullock. 

Somewhat akin to this is that cycle-lane accidents in the Netherlands primarily leave the cyclist absolved. This is the country whose king studied water engineering, and then led a team of experts to solve the deluges caused by the seas. They now are the experts in water management and river training, having achieved what once was thought to be a miracle. Dams, dykes, and controlling sea surges protect from nature’s vehemence. 

Amsterdam is also the first capital to legalize the recreational drug cannabis. In cafes and designated bars, those so inclined can enjoy their fix. Cannabis variants such as gums, teas, and others are openly sold in designated shops. The compromise came from two directions. Users went up in protest and the government was relieved of manpower and expenses related to its control. 

It hasn’t prevented more public consumption. Harder drugs are as available as ever if not more. Similar compromises are surfacing worldwide, a sign that the world’s fight against the $36 trillion drug trade is an uneven battle. The kings of the drug trade are known and live in some country or the other but can’t be touched. 

A combination of corrupting enforcers, involving politicians, and the increasing demands of consumers ensure a continuity of supply, and new supply chains emerging as older ones are better controlled. From a hidden pleasure, drug use has become aspirational, with more and more celebrities and even business moghuls coming out publicly. 

Elon Musk had no qualms in admitting as much. And CNN’s business reporter Richard Quest was arrested for being caught taking a sniff in his car in the seclusion of a park. Some of these are leaders whose advice on how to make it big is much sought after. As evinced in the pandemic, exhortations of scientists and health specialists don’t hold water, not with the public and as flows naturally, politicians. 

What better example than the former Member of Parliament Abdur Rahman Bodi who was arrested, released, and became successful in having his wife elected from his Cox’ Bazar 4 constituency. Patrolling costs money. For all the rhetoric of stamping it out, governments have largely failed to put money where their mouths are. 

Public finance can be used to dislodge dictatorships and install them. A concerted drive against producers can’t be so financed. Any major attempts, mostly on the supply chain, are usually leaked and fail. There are exceptions to the rule. Earlier this year, an FBI-led initiative run over three years involving 180 countries triggered simultaneously timed crackdowns in more than a dozen countries and 800 people being arrested across the world. 

Technology was a major factor for the success. 25 million messages were interpreted and read. The names that have emerged include high-profile public officials, hard evidence of what has been suspected for many years. 

There are three moot questions. Of the 800 arrested, how many will wriggle out under technicalities of the law? Do governments have the stomach to strip the public officials of office and allow prosecution waiving whatever pardon measures exist? How will their prosecutions circumvent inadequacies of laws in different countries?

Drug demands have not reduced in Bangladesh, even during the pandemic. In three months last year, seizures by the law enforcers have been costed millions. The news reports are strangely familiar. A truck seized with the driver and helper. Ambulances apprehended with stashes. Private vehicles, some government transport, and a growing number of individual commuters carrying mostly yaba arrested on tip-offs. 

Some of these persons are less privileged, acting as carriers in exchange for small amounts of cash. Camouflaged in fish, dried fish, imported products, and others, the innovative list grows. Alcohol is peanuts compared to drugs. Anyone that is someone and arrested will inevitably be pictured with alcohol and yaba or hashish in their possession. 

There have been accusations of many of these as having been “planted.” Availability has become easier, ranging from a casual enquiry in areas such as Mohammadpur to home delivery. Nothing more is heard about the depth of the investigations. What were the supply chain sources, were the trails followed? Were truck and other vehicle owners hauled up? How do importers explain their products mixed with drugs? 

Fish hatchery owners, hilsa whole sellers, none seem to be questioned. The innocence with which commuters say they were approached by so and so to carry products and deliver to so and so borders on insanity. The others who, innocence personified yet hardened campaigners, initially deny and then admit, must have leads to follow on. 

Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could. Yaba and phensedyl have two easy routes. Myanmar and India. With MOUs in place to counter cross-border smuggling and terrorism with India, joint intervention to destroy pheneydyl and yaba manufacturing units in bordering areas shouldn’t be difficult. Myanmar is a different piece of cake. Almost openly acknowledged and abetted, the yaba units could well be practice for covert action. RAW and ISI are known to be in operation in our country. Maybe it’s time we countered. Friendship for all and malice to none is sacred. But when malice targets us, there’s no point in turning the other cheek.

Either that, or follow the trend of legalizing recreational drugs. Anywhere up to four million users would welcome that -- mostly young, depressed persons. That’s not accounting for hashish, heroin, and cocaine consumption. The Sufi leaning fakirs and temple sadhus might feel aggrieved.       

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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