Between the vastness of the Bay of Bengal on one side and the serene hilly expanse on the other lies the 84-kilometre Marine Drive Road, that stretches from Cox's Bazar's Kalatali sea beach to Teknaf'sSabrang Zero point.
Cruising along the Marine Drive Road, roughly two to two-and-a-half-hour drive, has been a must-have experience for both local and foreign tourists since the road was opened on 6 May, 2017.
Initially what was a blessing for the top tourist destination of the country gradually turned into a dreaded place to be. Starting in 2018, when the government started a special anti-narcotics drive – incidents of "gunfight" increased significantly turning the pleasant Marine Drive into a nightmare.
For two years from June 2018 to July 2020, reports of so-called "gunfights" between law enforcers and drug dealers on the world's longest Marine Drive regularly made headlines.
With frequent "gunfights", it was not long before fear crept into people, and tourists and locals started avoiding the route after sunset.
On 31 July, 2020, retired major Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan was shot dead by police at the Shamlapur check post of Baharchara union on the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf Marine Drive. As fate would have it – since the tragic death of Sinha, no "gunfight" has been reported so far, as of writing this report.
"Before the Sinha killing, we used to see dead bodies by the seashore or on and around the Marine Drive every single week. Later, we would learn through media reports that the deceased were killed in "gunfights" with police, RAB or BGB," said Shamimul Islam Foisal, a youth who lives at Shafirbil, adjacent to the Marine Drive.
Requesting to go unnamed, a lady who regularly uses this route to her workplace at the Ukhiya Rohingya Camp, said that she encountered many unpleasant situations over the course of four years.
"Some three years ago, one day I saw a crowd of people on the beach. Later, I heard that a bullet-riddled body was recovered from there. Similar sight while travelling on the road was very common. However, I have not heard or seen such incidents [on the Marine Drive] in recent times," she said.
Asked on the reasons behind "gunfight" incidents decreasing, Rafiqul Islam, additional superintendent of police (admin), Cox's Bazar claimed, "Drug dealers do not shoot at police anymore and therefore police face no situation where they need to retaliate in self-defence."
He also added that they managed to seize massive hauls of yaba without the "gunfights"
As part of the ongoing anti-narcotics drive and to maintain overall law and order, different agencies have beefed up security measures including setting up a total of 11 check posts on the 84 kilometre Marine Drive.
"Because of the repeated searches at multiple check posts, sometimes it gets late to return home in Cox's Bazar as the stoppages cause long tailbacks of vehicles," the lady said.
She also pointed out these check posts are playing a vital role in keeping crimes in check.
"However, to alleviate people's ordeal on this route, the searches should be more organised," she suggested.
From the beginning of anti-narcotics drive to the murder of Sinha in 2020, a total of 287 people were killed in so-called gunfights with police, BGB and RAB in Cox's Bazar, according to data from a law enforcing agency.
Of the total deaths, 174 were killed by police, 62 by BGB and 51 were shot dead by RAB.
Analysing the available data, it is revealed that at least 56 bodies were recovered in 52 incidents on and around the 84 kilometre Marine Drive.
Over the span of the two years, 161 of the total 287 people killed in "gunfights" were from Teknaf.
Locals alleged that many of these "gunfights" on Marine Drive were either ordered or directly orchestrated by suspended police officer Pradeep Kumar Das, who was handed a death sentence for the murder of Major Sinha.
On 23 July, 2019, the body of one Nazrul Islam, who hailed from Ukhiya's Rajapalag Union, was found beside a canal in Jaliapalang Union, close to the Marine Drive road.
After the bullet-hit body was identified, a relative of the deceased said, "He went missing two days before he was killed. When we tried to find out how he reached Marine Drive and how he was killed, locals told me that they heard sounds of shots being fired and two microbuses honking horns."
Following the killing of Sinha, occurrences of the so-called "gunfights" have reduced across the country, not only on the infamous Marine Drive.
According to a report from rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a total of 51 were killed in "gunfights" in 2021 and most of the 188 "gunfight" killings in 2020 were reported before 30 July that year.
Earlier in 2019 and 2018 the number was 374 and 421 respectively. In 2017 "gunfight" casualties were 141 and it was 177 in 2016.