More than 400 drug peddlers have been killed in countrywide crackdowns by the law enforcement agencies since April 2018. More than 5,000 others were arrested. The law enforcers also forced more than 100 drug dealers to surrender in the last two years. All the measures were taken to curb the yaba trade in Bangladesh.
And yet the pink pills keep making their way into Bangladesh.
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The seizure lists from several law enforcement agencies and the narcotics department show that the crazy pills have kept invading the country.
In the last two years at least 8 crore pieces of yaba tablets have been seized. If so, how many pieces of the pink pills entered the country by dodging the law enforcement agencies?
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), only 10 percent of the drugs were seized. The remaining quantity enters the supply chain to meet demand.
This means the number of yaba pills that entered the country is nine times higher than the number of the pills seized by the law enforcement agencies.
Despite a series of 'gunfights' and zero tolerance operations, yaba imports and sales across the country have exceeded all previous records.
The demand for yaba has been on the rise. The conjecture is that at least 70 lakh youths are addicted to this small tablet. Total illegal yaba trade amounts to more than Tk14,000 crore, as a piece of yaba sells for at least Tk150, according to officials in the law enforcement agencies.
Yaba, a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine, is a nervous system stimulating drug substance. It is available in the shape of a small pink pill.
Users often term it as a "mad pill" because of the thrill it induces in users.
War on yaba
It may be recalled that at a press conference on April 30, 2018, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) Director General Benazir Ahmed declared a war against yaba.
Since then, there have been hundreds of gunfights between RAB and drug traders throughout the country, resulting in the killing of the big shots of the yaba syndicates.
The police demonstrated their solidarity with the elite force in the campaign to eradicate yaba from the country.
Statistics from the human rights watchdog Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) show that since the crackdown against yaba began, at least 400 people have been killed and around 5,000 were arrested by different law enforcing agencies.
Among them, 211 were killed in Cox's Bazar, the gateway for yaba. And among the dead, 62 were Rohingya nationals.
Also, 16,926,570 pieces of yaba tablets were confiscated and 2,338 people were arrested from the same district.
According to the Department of Narcotics Control, 53,048,548 pieces of yaba tablets were recovered through drives conducted by various organisations across the country in 2018.
In 2019, the law enforcement agencies – including RAB, Border Guard Bangladesh, Department of Narcotics and Police – seized around 2.5 crore pieces of yaba tablets.
Md Jamal Uddin Ahmed, Director General of the Department of Narcotics Control, told The Business Standard that yaba is a global threat.
"It is tough for a country alone to eradicate yaba from its market. The supply of yaba totally depends on demand. To tackle such illegal demand inside the country, we still have to struggle against the yaba trade," he added.
Professor Dr Emdadul Haque, a private university teacher and a researcher on drugs for several years, told The Business Standard that at least 70 lakh youths are now addicted to yaba.
"The high number of demand runs the supply chain. Once we can stop demand, the peddlers automatically will stop the trade," he added.
On February 26, 2019, Cox's Bazar District Police supervised the surrender of 102 alleged drug peddlers. And on February 3 this year, another 21 surrendered to the law enforcers.
When asked why such surrender or "gunfights" could not stop the trade, Iqbal Hossain, additional superintendent of police (admin) of Cox's Bazar, told The Business Standard that some vested groups are still operational in yaba trade despite the harsh drives against yaba.
"We urged drug traders to surrender to the police, and 123 drug traders surrendered in the last two years," he added.
Md Nihad Adnan Taian, additional superintendent of police (Ukhia and Teknaf) of Cox's Bazar, told The Business Standard that most of the drug peddlers have been identified. He expects that the business will decline as a result of the anti-yaba measures.
"But the problem is they are changing the route, from the road to the sea. That is worrying," he added.
Seeking anonymity, an additional superintendent of police in Chattogram range described yaba traders as Hydra-headed monsters.
"If you cut its head, two more heads will grow. Drug peddlers are the same. When one of them is dead, the business shifts to someone else," he added.
Sultana Kamal, a noted human rights activist of the country, claimed that so-called gunfights or surrender would not eradicate the yaba business.
The eminent lawyer urged the law enforcement agencies to go into the root cause of drug peddling.
"The law enforcers should focus on the people behind the trade. In most cases, they are ruling party people. Unless drugs are uprooted, nothing will change," she added.