Phensidyl, Yaba, khat ... the caravan rolls on

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The arrival of Khat is a sign, both good and bad. The positive sign is that police action against  dealers, smugglers and peddlers  have had a strong effect. Yaba is not openly available anymore at least not as it was being done before. That means steps can be taken even if the methods are unacceptable and unlawful. The bad news is that law enforcement actions do not dampen the drug trade much and if yaba shuts down, another may emerge. And that is a very big bad news.

Drugs, crime and politics

Globally, no reliable figures exist as drug habits change over time but about 10% of the population will try drugs once or twice and of this many will continue. In the West, alcohol is socially accepted so all the drinkers are let off the hard drugs stats. However, the damage caused by alcohol consumption is high and takes many lives as well through drunk driving, addiction and other causes. Other drugs like cocaine, heroin, amphetamines etc are heavily consumed extracting a price that society has paid in terms of quality of life.

But it has other implications as well such as drug linked corruption including of law enforcers and various other law enforcers and legal agency servants are globally common. It is not overwhelming Western society but its eating into the system more than many other forms of crime. These countries are very well off so they spend millions but evidence is weak that the war against drugs is being won.

There are many levels and avenues of the problem including countries and places they are grown. Afghanistan had once been a major grower and still is as law and order is weak there in general. As long as it remains a country as violent and wild as its now, chances of things improving are low. Military style regimes are part of that country’s system but that hasn’t helped.

It didn’t help Myanmar either when various insurgencies were running high or it was the home of the ‘golden triangle’ as various groups used drugs to fund their activities. However, even as relative peace has come, Myanmar continues to supply its neighbours with drugs, in case of Bangladesh being yaba.

The basic point is simple, if one gets into drugs, grower, seller or buyer, it’s going to run on.  The addiction is only part of the problem. It’s a world of its own and involves every other sector in society.

That corruption is a major promoting factor doesn’t seem to strike people that much. Such high level drug infrastructure has grown up including in Bangladesh because of the corruption network. And corruption is linked to power including political power. If the existing network of power and money remains and so does demand for drugs, the type of narcotics may change but not the habit nor the highly profitable business sector that supplies.

In a country where many law enforcers including those involved in anti drug trafficking are found to be financially involved, the chances of reduction are far less. The depressing prognosis is that given the high profit and high lack of accountability, why should those who are involved in the drug trade not continue to be so?

What the government has done is to target small time drug peddlers and street consumers using extra-judicial killing. This was followed by large scale arrests once the killings became unsustainable as the major thrust in the anti-drug war. However, the Police chief’s recent statement that getting rid of the dealers is the best way shows the limited understanding of the problem.

If anything it’s the indication of the problem itself. The idea that killing dealers will end the problem given the various kinds of personnel involved in the trade makes even dealing with the crisis difficult. The profit is high enough to justify even death risk as many criminals do so. Death sentence is not a discouragement of murder as well at all.

But there are addicts who are dealers too and for them any risk is justified.  And they are many. On the other hand the big ones are beyond reach of the law enforcers so the supply will not stop. That is why killing and violence has not had much impact on the rise and fall of the drug trade.

Which is why, we should have a policy which tries to limit drugs but not end them. Because that is not possible. So if we can develop a rational drug policy that is realistic and tries multiple avenues we may make progress. Otherwise both drugs and killings will go on. The switch to Kat as shows how the Government misunderstood the drug problem. It’s not about yaba, it’s about drugs.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 35
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Focus
  • Issue 11
  • Phensidyl, Yaba, khat ... the caravan rolls on

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