The geographical location of Bangladesh puts the country in an odd position when it comes to the drug and narcotics epidemic. Bangladesh is not only a lucrative market with a burgeoning youth population but also an important corridor to reach out to other markets. And, thus, the widespread outbreak of the drug crisis has drawn everyone's attention. As the government wages a war against drugs, it is important to question whether the current strategy of curtailing the supply will be enough to solve this problem effectively or if there will be any unforeseen socio-economic and security implications.
Considered as the transition country, Bangladesh connects the notorious Golden Triangle (Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar) with the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan). These blocs of countries are largely responsible for the production and global distribution of some major lethal drugs including opium, heroin, Yaba and other forms of methamphetamine. In 2018, a record 53 million Yaba pills were seized and around 300 suspected dealers were killed by the law enforcement agencies. Recently, over 100 dealers have surrendered themselves and are currently seeking clemency from the authorities.
Although the performance of the law enforcement agencies is praiseworthy and these numbers seem encouraging, this approach is trying to solve only half the problem, i.e. the supply side of it. As the quantity of supply goes down, it will push the price up. Since addictive drugs are considered to have inelastic demand, meaning that higher prices will not bar potential addicts to buy these, this might aggravate the current situation, if it's not monitored and controlled.
For example, the higher price of drugs will inevitably make the existing and potential dealer greedy. While at least 40 known dealers and hundreds of unknown dealers and agents are at large, the spike in price will lure them to take extra risk and extreme measures to cut more profit. There are several known cases of dealers smuggling drugs through innovative means such as carrying them in their stomach or inside religious books. Many have tried to use the Ijtema—an annual congregation of Muslims—as an occasion to transport drugs, putting the security of thousands of people in jeopardy. Furthermore, the disruption in the illegal international trade may impose unsuspected transnational security threats and concerns.
The risk is not prominent from the supply side alone, but the demand side can also get very messy. With more than seven million drug addicts in Bangladesh, the unavailability and increased price of drugs pose a risk of the deterioration of socio-economic and political stability of the country. Many of these addicts may choose to undertake illegal, anti-social and violent activities, including theft, burglary, or domestic terrorism, to acquire the necessary resources. There have been many cases that show the lengths to which addicts will go once they become desperate, sometimes even putting their families in danger. Thus, the demand side too needs urgent attention and a holistic approach should be taken to address this.
The networks of drug lords need to be annihilated and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. Extended surveillance, both physical and intelligence, needs to be bolstered to intercept domestic and cross-boundary shipment. The law enforcement and security agencies need to be alert to identify potential national or international threats and such domestic efforts should be strengthened with cross-border cooperation with other international agencies of the region for a sustainable solution to the problem.
A comprehensive rehabilitation plan for drug addicts needs to be a part of the solution so that this huge population can be treated and brought back to a normal way of life. Unfortunately, the current rehabilitation infrastructure of the country is both inadequate and deficient in nature. Private and public efforts need to join hands to design and implement the much-needed social rehabilitation facilities and to mainstream programmes so that the risk of potential social violence can be minimised.
Makshudul Alom Mokul Mondal is a researcher on international affairs and transnational non-traditional security threats. He is a visiting trainer at the Police Staff College and a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum. He is currently studying innovation management at the Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.